'The Last Dance' Episode 5: Michael Jordan Reveals Meaning of Famous 'Republicans Buy Sneakers Too' Comment

The fifth episode of The Last Dance delved into Michael Jordan's impact on the world of sneakers and addressed one of his most famous quotes.

ESPN's 10-part documentary chronicling Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls revealed Jordan initially wanted to sign with Converse or Adidas. When the former told him it already boasted too many high-profile athletes to make the fresh-faced Jordan the face of its brand and the latter declined to give him his own shoe, Jordan signed with Nike.

The deal was arguably the most significant of its kind. In the 36-year intervening years, the swoosh brand has sold over 126 million of Jordan-branded shoes, catapulting MJ into a global commercial icon whose fortune, according to Forbes estimates, stands at $2.1 billion.

The popularity of Jordan's shoes crossed team allegiances, gender and social divides and, as Jordan himself famously noted, political beliefs.

"Republicans buy sneakers too," he said back in 1990, during the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, which pit incumbent Republican Jesse Helms against Democrat challenger Harvey Gantt.

While Jordan had not yet won an NBA title at the time, he was already one of the league's brightest stars and his statement resonated way beyond North Carolina's borders, particularly given his notorious reluctancy to get involved in the political arena.

In Episode 5 of The Last Dance, Jordan did not retract the statement but insisted it had been made as a joke among teammates.

"I don't think that statement needs to be corrected because I said it in jest on a bus with [fellow Chicago Bulls] Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen," Jordan said.

"It was thrown off the cuff. My mother asked to do a PSA for Harvey Gantt, and I said, 'Look, Mom, I'm not speaking out of pocket about someone that I don't know. But I will send a contribution to support him.' Which is what I did."

Jordan then explained he deliberately steered clear of politics despite his global profile, opting to focus all his energies on basketball as opposed to establish himself as an activist like the likes of Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"I do commend Muhammad Ali for standing up for what he believed in. But I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player," he continued.

"I wasn't a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That's where my energy was."

Jordan, however, maintained shying away from politics and social issues did not mean he was reluctant to be seen as a role of model for his legions of fans. In fact, the six-time NBA champion doubled down on his belief that his ferocious will to win and dedication to his job were as good an example as any.

"It's never going to be enough for everybody, and I know that," he said. "I realize that. Because everybody has a preconceived idea for what I should do and what I shouldn't do.

"The way I go about my life is I set examples. If it inspires you? Great, I will continue to do that. If it doesn't? Then maybe I'm not the person you should be following."

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
A close-up of Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls shoe during the NBA All-Star Practice at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on February 9, 1997. The East defeated the West 132-120 . Brian Bahr/Getty