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News » Our favorite Michael memories

Our favorite Michael memories

Our favorite Michael memories THE CEREMONY

Friday in Springfield, Mass.

5:30-8 p.m. TV: ESPN



It was supposed to be just for fun, although Michael Jordan was doing me a tremendous favor.

It was fall 1995. We were going to play a game of one-on-one at the Berto Center, after practice, and it would be filmed and edited by SportsChannel to promote ''The Sportswriters on TV'' show I was doing on that station with Bill Gleason, Ben Bentley and Bill Jauss.

I'd guard Jordan, he'd guard me. He'd do his thing, annihilate me, of course, and then at the end, using a mini-trampoline, I'd fly over him for a monster jam. The dunking part was my idea. Partly, I wanted to see what it was like to come down from six feet in the air. The other part was: how cool to jam over MJ!

That he grudgingly agreed to participate -- ''You'll do that when I'm not here,'' he harrumphed when I first explained the dunk concept (me literally flying over his head) -- says a lot about the kind of star Jordan was.

He was devious. He was competitive. He was confident. He was cocky. But he was always playful.

The other amazing thing about Jordan, particularly in the early days, was that he actually liked sportswriters. Going back to the mid-1980s at the Chicago Stadium, there were nights when Jordan would sit by his locker and shoot the breeze in that easy way he has, and simply enjoy the give and take with Chicago scribes.

He particularly liked b.s.-ing with the feisty, tough-talking, take-no-nonsense older writers -- originals like Gleason, Joe Mooshil and, yes, the Sun-Times hoops writer/minister Lacy Banks. Indeed, Michael and ''The Reverend's'' Ping-Pong battles at the old Multiplex practice facility were legendary.

Jordan had a respect for the past, for tradition, that transcended his often smart-assed ways. When he kissed the Bull at center court before the Stadium was demolished, he meant it. When he said he liked Gleason, because the World War II vet was ''old-school and Chicago,'' he meant it.

So when he did this favor for me, this ridiculous TV shoot, he was just being a guy, a decent sort who appreciated someone from a different craft who also respected sport, competition and success.

Before we started, I said, ''The theme is 'Sportswriters can jump.'''

He paid almost no attention, watching me dribble at the top of the key. He smiled.

''You're bowlegged, too,'' he chuckled.

''You can't stop a sportswriter,'' I said. Now we were mic'ed up and the cameras were rolling. ''Nobody can.''

Again, he wasn't listening.

''Come on, man,'' he said sadly. ''What kind of shoes you got on? You can't afford Nikes?''

I was wearing old Cons. Battered. Woody Harrelson-style. I kept dribbling.

''Oh,'' he said, as if a light had gone off in his head. ''Sportswriters don't get paid much. I understand.''

I first spent time with Jordan in the fall of 1987, doing a cover story for Sports Illustrated. He was 23, back after his second-year foot injury, and he was on fire. He owned midair.

''I wish I could show you a film of a dunk I had in Milwaukee,'' he said excitedly. ''It's in slow-motion, and it looks like I'm taking off, like somebody put wings on me. I get chills when I see it.''

We all did. All the time.



One of the best parts of my

37-year career with the Sun-Times was covering the career of Michael Jordan.

Yes, this paper paid me to watch Michael Jordan!

As you can imagine, I have oodles of treasured memories of his game exploits. But the one that perhaps excited me the most, and actually introduced me and many others to his greatness, occurred May 7, 1989, in the Richfield Coliseum during the fifth and deciding game of the playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What most people remember as ''The Shot,'' I remember as two. Before hitting the shot to win the game at the buzzer, Jordan nailed a 16-footer against guard Craig Ehlo to give the Bulls a 99-98 lead, their first of the game, with just six seconds to play.

Most of us thought that was the ballgame right there. But the Cavaliers responded. Ehlo worked a give-and-go with guard Mark Price off an inbounds and beat Jordan with a layup to give him 24 points for the game and give the Cavaliers a 100-99 lead.

But just as that play took a mere three seconds, that's all Jordan would need to swish the clincher. Jordan took an inbounds pass from forward Brad Sellers, dribbled around Ehlo, jumped, double-clutched and hit a 17-foot buzzer-beater to give the Bulls a 101-100 victory to advance to the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Immediately after the shot, CBS cameras televised me jumping up and down with outstretched arms from my courtside press seat as coach Doug Collins threw his arms up in the air and ran wild toward his celebrating team.

''You know, a lot of people put a lot of pressure on me, and I still couldn't concentrate and hit my free throws,'' Jordan said to CBS reporter James Brown. ''But I didn't have to take a free throw on the last shot. I felt comfortable. We came in, and we stuck tough. We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance to win, and we won the ballgame.''

But many fans would rather say it was Jordan who won the game for the Bulls .



Michael Jordan was walking through the United Center corridor before a Bulls game. Nothing unusual there. Except this time, he was no longer a member of the Bulls . Nope, it was October 2000, and he was the president of Basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. This was his first Bulls game since his retirement. And let me tell you, it felt weird seeing him there.

I can't remember what he was wearing, but I assume he looked pretty sharp. He usually did. Anyway, he was all smiles as he stopped to chat with some friends. He saw a rather large media contingent patiently waiting to talk to him. We knew he'd get to us in due time.

He was on his way to a private box, and there were any number of routes he could have taken to get there. He didn't have to enter the arena through the players' loading-dock entrance. He didn't have to walk down the corridor that leads to the Bulls' locker room. I figured he couldn't help himself.

When he stopped to talk to us, someone asked if he was on his way to visit the Bulls' locker room. Nope, he said. He gave up that right when he joined the Wizards. And I remember thinking: What an awkward situation. Jordan, back at the United Center, but not with the Bulls .

He seemed to feel it, too. But he said he had no animosity toward the Bulls . He said he wasn't blaming the organization for the breakup of the dynasty. He said something like, ''Things happen for a reason.''

Although he admitted that it was an emotional night for him, he insisted that he had moved on, and was happy. But I didn't believe him. All these years later, I still don't believe him.



There were so many remarkable moments in Michael Jordan's career, it's hard to say which was the most incredible.

But my thoughts keep returning to the ''double nickel'' at New York's Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1995.

I remember sitting courtside that night not believing what I was seeing. Though I had the typical deadline pressure of a night game, I couldn't help but lean back a couple of times to enjoy the show.

In only the fifth game of his comeback after a 17-month retirement, Jordan, who appeared a bit rusty in the first four games, stunned everyone with a virtuoso performance. He was 21-for-37 from the field, and his 55 points were at the time a record for an opponent at the Garden. The outburst came against a New York Knicks team that had played in the NBA Finals the previous season and was regarded as one of the league's best defensive teams.

A Jordan assist -- one of only two he had that night -- set up the winning basket. With the score tied in the final seconds, Jordan had the ball at the top of the three-point line when he made his move. The Knicks surged toward him. He then simply passed the ball to a wide-open Bill Wennington for the decisive dunk.

Though the Bulls lost in the second round of the playoffs that year as Jordan struggled to regain his form on a consistent basis, the ''double nickel'' provided a hint at the second Bulls three-peat that would begin the next year.



You can look up the individual accomplishments and statistics, look at the highlight clips and gaze up at the six NBA championship banners adorning the United Center rafters.

If nothing else, they should tell you this about Michael Jordan: As a Basketball player, he was as close to superhuman as any athlete who ever lived.

That pedestal upon which he exists places him at such exalted heights that it's almost unfathomable to view him as less than superhuman.

But he is.

Be like Mike?

More likely: Mike would like to be like you and me. OK, more like you.

To view Jordan surrounded by a multitude of media in the locker room after a game was merely a continuation of his oncourt performance.

Like his play on the court, his effort with the media was something to behold. The words that flowed from his mouth were like gold nuggets. They filled air time and printed pages and made more than a few people a lot of money. Yes, he enriched some people's lives off the court, too.

A favorite MJ memory?

It came after a game. As far as the exact date (possibly 1998), the mind blurs; the image does not.

Jordan had finished with the media and walked down the hallway in the bowels of the UC.

Waiting was a group of friends.

Not business associates or an entourage. Simply friends.

Jordan joined the group. His graceful oncourt gliding morphed into rhythmic quasi-dance movements -- arms and torso flailing -- as he chatted and laughed.

His deliberate diction before media microphones yielded to a more colloquial conversational style.

His actions spoke in unison with his words and said simply: Here is a man. Not a mythic figure.

It was a scene seldom seen by most.

A man.

Enjoying life.



The writer met Michael Jordan on his first day in Chicago --

June 20, 1984.

From the beginning, he was unfailingly polite, focused and quietly devilish.

They worked opposite ends of the intense party culture that enveloped the team in those days. Jordan controlled his happy feet; the writer sprinted with the gremlins on the nightside.

In 1989, Jordan began the final ascent toward his six NBA championships.

The writer left the Bulls beat and began a run of media escapades that included a turn at The National Sports Daily, foundational work on the book project that became ''Rare Air'' and assorted collaborations with talents ranging from Tim Weigel to Steve Dahl.

Finally, in early 1997, a bold and daring sports editor at the

Sun-Times brought the writer squarely back on beam with the Bulls circus. The first assignment was to attend a game at the United Center.

''Don't worry about writing,'' the editor told his new man. ''Just let people see you and know the rumors about you being with us are true.''

The writer attended and was seen.

After the game, Jordan was at his locker, typically buried behind wave after wave of reporters.

The writer stood quietly in a corner, taking it all in with old chum Tim Hallam, the Bulls' unflappable director of media relations.

Finally, the Jordan interviewing was over. His normal routine was to make a very quick exit, stage left, and bolt out amid a circle of security.

On this day, he instead moved swiftly to his right, toward Hallam and his companion.

The move was so sudden and so out of his norm that many turned to see what was up.

Jordan stopped in front of the writer. No words were spoken.

He simply stuck out his right hand and offered an incredibly warm, majestic handshake.

No words needed to be spoken.

The king had welcomed the wanderer back to the royal court.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 11, 2009


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