You know it’s funny what a young man recollects? ‘Cause I don’t remember bein’ born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.
- Forrest Gump
LOS ANGELES — I don’t remember the first time I ever saw Michael Jordan play basketball. I suspect it was sometime during the 1987-’88 season. I was living in Virginia at the time in Coast Guard housing, a development with other military families, and have a vague recollection telling one of the other kids – we were both in the elementary-school range – that Jordan was the greatest ever. That he never missed a shot. I may have been imitating his jumper on a mini hoop when I said this, tongue out. As luck would have it, I was onto something with my 7-year old assessment of Jordan. He was otherwordly that year, averaging 35.0 points per game to lead the league. He also was tops in the NBA in minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and steals, and shot 53.5% from the floor. He won the first of his five MVPs that season but the Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 5 games to the Pistons.
Since then, he was always my favorite player. It helped that, because our cable TV provider carried WGN, I was able to see nearly all of his games and listen to Johnny “Red” Kerr’s blatant homerism. Call me a front-runner, I don’t care. I was 10-years old, no one knows what that even means at that age, plus I don’t think I was alone in my open-faced loving of No. 23. I had every poster, basketball card and wanted every shoe. I recorded games religiously, imitated him on the playground (tried to at least) and wore black socks and baggy shorts.
Calling Michael Jordan an “icon” doesn’t really do the word justice. Sure, we all wanted to Be Like Mike, but there was so much that encompassed that. To write about just one Jordan trait didn’t seem right and how could I possibly pick from the lot? Jordan has given me some of my greatest sports memories, decorated my walls to no end and been the name brand on my feet for countless miles traveled. As he turned 50-years old over NBA All-Star Weekend it only seemed fitting to think back on his life to this point, how impacted mine and reflect on some of my favorite moments.
- I never saw Michael Jordan play in person. It’s probably my biggest regret as a sports fan along with having never been to Old Yankee Stadium. I never went to the Old Boston Garden or saw Joe Montana play in person either, but I wasn’t of true sports intellectual conscious during their respective heydays. But I didn’t need to see him play in person to appreciate his grace and power, domination and competitive drive, and the impact he had on his teammates with a single death stare. Basketball fans of this generation think Kobe invented that move, but he just copied all of Jordan’s. Only he doesn’t do them as great. I’ve seen hundreds of games on TV but seeing him in person just once would’ve been enough. Thankfully, I’ve been able to see some of the current greats but I’ll always regret never seeing 23.
- My birthday is the 23rd and for this reason I always felt a kinship to MJ, and whenever I’m playing roulette I always load up the chips on 23 Red.
- When my family lived in Alaska, my friend Jared Burdette-Gross had a pair of Jordan 5s, the ones with the purple trim, and he let me wear them once and it was the greatest thing my feet had ever had covering them. I knew I had to have some someday. So I saved. And saved. And finally bought some 10s at the Ocean City, Md. mall. It was summer and we were visiting my grandparents at their condo and I saw them. It was love at first sight. That was my first pair. I’ve bought 4 others. Hope to buy at least lots more some day.
- For the “Shrug Game” against the Blazers in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals, I had a Little League game. We lived in Alaska at the time and I played for Coastal Tire. I was 11 and either pitched or played shortstop that day, but I never got to see it live because of the game. But my dad had to work and then came later and told me all about it. It was amazing. I must’ve watched SportsCenter a half dozen times that night and morning. Dan and Keith killed it, I’m sure. Always get goosebumps seeing that clip and it conjures up that memory.
- When Jordan retired for the first time we had just moved to Maine and were living in a cottage-style hotel in Scarborough while we waited for our house to be ready to move in to. It was freezing cold in that place. And then Jordan retired. Held the press conference. Sold the story of when he has nothing left to prove in the game basketball, it’s time to move on. I was crushed. I still have the USA Today from Oct. 6, 1993; it was a thing I did as a kid, collect newspapers and clippings from big stories. I don’t know why, but I always had to have them. And they’re all in a tupperware at my mom’s house. I once made a Rickey Henderson posterboard after he broke the stolen base record. That was fun.
- Of all my Jordan posters, and there have been many – Jordan with all his rings, one with him, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the ’88 dunk contest slam from the free-throw line – my favorite has to be “Wings.” I used to have it hanging above my bed at my mom’s house. It was like sports jesus blessing me before I went to sleep each night. I bought it for around $12, which was twice as much as posters went for in those days, and while I thought it was steep (it’s doubtful I had a “job” at the time) clearly it was worth it. Do kids even have posters on their walls these days? The poster rack was always the first place I went to at Wal-Mart and when a Prints Plus opened up in the Maine Mall, I’d spend an hour in there browsing the racks.
- On March 19, 1995 Jordan made his comeback to the Bulls official with his fax that simply stated: “I’m back.” He took to the court against the Pacers and I couldn’t have been more excited. Not only do I have the game on VHS tape somewhere, but I even kept stats and have that sheet somewhere as well. What can I say, I was an enormous nerd back in the day.
- I learned to really play basketball on the playground of my elementary school in Ketchikan, Alaska; Valley Park Elementary. A group of us, when not playing football or kickball or some other form of ball sport, would play hoops. The nets were chain link and it was a struggle to get shots off on the full-size rims, but I always remembered these games because our friend had a Michael Jordan red and black ball that we used. I loved that ball and desperately wanted one of my own. Never found it, though.
- I was a sports card collector. And that’s putting it lightly. From the ages of 8 til about 14 I was into it as much as you could be and accumulated a vast collection. Every Saturday as a kid I would make my way to the grocery story or Wal-Mart or even the card shop on the main drag when we lived in Ketchikan and scope out new releases and decide what packs to spend my money on. I’d trade with friends and even had a subscription to a couple price guides to check the value of my investments. Of course, the bottom fell out of the sports card market some time ago but I’ve still held onto everything. They’re all neatly tucked away at my mom’s house in Maine, and among them are 50+ Jordan cards from as far back as, I think, 1988. I even have a few of his Upper Deck baseball cards when he played for Birmingham. I remember exactly where I was when I opened the pack to find those, now that I think about it. Right next to the light by Sam’s Club on the Holmes Rd. in Scarborough, Maine. Yes, ladies, I am available.
I could go on and on with insignificant, yet specific memories I have of Jordan, like where I was for his Game 6 winner against Utah in the 1998 Finals (my upstairs living room jumping up and down like a mad man) or his infamous Hall of Fame Speech in 2009 (watching streaming online in our tiny ass apartment in West Hollywood), but simply put, I’m a fan and always will be. In opinion he’s the best basketball player who ever lived and the game’s ultimate competitor. No one wanted it more and no one pushed his teammates to levels not even they thought they were capable of. Jordan trusted them and they trusted him and his teams won because of it. It’s not something you see often in today’s sports landscape.
I’ve never met Michael Jordan him and not sure I want to. Often when you meet your hero you leave disappointed. I’ve read everything there is to read about the man and so far, that’s been good enough for me. Maybe someday our paths will cross and you can bet I’ll remember it.
LOS ANGELES — I collected posters as a kid. I did a lot of things as a kid, but posters were my thing (and baseball/basketball cards; remember those days?). Whenever my family would head out to K-Mart or Roses or any place I knew sold them, the rack was the first place I went. I’d flip past at rocket speed until something caught my eye and stopped me dead in my tracks; usually it was a fast-looking car or a girl in a bikini but if there was one of Michael Jordan or Ken Griffey, Jr. they’d get my admiration, too. But hands down my favorite poster of all-time is of Bo Jackson.
You know the one. Bo standing there in a blue and black locker room. It’s just him surrounded by his equipment: helmet, bat, shoulder pads, glove, cleats, balls, jackets. There’s even a guitar and hockey stick, leftover from the Nike “Bo Knows” commercial, no doubt. It’s dark, there’s some smoke at the bottom and just the perfect amount of light shining on his Adonis physique. “BLACK & BLUE” the title read. I still have it at my mom’s house. Somewhere. Packed away. Of another generation, it seems. Much like Bo’s playing days.
Late November, Bo Jackson turned 50-years old. He last tore up the gridiron with his God-like power and speed nearly 22 years ago. People I work with don’t remember ever watching him play, only knowing him from throwback Tecmo Bowl games and stories of his freak-like strength and power. A super hero for the 8-bit generation. Last Friday, ESPN aired its latest “30 for 30″ and profiled the man, myth and legend that was Bo Jackson. The athlete and the human, and it did not disappoint. For me, it was an amazing trip down memory lane. A time when I still viewed athletes as mythical beings who could do no wrong; statues of muscle and brawn who mashed home runs and scored touchdowns with ease, men who I wanted to be and replicated their every movements in my back yard.
“You Don’t Know Bo” starts from the beginning, at Bo’s home in Bessemer, Alabama and continues chronologically from high school, through Auburn and to the Royals and Raiders, his tragic hip injury, the comeback and then skips to now, with Bo in his man cave making arrows (like for a compound bow) and showing off his big game taxidermy.
The hour-long doc was filled with people from Bo’s past telling stories about what they remembered about him, from his high school football and baseball coaches, former Auburn head coach Pat Dye, Royals teammates George Brett and Mark Gubicza, Raiders teammate Howie Long and various sports journalists, including pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman. Of course, Jackson himself was prevalent in the doc, recalling the moments as they were presented.
A few of my favorite stories in no particular order: Bo saying as a kid he used to have crab apple fights with the other children in his neighborhood and he always won, even one time throwing the apples through screen doors at kids who thought just because they went inside the house they were safe from his wrath; Bo’s high school football coach on the day he was hired asking about the “maintenance man” by the field who turned out to be Bo; him choosing to go to Auburn because Dye went himself rather than sending his assistants and called him Vincent; his college baseball coach talking about hitting a ball over the center field green monster and to the base of a building 150 feet away; Bo recalling why exactly he ran into the tunnel at the Kingdome after his 91-yd touchdown run (he didn’t want to pull a hamstring trying to stop before the wall); Bo’s lead-off homerun in the 1989 All-Star Game and the great footage of him running up the wall and breaking a bat over his knee; remembering all the Nike commercials and, of course, the Tecmo Bowl montage.
I was so jacked up for the Bo doc last week, I nearly bought a pair of his old cross trainers on eBay, except I’m probably the only person in 2012 who has never used the other-people’s-trash collecting site so I wasn’t quite sure how to procure them. It also got me thinking about the time when I was 10-years old, paying something like $12 for the Score baseball card of Bo shirtless wearing shoulder pads and a baseball bat. It was one of my most prized sports card possessions back in the day. I think it’s worth 75 cents now.
Alas, the most interesting part of the doc turned out to be the conclusion most of the journalists made that Bo is the ultimate “What If?” athlete. It’s a tough notion to argue with. Can you think of anyone who had more natural ability than Bo? More strength? More speed? He ran a 4.12 40-yard dash at the Combine!!?! Do you know how incredibly fast that is? He legged out singles on balls hit a couple steps to the left of the 2nd baseman. He tracked down balls in the outfield with ease. He’s the only player in NFL history with two touchdown runs of 90-plus yards. He once said that anything he did outside of baseball season was a hobby; meaning, his entire football career was a HOBBY. What kind of hobbies do you have? Knitting? Stamp collecting? Halo?
It’s crazy to think what could have been for him. His 162-game averages of 33 homers, 97 RBI and 19 steals suggest an outside Hall of Fame career stretched out over 15-plus seasons; though his .250 average and 196 strikeout pace might say otherwise. But Bo never played more than 135 games (in 1989) in his brief 8-year career. His NFL numbers are even more suggestive, especially his 5.4 career yards-per-carry average, which is better than Barry Sanders (5.0), Adrian Peterson (5.0), Tony Dorsett (4.3), Emmitt Smith (4.2) and the man he replaced in Oakland, Marcus Allen (4.1), to name a few. However, Bo’s career high in games played is only 11 in 1989; hey, he had a good year.
Jeremy Schapp brought up an interesting idea late in the doc, and in a way, he’s right. What if (there’s that statement again) Bo had came around 10-12 years later, looking like he did, hitting home runs like he did, running over Brian Bosworth like he did? What would we all be thinking? Naturally, we’d assume Bo was taking something to enhance his performance. No one is that big, that strong and that fast. But Bo was. He was country strong and he did everything with such ease that if it were during another era the cloud of suspicion would hang over him.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. Sure, we only got to enjoy Bo for really 3-4 years but those were pretty freakin’ awesome.
I do know that.
LOS ANGELES — The annual National Football League college entry draft is on Thursday in New York City and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. These are the facts of the case. It’s been assumed Luck would be the first name commissioner Roger Goodell speaks since about October of last year; right around the time it became undoubtedly obvious Peyton Manning’s surgically repaired neck wasn’t going to allow him to signal call in 2011 and the Colts were in for a historically bad season. Then, last month, the Redskins mortgaged their future to trade up to the No. 2 hole for the right to select Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
After these two 22-year olds are chosen what will happen with the next 30 picks is anybody’s guess. It’s what makes the NFL Draft my favorite sporting event of the year. (click here and here for my running diaries of the 2010 and 2011 NFL Drafts) The Awkward interviews, outrageous suits, head shaking over bad picks and Jets fans booing are only the tip of the football iceberg for what’s to come over the course of the 5-hour extravaganza. With that, and because everyone seems to do the same NFL Draft columns each year (“Biggest Busts,” “Best Late-Round Picks,” etc.), I decided to offer up some Round 1 Predictions. I’m shooting for a 12.5% success rate, or roughly the exact percentage of 2011 First Rounders to make the Pro Bowl last season (Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green).
1.) Someone is going to compare Robert Griffin III to Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Troy Smith and other African-American running quarterbacks who came before him.
2.) NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin is going to a) say something so ridiculous I’ll wish I had a “Mute Irvin” button my remote, and b) look ridiculous doing it.
3.) Some team will pull a Vikings and completely whiff on turning in their draft card causing a chain reaction of quick picks.
4.) One of the draftees will spend his entire bonus check, which he hasn’t received yet, on a bracelet, watch, earrings or all of the above.
5.) Commissioner Roger Goodell will get lots of hugs from the draftees and all of them will be awkward.
6.) At least three of the draftees will look like “Mad Men” extras and Andrew Luck will definitely be one of them.
7.) New Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will be mentioned so often we’ll think it’s The Decision: Part 2.
8.) There will be less Pro Bowlers drafted in the First Round than last year.
9.) Neither Luck nor Alabama running back Trent Richardson will win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.
10.) NFL Network host Rich Eisen will say “Radio City Music Hall” roughly 57 times during the 5-hour broadcast.
11.) Colts Owner Jim Irsay will be interviewed looking like he just spent the night with Roger Sterling.
12.) Oklahoma St. quarterback Brandon Weeden will be this year’s Andy Dalton.
13.) The Patriots will trade UP in this year’s draft rather than their traditional downward movement.
14.) Now that Al Davis is no longer with us, the Raiders will make a rational selection based on team needs… who am I kidding.
15.) Someone will get picked that none of “experts” had in their Top 50.
16.) An analyst will totally kill the mood of the broadcast by bringing up last year’s lockout.
17.) There will be roughly 2-3 commercials that will get played over and over and over again making me literally hate those companies.
18.) At least two of the draftees will be wearing bow ties.
19.) Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones will get drafted.
20.) We will see video of JaMarcus Russell doing SOMEthing (playing football well won’t be it, either.)
21.) Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill will get drafted far too high and spark comparisons to Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert.
22.) In three years, teams are going to wish they drafted linebackers Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) and Luke Kuechly (Boston College) higher.
23.) The Colts will try and trade up into the end of the First Round to draft Luck’s favorite target of the last few seasons: Stanford tight end Coby Fleener.
24.) Someone will talk about the Madden video game curse.
25.) A team that didn’t make the playoffs last year, is going to complete a trade so terrible it’ll seem make the Falcons 5-pick swap with Cleveland last year look like a steal.
26.) NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock will say the phrase “when I looked at the tape” no less than 487 times.
27.) During a crowd shot there will be someone wearing a jersey so dated I’ll have to rewind and watch it at least 3 times to figure out who it is and/or laugh.
28.) At least 7 players who played in this year’s BCS National Championship game (LSU vs. Alabama) will get drafted.
29.) Someone will trip either walking out to shake hands with the Commissioner or heading to a network interview.
30.) Despite the networks vowing not to show draftees on the phone before they’re selected, somehow we’ll know who’s going where before Goodell says a name.
31.) The point will be hammered home in full force that Nike is the new maker of NFL uniforms.
32.) At least one of the draftees girlfriends will become a Twitter star before the night is over, kind of like Jets backup quarterback Greg McElroy’s sister did a year ago.