Lakshman: Michael Jordan vs. the Internet

Feb. 16, 2016, 6:08 a.m.

Michael Jordan is once again in a high-stakes battle over his legacy. Except this time, it’s not Isiah and the Bad Boys standing in his way; nor is it LeBron James or Kobe Bryant further encroaching on his title as the greatest player ever to grace the hardwood; it’s not even about the lingering aftertaste that is Kwame Brown. This time around, Jordan faces a foe that might actually be his equal, if not superior in its sheer ubiquity: the Internet.

This should be a special time of year for His Airness. Air Jordan recently launched its 30th shoe, he celebrates his 53rd birthday on Wednesday and the Charlotte Hornets currently hold down the eighth seed in the East. Granted, all three of these storylines have received a fair bit of consideration, but they pale in comparison to a phenomenon that simply refuses to die: the Crying Jordan meme.

Originating back in 2014, Crying Jordan, a photoshop-based meme involving planting an image of a weeping MJ from the 2009 Hall of Fame ceremony in a judiciously chosen position, has experienced the Internet equivalent of immortality. Memes simply aren’t supposed to last for two years, let alone intensify in popularity.

Anyone who doubts the place of Crying Jordan at the center of our cultural consciousness neesds only look back at last week’s Super Bowl:

Somehow, Crying Jordan only gets funnier with each use. From the irony in the fact that such an ostensible symbol of sorrow originated in a moment of pure elation, to its sheer versatility, to the empty expression on his face, the meme has rightfully earned its place in the pantheon of Internet treasures. (And we can only hope that Crying Jordan’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech will be half as good as its progenitor).

As Crying Jordan continues to embed itself as an Internet mainstay, it does indeed call the GOAT’s legacy into question. Not the legacy of Michael Jordan the basketball player — nothing can really touch that, let alone two minutes of photoshop. What Crying Jordan does threaten is how future generations might view post-basketball Michael Jordan.

Post-basketball legacy does matter to Jordan — his scorching, competitive spirit wouldn’t have it any other way — and there’s plenty for No. 23 to look back on with pride. The business empire he built after his playing days has made him a billionaire and his shoes have become cultural icons in their own right. In the future, though, we might very well think of Michael Jordan the meme before we remember Michael Jordan the businessman, especially since the former has a universal appeal that transcends sports or even a single language.

But why does this even matter? “So what if I remember Jordan as a staple of Internet hilarity instead of as the namesake of $200 sneakers?” you might ask. I agree. The question of what a meme will do to a legacy isn’t exactly in the same category of concern as poverty, pollution or Putin. However, it does provide an interesting case study into what the Internet can do to an athlete’s brand.

They often say that the best thing U.S. presidents can do to improve their historical legacy is to live long past their time in office. Jimmy Carter is often considered the prime example. Maybe the opposite is true for athletes? These musings are particularly interesting in the context of Wright Thompson’s profile of Jordan three years ago, in which His Airness reveals that he always imagined he would die young.

For his part, Jordan came out recently and started that he had no problem with the meme, provided no one profits off of his likeness. But it will be fascinating to see, if Crying Jordan is still kicking and screaming years from now, whether MJ will feel the same way.

You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the meme.


Do you feel that Stanford’s own Heisman-shouting, McCaffrey superfan is more deserving of his own meme? Let Vihan know that his southern prejudices aren’t welcome here at vihan ‘at’ 


Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at'

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