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The Evolution Of The Michael Jordan Crying Face Meme

By Laura Wagner | NPR
Thursday, March 31, 2016

No matter which teams win or lose in this weekend's NCAA tournament Final Four games, at the final whistle, there will inevitably be one iconic, unavoidable face.

It will be Michael Jordan's. And it will be crying.

The meme of the basketball legend's tear-stained countenance is the sports world's go-to symbol of sadness in defeat, so expect to see at least a few renditions of Jordan's watery mug superimposed onto losing players, losing fans, losing mascots, losing coaches, or anyone or anything else who is at all associated with a loss.

If you're not on Twitter and have no idea what I'm talking about (Mom, this is for you) here's the deal: In 2009, when Jordan was inducted into basketball's hall of fame, he delivered an infamous, often-rambling, very emotional speech. An image of his face — eyes swimming, cheeks glistening — was turned into a meme some years later. The Internet, especially Twitter users, latched on tight, employing it to comment on any number of sports failures.

Golden State Warriors' win streak ends:

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh misses a game-winning field goal:

N.Y. Mets lose in the World Series:

New England Patriots lose:

Since the meme took off in early 2015, people have used it to express disappointment, mock opponents, gloat — and, increasingly, not just regarding sports. The website Complex compiled a list in March 2015, called "The Definitive Guide to Using the Michael Jordan Crying Meme," that suggested use in such instances as "When Your Mom Eats Your Halloween Candy," "When Your Barber Laughs at Your Hairline," and other less family-friendly scenarios. Vice Sports went meta, tacking MJ's crying face onto actual photos of Michael Jordan in a post titled "Stunning Photos of Michael Jordan, Ruined By Crying MJ Face." The Huffington Post published a printable cutout of the sad Jordan face to use as a Halloween mask.

The meme had such clout that the Arizona Cardinals even used it to troll themselves when they were getting trounced by the Carolina Panthers in last season's NFC Championship game.

Crying Jordan could not be stopped. Its pervasiveness expanded to politics, the lottery and a certain unfortunate courtroom sketch.

In an online environment where trends come and go in the span of hours, only a handful of memes reach the level of ubiquity necessary for Internet immortality. The MJ crying face, as it's come to be known, is one of them.

Is it funny? Yes, for its obvious absurdity, but also for the anticipation of seeing how the meme will be deployed — that's been as much a part of the fun as actually seeing it pop up on social media.

Yet as more and more people have glommed onto the joke, plastering the meme everywhere in hopes of getting a retweet, the usage of sad Jordan has become less creative and therefore less funny.

For example, take this edition of Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo after the team's upset loss to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of this year's NCAA tourney.

The meme was as predictable as the 2-seed's early tournament upset was unexpected. There's nothing special about it, except the craftsmanship — take a moment to admire the seamless merging of Jordan's face and Izzo's head.

At certain points, when Twitter timelines were especially saturated, users called for the meme to be retired.

There was hopeful speculation that MJ crying face would drop off in 2016, though that didn't pan out, as Jordan's son Marcus ruefully surmised in January.

Even recent questions about possible copyright infringement for using and sharing the meme haven't dampened enthusiasm for the sad Jordan face. The Associated Press took the original photo and could take legal action to protect the image's copyright, ESPN reported.

"We own the rights in our photo, which was taken in 2009," AP spokesman Paul Colford wrote in an email to ESPN. "We could enforce those rights depending on the use and other factors, as is the case with all AP photos."

A spokesperson for Jordan said he was aware of the meme's popularity, according to The Chicago Tribune.

"I don't recall when we first started noticing it — everything explodes so quickly on the Internet, and suddenly it was everywhere. Everyone seems to be having fun with the meme, and it just keeps going," Estee Portnoy told the Tribune. "We haven't seen anyone using it to promote their commercial interests, which is something that we're monitoring."

The lawyers had better stay on their toes, because the MJ crying meme endures.

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