Friday, September 11, 2009

Mike's Michael Memories

The Bald Truth

Sources say Michael Jordan is getting inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Jeesh. They'll let anybody in, won't they?

The List

My top five Michael Moments:

5. The Shrug. After hitting his sixth trey of the first half against the Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the '92 Finals, Jordan, not known for his 3-point shooting, turned both palms toward the Chicago Stadium rafters as if to apologize for being too damn great. This was the first Finals game involving Jordan I ever covered, so it has a special place in my memory banks. (Also memorable: Later in that series, during a between-games interview session, Jordan was told he had made the NBA media's All-Interview Team. His classic response: "All-Interview? No comment.")

4. Father's Day. Shortly after Jordan retired the first time, his father was murdered. Jordan came out of retirement and led the Bulls to the 1996 championship, with the decisive victory over Seattle coming on Father's Day. When the game ended, Jordan fell to the court, cradled the basketball in his arms and wept as he thought of his dad. Not long before then, my father had been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, and I shed a couple of tears even as I worked on my story that day for AP.

3. That's Just Sick. Playing through a wicked bout of food poisoning, Jordan nonetheless carried the Bulls to a Game 5 victory over the Jazz in the 1997 Finals. The shot of a drained Michael leaning on Scottie Pippen after making the winning 3-pointer is one of the iconic sports photos of recent times. This actually was the only playoff game during the Bulls' second threepeat that I didn't see in person. My mother had died three days earlier and we buried her in Philadelphia the morning of Game 5. I watched the game on TV that night with my family.

2. The Steal & The Pose. Jordan's last play as a member of the Bulls: He stole the basketball from Mailman Malone on one end, went up court, gave Bryon Russell a little shove, hit the winning jumper and then kept his shooting arm extended, wrist flexed, for what seemed an eternity as the usually-eardrum-busting Delta Center crowd fell silent. The absolutely perfect ending to his otherworldly Chicago career.

1. Double Nickels. I was at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1995, when Jordan told the world he really was back by putting up 55 points on the Knicks. The atmosphere was absolutely electric, with Jordan having returned only 10 days earlier. No, this game wasn't as important as many of Michael's big games, but it will always be special to me because it provided perhaps my all-time favorite keepsake. There on the front sports page of the next day's New York Times was a huge photograph of Jordan taking a jumper over John Starks. To Michael's left, at about ankle height, a certain balding (but not yet completely bald) sportswriter was looking on from press row.

One More Michael Moment

Late in a blowout victory at the United Center during the Bulls' 72-win season of 1995-96, I was having trouble sending my story over the landline on press row. Yes, that's right: We had landlines back then in the Dark Ages, with cords and everything.

Anyway, I was with AP then and our seats were adjacent to the end of the Bulls' bench. I was whining loudly to the scribe sitting next to me about my plight when a towel hit me in the face. I looked up and Jordan, who had been out of the game while the subs played in garbage time, was laughing hysterically.

Eventually, I was able to file the story. And, by the way, I still have that towel.

(For my take on what Jordan meant to Chicago, CLICK HERE to check out the column I wrote for Friday's Northwest Herald.)


A lot of people conveniently forget that, for the first six years of his career, Jordan never won a title. More than that: The common belief back then was that he couldn't win a title.

He was too selfish, too focused on statistical accomplishments, too worried about his next Nike commercial.

"Sure, he's great," the thinking went, "but can he elevate those around him to excel for the overall good, the way Magic Johnson and Larry Bird do? The answer is no."

Of course, he went on to prove that the answer was yes.

And yes and yes and yes and yes and yes a sixth time.

We have come to learn over the years that Michael Jordan is an imperfect man, with enough vices and indiscretions to last several lifetimes. Take him away from the basketball court, and he's a false god. He certainly isn't much of a role model.

Still, when those lights came on, there was nobody better. Ever.

So all in all, I guess the Hall voters made an acceptable selection.


  1. I couldn't find a bigger version.

  2. the northwest herald...but have you ever played golf with mike or gambled with mike...he was pretty good for a basketball player...

  3. Actually, I was sitting on the baseline so I'm to the right of the players and not in that photo, Drew. The nerve of them, publishing a shot without me!

  4. Having lived 51 years and having rooted for Chicago professional sport teams since the mid-1960's, a Jordan-less Bulls team would have meant that I would have experienced only two championships. Thanks to Jordan, I got six more -- and a dynasty. Thanks, Michael!