Growing Up Jumpman: What It's Like to Be Born Into the Jordan Brand

Meet the track star who grew up calling Michael Jordan "Uncle MJ."

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Jordan Brand refers to its endorsers as "family members." Top level athletes and entertainers on its roster—Russell Westbrook, Drake, etc.—are welcomed to the family upon signing their contracts. This rings especially true for Mandy White, a track athlete signed with the Jumpman whose personal ties to the brand began long before her professional ones. Proof comes in the form of her affectionate nickname for Michael Jordan: Uncle MJ.

The daughter of Jordan Brand’s Senior Vice President, Howard “H” White, Mandy was born into the Jordan Brand as her father helped to build “Uncle MJ’s” sportswear empire. While you might expect someone with that type of upbringing to sit back and flaunt their unlimited access to sneakers, Mandy chose to prove that she belonged by becoming a top-class track and field athlete at the University of Oregon. Eventually her painstaking training and on-the-track results led to a one-of-a-kind endorsement deal from the brand that was built into her DNA. She's one of only a handful of track athletes under the Jordan Brand umbrella. Powering through leg ailments, knee surgery, and Crohn’s disease, Mandy nearly qualified for the 2016 Olympics. And coming off of her most recent knee surgery, she is already preparing for a go at qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

Despite all of this, Mandy still stacks her Jordan boxes one at a time, just like the rest of us. Who knows, she might even end up working in the sportswear industry when she finally hangs up her track spikes. In this interview, we talked with Mandy about her sneaker plug, growing up with Jordan, and more.

When would you say that you fell in love with the Jordan Brand and Air Jordans?
It would probably be a lot later than you would think. I was basically born into the Jordan Brand. It’s been in my life since before I could remember. Growing up my mom would get me and my cousins the latest Jordans, but I didn’t have a ton and even through high school and through college, I really didn’t even wear Jordans or tennis shoes that much. It didn’t really start until I signed with the Jordan Brand and got all the shoes. My senior year of college I got really into it. I was not a huge sneakerhead.

What were you wearing before then?
They were either Nikes or Jordans, or a company affiliated with Nike. Probably more like girly shoes like heels, and flats, and sandals, and Toms.

So, you really didn’t grow into the brand yourself until much later in your life?
Yeah.

I assume that even though you personally didn’t start wearing Jordans until much later, being born into the brand, you were surrounded by it. What was that like growing up?
For me, it was normal. It was just life. Being around MJ, I call him “Uncle MJ.” And he’s always been my uncle, so for me to just be like, “Oh that’s my uncle” and kids were like, “What?!” That’s normal, right?

That is highly abnormal actually.
Being around all the of those players that are now out of the league that are friends with my dad, they were like family to us. To most people, it’s very abnormal. But to me, that was my uncle Charles Barkley. And yeah they play basketball, which is kind of cool, but that was family to me.

Yeah, they’re only two of the greatest basketball players to walk the earth...
Yeah, I guess. I really don’t know how to describe it. I got to go to games and I think there’s a picture of me with Charles Barkley’s daughter and he’s on the bench and she’s hugging him and giving him a kiss and I’m sitting next to her. We were all kids. We played together, grew up together, we would go on trips, and my dad would hang out with them, so I would always be around. They would even come and have dinner at our house.

And Uncle MJ wasn’t checking out your feet to make sure you were wearing Jordans that whole time?
[Laughs] He was. I mean, I had Jordans. I had a pair of 3s that were the original black ones, which are my favorites. I had a select few, but I didn’t wear them all the time. I feel like they were big back then, but now they’re even bigger than when they first came out. Maybe it’s the internet that makes them bigger. They were always a big deal, but I was just a little kid.

I do agree that the internet has made Jordans a lot bigger, but at the same time, being that he was considered your uncle, it was probably very regular to you that he even had sneakers. Whereas kids around the world would line up to buy them, he was your uncle, so you were looking at him a little differently.
That’s true.

Are there any specific memories that you have of "Uncle MJ?”
There’s a lot. There was a Roy Jones fight—it was probably ‘06-’07—and we went to the fight and he took me to the party after with my dad. We hung out all night and then he was like, "You know if you need a date to the prom or whatever you need, I'll take you." 

That’s crazy.
Yeah. He was really like an uncle, anything I needed he would make sure that it was taken care of and [I was] not left out if I didn't have a date.

I thought of another memory. In high school right before the state track meet, uncle MJ, CB, Big Mo [Moses Malone], and a few others all called to wish me luck before the big day, which was pretty special. Uncle MJ also used to come to my basketball games in grade school and sit and watch me play. All the other parents went crazy. But that was a pretty cool memory of him watching and cheering me on and trying to coach me from the sidelines as a little kid.

Being that you are so connected to Jordan Brand in several ways, when you want a pair of sneakers, what is that process like for you?
I email my rep at Jordan Brand and I ask if they have pairs and if it’s possible that I can get them, or is this a one-of-one—those kind of questions. And she’ll either say “yes” or “no” and she’ll send them to me in the mail.

Is there anything that you've really wanted that you couldn't get your hands on?
I saw Macklemore 6s—the green ones. I was like, "Yo, can you get me these?" and they were like, "No, they're for him only." I really wanted a pair of those shoes.

I noticed that you have a Jordan 12 pendant hanging from a necklace. What is the story behind that?
That is the “Flu Game” 12, which is my dad's favorite shoe. For Christmas he sent out a gift to the athletes and we all got a silver one, but he gave me a separate gift and it was a solid gold one. I love it. It's very heavy so I don't wear it too often. It's one of my favorite necklaces to wear, but it was a gift from my dad. 

What’s your favorite Jordan?
My favorite Jordan is the 3, which is why I had those 3s made in hot pink. I don’t wear them often. I also really like the 1s, but the 3s are just my favorite.

Is there a reason why?
When they came out, I really liked the elephant print. I don’t really have a solid reason besides the fact that I just really like them.

Well no one is going to argue with you either way. The Air Jordan 3 is easily one of the best sneakers ever created.
And they don’t really come out with many of them. That kinda makes them more special.

You mentioned your pink 3s. When we posted those on Sole Collector, the internet went crazy. What was the process like in creating those one-of-one Jordan 3s?
There’s so many reasons why I have them, but it was a prize. We were on a trip and we got to pick any shoe that we wanted, in any color that we wanted. Since I love the 3s, I picked the 3s. I actually picked them in a highlighter yellow and then like two or three weeks later, I didn’t want that anymore. I emailed them and asked, “Is it too late? I want it in hot pink.” I chose hot pink because I saw the Nike Air Maxes when they came out in the highlighter colors and I couldn’t get a pair. It goes with everything. It supports breast cancer awareness. When you’re walking they just pop out, you can’t miss them. They turned out great. 

What does it mean to you to bring your own style to that legendary sneaker?
It’s pretty special. The Jordan Brand, I feel, is like none other. They really take care of their athletes and make sure that we’re good. It’s nice to feel that kind of love. And we get to have our own signature, non-signature shoe and nobody else has it. It’s special. It’s something different that nobody else will have.

We spoke about your history with the Jordan Brand and “Uncle MJ” but, you’ve obviously proven yourself outside of that relationship by becoming a Jordan Brand-endorsed athlete. 
It’s a privilege. It’s an elite group and a small group of us. Everywhere I go people are like, “How can I get in?” And I’m like, “Well, it’s not that easy.” There’s only me, a high-jumper, a hurdler, and April. There’s only four of us. So, that’s a very small group of track athletes to be represented by such a great company. It’s special that they would even want to represent me and not just because my dad works there or MJ is my uncle, but I had to work hard and earn that. It was special that they thought of me to add me to the group.

Did you ever feel that because of your father's relationship and your relationship with MJ that you had to work harder to earn your spot?
I do. A lot of people would think that it was just handed to me on a silver platter, which is not the case. I had to work harder and do more just to prove myself. Some people think I shouldn’t be where I am, but you have to prove those people wrong and let them know that you deserve to be here just as much as anybody does. It’s not like I just wake up and go to a track meet. It’s five days a week of physical therapy, practice, waking up early, diet, and doing everything that everybody else is doing. That’s on top of having Crohn’s Disease, and most people don’t have to deal with that. It makes it difficult. But it’s worth it.

Michael Jordan himself and the brand are much more known for basketball, but we’ve seen it expand its footprint into different sports. What are your thoughts on the brand spreading its wings?
It’s necessary. You can’t just be stagnant in one sport and be a growing brand. Anytime I go anywhere, everyone is like, “Oh my God, can I see your spikes?” Even when I just pull them out to get them checked, kids start freaking out and grabbing their phones and want to take pictures. Not that the brand needs more awareness, but it’s in another sport. It puts it in another category.

If there was a Mandy White signature shoe, what would it look like?
A signature spike?

It could be anything you want. If I went to the store to pick up the Mandy Whites, what would they be?
I never thought about that. That’s a great question. I think it would probably be more of a track spike. That seems pretty cool to me for somebody to be on the track, doing the sport that I love in my shoe. That would be cool. Maybe for a second shoe it would be lifestyle, or even a training shoe. But for the first one, it would be a track spike because I spend most of my time in spikes.

You said your home is your sneaker closet. How do you keep track of all those Js?
I stack them by the numbers. My mom and my family like to come and clean and they like to put them wherever. And I’m like, “That’s not where they go!” I put the shoe with the shoe: like the 1s with the 1s, the 11s with the 11s, the 12s with the 12s, so I kind of know where they’re at. Most of my 1s aren’t even in there. They are like in the garage or in the laundry room. I keep my Pinnacles in the closet in my room because I feel like those are special shoes. So I don’t put them in the piles. Every time I get new shoes, I try to take the time to take a picture of every shoe and then get them printed out. Then I cut them up, take my little shoe tape dispenser and put the pictures on the boxes and I stack them where they go.

I think it’s amazing that a person that would think of MJ as their uncle and have such deep ties to the brand would do the same thing that a sneakerhead would do. I never had the patience to do that.
It’s hard. You can give the kudos to my mom when she comes to visit, she’ll sit me down and be like, “Take the pictures. It’s time to clean up.” I also used to work at Nike on campus in women’s running apparel and got good at reading the codes and knowing what color was what. I don’t always have to open the box to put the picture on it.

What does it mean to you to put on that Jordan track suit, to put on those Jordan spikes, and carry on that Jordan legacy?
It means the world. My dad has put his heart and soul into the brand and my uncle MJ has definitely put his heart and soul into it. It just makes me feel really special inside to be able to carry on the legacy. I think that it's more than just a company, it’s a lifestyle for people. I feel as though Jordan Brand believes in that lifestyle. You have to have a certain kind of swagger if you're wearing the Jordan shoes. To grow up in it and then to be able to be part of it, it’s special. It’s something that a lot of people don't have the opportunity to do. I feel like I'm special enough to be selected because of all my hard work.

What does the future hold for Mandy White?
Now that I've got my knee together, hopefully the rest of my body will hold together, and I'm going to keep running and trying for the 2020 Olympics. I just have a plan to run for as long as my body allows me to and as long as I'm still getting faster. The day that I feel like I can't go anymore, then I'll hang up my track spikes. And I really don't know yet what comes after track for me—I’m the type of person to just take it step by step. But probably a job at Nike [laughs].

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