WASHINGTON — In what may be the smallest gym he’s performed in since his high school days in Wilmington, Michael Jordan unveiled one of his retirement plans Friday: a $5 million program that will give teachers of disadvantaged students money for new equipment and new programs.

Flanked by Education Secretary Richard Riley, Nike executives and 16 math students from John Philip Sousa Middle School in southeastern Washington, Jordan introduced “Jordan Fundamentals,” an educational grant program that will be funded by part of the proceeds from the JORDAN brand, a subdivision of Nike Inc.

The grants will be administered by the Education Department’s National Foundation for the Improvement of Education. They will be distributed in $1 million annual increments over the next five years, starting this September. Individual grants of $2,500 will be awarded to 400 teachers each year.

Teachers at 6,300 schools nationwide that qualify — specifically, those where 40 percent or more of the students enrolled meet federal requirements for free or reduced-priced lunch — may apply for the Jordan Fundamentals grants based on the innovation of their lesson plans.

“My father, Dean Smith, Phil Jackson and many more teachers were just a few of the many role models,” Jordan said. “I hope these grants empower more teachers to do what they do best: find creative ways to give kids the means and the inspiration to succeed.”

Jordan said he hopes to increase the amount of money pumped into the program after the initial five-year launch, depending on the success of both Jordan Fundamentals and his shoe and apparel line.

The upbeat news conference, set in the bowels of a gym with faded and torn posters of Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic Johnson and starring the world’s best-known retiree, only once lost its good-natured spirit. When asked by a reporter if the Fundamentals program was being used as a promotional tool for Jordan’s product line, JORDAN brand President Larry Miller took the question while a peeved Jordan stood at the podium with his bowed head shaking slowly back and forth.

“This is not a marketing effort,” Miller said. “This is an effort by this branch to make a contribution, to give something back, to live the values that are Michael Jordan’s.”

Customers may see signs saying some of their purchase price will go to the grants. But Miller said Nike’s involvement in the grant program was not designed to bring in more business for the shoe giant, whose profits have declined in three straight fiscal quarters.

When pushed to give an exact figure on the percentage of JORDAN brand proceeds the $5 million represents, Miller said Nike doesn’t divulge financial information relating to its subdivisions.

“To say it’s X percentage of JORDAN’s revenue would be volunteering the sort of information that Nike doesn’t give up,” Miller said. “But what I can say is that the $1 million is a significant part of our proceeds and our profit, and as our business grows, it will continue to grow.”

Former Georgetown head basketball coach John Thompson, a good friend of both Jordan and his former college coach, Dean Smith, sat alongside reporters at the news conference. Thompson was the recipient of several barbs from the man who hit a last-second shot as a Tar Heel freshman to beat his Hoyas.

“Just like Coach Smith, [Thompson] always supported education and had high graduation rates among members of his team,” Jordan said. “I appreciate him being here today, even if we did beat Patrick Ewing and him back in ’82.”

Jordan said two educators at Laney High School helped him focus on his future: a math teacher who continually nagged him to keep up his work and a guidance counselor.

“[The counselor] advised me to go to the Air Force Academy out of high school,” Jordan said. “He was afraid I wouldn’t have a job if I didn’t.”

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) Date: January 30, 1999 Page: B1 Copyright, 1999, The Durham Herald Company