D.C. swoons over its latest savior.
Washington has rarely seemed more provincial than it did last week, when Air Jordan blew into town. As our latest municipal messiah arrived via the Dan Ryan Expressway, everyone—from D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert—was lined up to bathe in his glow.
Like the citizens of the proverbial flyover-state hamlet where the Hollywood director’s car breaks down, we’re not hesitating to declare that new Mercedes at the corner of 7th and E a harbinger of wonders to come. We gather around it, kick the tires, and declare a new day here in Palookaville. What else could it mean? A simple business deal involving a mediocre basketball team? No way—we’re talking about the Greatest Basketball Player Ever.
And so economic reporters analyze Jordan’s impact on downtown’s development. Sober real estate correspondents speculate on where the new notable might live. Culture mavens assess his symbolic importance: In a region evolving from small town consumed by national politics
to wealthy metropolis powered by red-hot
digital economics, MJ’s gotta mean something big, right?
Of course he does! The word from the scribes is that no longer will our most famous luminaries wear cuffed blue pinstripes or Laura Ashley jumpers or Nehru jackets. Finally, D.C. will have its own bona fide, diamond-studded ce-leb-ri-ty who sports Tommy Hilfiger suits, glittering gold cufflinks, and flashy silver ties.
And no more, they say, will our gossip columns be cluttered with racy tidbits about Newt Gingrich’s divorce or Alan Greenspan’s musings. For not one more day will we have to rely on faded icons like Duke Ellington to prove our big-city hipness: Air Jordan has decided to touch ground in D.C. as minority owner and president of basketball operations with the Washington Wizards.
Who needs statehood? Radio stations beckoned fans down to the arena to gaze up at the owner’s box during Michael’s first night as spectator in chief. MJ, they implied, was finally delivering D.C. legitimacy.
Those fans whose gazes accidentally strayed onto the court—where our Wizards took a beating at the hands of the lowly Dallas Mavericks—may have noticed a few things about the Jordan Era that aren’t so new. And I don’t mean just the bricks laid by our starting five. Millennial fanfare notwithstanding, Jordan represents nothing so much as the latest incarnation of an age-old D.C. specter: He’s the Next Big Thing, that magical angel Washingtonians constantly pray will finally put us on the map for something other than politics and murder.
You remember the next big thing, yes? The Kennedy Center that would make D.C. the epicenter of high culture? The Metro that would make it the transportation hub of the 21st century? The convention center that would kick-start its economy? The other convention center that will kick-start its economy? We swoon, we ogle, and we fall for it again and again.
So now here comes Jordan—with his Nike-wearing, Wheaties-eating, Gatorade-drinking commercial appeal—to be, as Reagan might have put it, the rising tide that will lift our frumpy, workaholic, Metro-shutting-down-at-midnight, sorry-ass boats.
“Jordan is a nightclub, he’s a fashion, he’s Nike, he’s everything. We all know what the attendance has been at the games, and we
all know that while the downtown area should be coming back, it hasn’t happened yet,” real estate developer Douglas Jemal—who is developing a retail/entertainment complex across the street from the Wizards’ MCI Center—told the Washington Post. “Now it will. Michael Jordan is an icon, a perfect match.”
Jordan, of course, won’t have too much time to read his own local clips. Or, for that matter, dine at the District Chophouse & Brewery, or catch a show down the street at the Shakespeare Theatre, or bet on a pool game or two at The Rock. He might be singlehandedly reviving D.C., but you probably won’t see him playing golf in Rock Creek Park or down at Hains Point.
That’s because he’ll be too busy hustling onto the Yellow Line—OK, his limo—to National Airport, where he’ll fly back to his real home outside the Windy City.
Jordan has made known that he’s just a commuter—like all those schmoes working for the Department of Health and Human Services. There was a time when big-government outposts were also supposed to be the engines of D.C.’s economy and its culture. If you believe they worked, there’s a traffic-jammed bridge on the Occoquan I’d like to sell you.
But never mind the absence of residency requirements for media-anointed saviors. “This is really a story of how not just snowstorms, but good things blow in from Chicago,” said Mayor Williams at the press conference announcing Jordan’s arrival. “It really is just going to electrify our city.”
Just like the last savior to blow in from the Windy City. Remember him? A smart-dressing celebrity with years of exposure in the national limelight, he arrived 10 years ago to herald a new age in city politics, one that would bring about clean government and a real shot at statehood. I think the last I saw him was in one of those “Missing” ads on half-gallon milk cartons at the 8th and O Giant: the Rev. Jesse Jackson. CP