At my church, we revere our Pastor Emeritus. Though he has stepped away from day-to-day work, he continues to hold his rank and our respect because of his long ministry and valued service.
The title Professor Emeritus is honorary status granted to distinguished scholars at retirement. Chairman Emeritus and CEO Emeritus are honors granted by companies and nonprofits to recognize contributions so exemplary that those who made them remain worthy of the title even after they relinquish their duties.
I think it’s a crime that there hasn’t been a Boss Lady Emeritus status given to Deloris Jordan.
Without a business degree, the internet or social media, the fierce mother of basketball superstar Michael Jordan was a literal game-changer when it comes to endorsement contracts for pro athletes. In demanding that her son share in Nike profits, she set the stage for wealth for future generations of talented ballers with sneaker deals.
As chronicled in the movie “Air,” Deloris Jordan drove the hard bargain and single-handedly changed the way things had always been done. And she did it from her Wilmington, N.C. kitchen, on a phone hooked to the wall, with a towel over her shoulder.
Sure, she had a finely calibrated maternal instinct to demand the best for her son, then a 21-year-old rookie who had yet to take his first shot in an NBA game.
But lots of talented athletes with fierce mamas have gone broke while Michael Jordan has built vast wealth. Forbes estimates that Jordan, now 60, has a net worth of $1.7 billion, a fortune built from the Nike contract deal that gives him 5% royalty on every Jordan brand item sold.
That’s the long-term impact of the deal that Deloris Jordan brokered, not with her mother’s heart, but with her killer business head. She had the vision of seeing an opening that was hiding in plain sight and then dared to take her shot at it.
This Boss Lady Emeritus, who now lives in Chicago, has devoted herself to philanthropy. As president and founder of the James R. Jordan Foundation, established in the memory of her late husband, she has been recognized for her charitable work with children and families across the U.S. and the world. Viewers of “Air” can marvel at her measured but steely determination. Viola Davis might win another award for her portrayal of Deloris Jordan, but where is the business award to acknowledge this family matriarch?
I, too, am an entrepreneur-mother working from my kitchen. I started my production business ShelettaMakesMeLaugh.com three years ago and negotiate deals for my podcasting network while packing school lunches and washing dishes. I’ve called out Fortune 500 companies that promised to give a greater share of their advertising dollars to Black-owned media outlets like mine after the murder of George Floyd but never delivered.
As a Black woman, I was taught that good work is its own reward. But recently, I was one of 55 female leaders honored at the Minneapolis/St Paul Business Journal’s 26th annual Women in Business awards. The accolades and applause were most gratifying. Public acknowledgment of the accomplishments of women of color feed the next generation and demonstrate what’s possible. We can see ourselves in the successes of those who came before us and brought down systems with grit and persistence.
For too long, Deloris Jordan’s brilliant business breakthrough was a secret outside a small circle of sneakerheads. Her example reminds me of Black mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose work was crucial to U.S. spaceflights and whose efforts were unsung until Hollywood found her story and shared it in “Hidden Figures” — 47 years later.
Katherine Johnson was in her 90s by the time she was portrayed on the big screen. Deloris Jordan is 81. Let’s waste no time in bowing down and bestowing honor to the Boss Ladies in our midst. Let’s give them their emeritus status to thank them and let them know the changes they inspired are still inspiring us.
Some folks say that Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time. I’d argue that Deloris Jordan is the G.O.A.T. too.
Sheletta Brundidge is an Emmy-award winning comedian, talk show host and best selling author.