Earlier this month, Howard University announced a 20-year partnership with Jordan Brand. Howard’s basketball coaches,Kenneth Blakeney (KB) and assistant coach Tyler Thornton, both played at the highest level of college basketball at Duke University and with their connections they were able to bring the Jordan deal from an idea, to a signed contract.
Jordan Brand is the official sponsor of thirty one teams in the NCAA and Howard University is the only institution to represent HBCUs among the list of Jordan sponsored schools. Apart from its academic standing and historical background, Howard has now added another monumental stepping stone to its name, but for the first time in its history, this accolade can be accredited solely to the athletic department.
Adding Howard to the list of universities that are under the Jordan Brand sponsor guides the athletic department towards the conversation of who can compete with the high majors.
According to Thornton, the conversations to make the sponsorship switch from Under Armour to Nike began when KB and Thornton took the job to run the program at Howard. Thornton said that he and former teammate Kyrie Irving, who was drafted into the NBA as the number one pick in 2011, had a conversation in which Irving, “expressed wanting to be more involved in HBCUs, be more involved in young, Black, Brown, and Latino kids lives in sports, outside of sports, and I think that kind of sparked a conversation for us on the basketball side.”
For some, like senior basketball player Khalil Robinson who has spent all four years of his career playing for Howard Basketball, this is more than just a switch in sponsorship.
“It’s a big thing in history… Jordan is a household name in the basketball community so just to be a part of Jordan Brand speaks for itself. It’s a lot of big programs that are a part of Jordan Brand, so for us to be a part of that is big, especially being an HBCU and a mid-major school.”
Robinson added what the Jordan Brand means to him. “Honestly, I feel motivated because being able to finish out my last year at Howard University and being a part of history is a big deal and I wanna be able to set the foundation for the ones coming after me.”
Thornton also mentioned that, “the Jordan Brand deal definitely helps in recruiting.” Thornton’s statement is in accordance with Reece Brown’s decision to transfer from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He admitted that even after being shown some of the gear on his official visit, the Jordan deal wasn’t the sole reason for his decision to transfer, but with a smile on his face proceeded to say, “I’m not gonna sit here and act foolish and say that it’s not exciting to see the Jumpman on all your stuff.”
Although Brown has experienced playing in elite level facilities and having high major resources during his time at UNLV, he voiced his excitement for what the Jordan deal is going to do within the Howard community as a whole.
“The non-athletes buy all the Jordan gear and it’s cool to see everyone already supporting…It’s not just an athlete thing, it’s a streetwear thing, so I think that kinda all represents what an HBCU is and how we represent ourselves, and now when kids wear their Jordans it literally matches their school gear. So I think it’s pretty cool all around,”Brown said.
This is just the beginning of a new era for not only Howard, but HBCUs around the country. Although there is much change needed in the world of athletics at HBCUs, this is a step in the right direction. The hope is that all HBCUs find sponsors that take care of their athletes the way other NCAA schools ensure their athletes receive elite level treatment and gear.
For years now we have heard athletes from every sport, gender, race, sex, and age, across the country describe being a student athlete as a full time job. We have heard of the struggles added when there is a lack of resources for these athletes, especially at HBCUs. This Jordan deal is more than just another sponsorship, but rather a moment of victory for all Historically Black Colleges and Universities.