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.