Saturday, August 9, 2008

Meeting Michael Jordan

Having worked at one of the most luxurious hotels in both Aspen and Chicago, I have seen my share of celebrities and rich men. Some of the most interesting have included writer Hunter S. Thompson, astronaut John Glenn, actor Bill Murray, and baseball player Ernie Banks. I could write a good short story about my interactions with these men. Seeing celebrities now seems commonplace.


With Michael Jordan it was different.

I have been working on a story on a 40 and over league that he sponsors in Chicago. It is the second year of this league’s existence and I am the only journalist who has written about it. The league is primarily composed of former college and professional players who grew up in the city’s west and south sides. The league’s organizer, Tony McCoy, grew up playing basketball on the Southside. McCoy and Jordan were both in college playing in a Chicago pro summer league when they met. They have remained friends, which was why McCoy told me Jordan would probably arrive for the championship game. Just before the game began today at noon, Jordan walked in with a big, bright smile as if he knew everyone was looking at him. He shook hands with many players and guys his age sitting in the bleachers. He looked in basketball shape and despite all the bald heads in the gym, his was the only recognizable one.


The whole feeling inside the gym changed when Jordan entered. Maybe this was why he was so good at basketball; he changed the game simply with his presence. The players hustled after loose balls that I had seen them ignore in previous games. The players and referees listened to Jordan’s words as definite truths as his voice grew hoarse from hollering instructions. About the only one who didn’t listen to Jordan was his two-year-old godson Kendall. At halftime I asked Jordan for a photo with Kendall. So Jordan picked him up and despite Jordan’s insistence, Kendall refused to change his confused expression. I then told Jordan I had gone to UNC. He asked me when I had returned last and we agreed things had changed a lot in Chapel Hill.

The second half began before I could carry on our conversation. Jordan was on his feet almost the entire half telling his former Bulls teammate Jeff Sanders to stay in the low post and critiquing the refs’ calls. Even in jeans and tennis shoes Jordan could control the game. Sanders’s foul shot with a few seconds left was the difference in the game, though it seemed inconsequential to Jordan’s arrival. Everyone was wearing Jordan apparel, even NBA player Juwan Howard. A mass seemed to follow Jordan after the game and I never saw him again. There were no television cameras or screaming fans. He seemed happy being one of the guys watching a sport he loves.

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