In the spring of 2000, I was working for ESPN 1000 in Chicago and hosting the Hugeshow in the afternoons. I lived in a downtown high-rise at 1133 Dearborn, and just a few blocks away was the Gold Coast Multiplex Health Club. I was a member there, and it was a high-end workout stop for windy city urban dwellers, actors and athletes. The best thing about it were the basketball courts and pickup games.
Through my Chicago sports radio connections I knew Tim Grover. This guy was the trainer for the stars. At one point or another I had heard he was training Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez and Charles Barkley. His most important client was a man by the name of Michael Jordan.
Tim had told me Michael was contemplating a comeback to the NBA, and that MJ was going to start playing Saturday morning pickup games at the Gold Coast Multiplex. I told Tim I lived two blocks from that gym. I begged him to let me run on Jordan’s team. He told me Michael said “no media” in his group of five.
That next Saturday I showed up early at the gym and a ton of guys were there like always. There was no sign of MJ yet. I went to the chalkboard to put my name on it and there I saw MJ plus 4. Michael Jordan was in the building.
I then saw Grover. I asked him again if I could be one of the four to play with MJ. He again said, “no media,” and that Michael would randomly select two players at the gym along with two of his security guards to play with him.
I thought: How lucky would those two guys be to be chosen to play pick up ball with the greatest to ever play the game?
HUGE CROWD GATHERS TO WATCH JORDAN
Why MJ in that gym? It was clear Michael loved the challenge of seeing how many games in a row he could win with hardly any qualified basketball talent on his squad.
MJ began his run on that court. My name on the board was about four games away. Jordan’s team was rolling every fivesome that walked on the floor. If I remember correctly, it was games of 1’s and 2’s to 11. A huge crowd had gathered to watch the greatest play pickup ball against all comers. Surprisingly, some of the basketball talent assembled was pretty good. Everyone wanted their shot at MJ.
Then it was my turn.
As my team walked out on the floor I noticed we had some talent. I think a taller 2-guard on my team was a college player at a D-1 school. He matched up with Jordan. The rest of us picked out a guy we would guard. I ended up going against a former Chicago cop turned Michael Jordan protector.
I couldn’t believe I was playing hoops against MJ. It was surreal.
On our first possession I whispered to our college player that I would set a high pick on Jordan at the top of the key. He then could shoot or take it to the hoop. Michael didn’t see me coming. I set a strong, legal body pick on Jordan. Was I dreaming? I just caught Michael off guard. I may have even hurt him a little. As MJ’s team was ready to take the ball out Jordan walked by me and quietly said, “Don’t do that again.”
AWESOME MOMENT WITH JORDAN
At that time I asked myself: “Is Michael Jordan privately threatening me? If so, that is awesome.”
A couple of possessions later I tell my D-1 teammate to get ready for another high pick at the top of the key. This time number 23 was ready. Jordan put out his elbow and chicken winged me so hard in the ribs he knocked the wind out of me. As I’m on all fours trying to catch my breath, MJ walks over and quietly said: “What did I tell you?”
I got to my feet and told him: “That’s bull___t.”
Michael then quietly pipes back at me with the following: “Only real mother____ers
play this game! That’s why I’m the MVP.”
I’m now at a loss for words. Michael Jordan has made it his mission to paint me as the bad guy in a pickup basketball game. I am as flattered as I am flustered that in this meaningless game the greatest player of all time has used this sports radio host as his motivation to keep a Saturday morning win streak going. It was amazing to see the mind of Michael at work at the expense of my ribs and ability to breathe.
A few possessions later we’re about to be bounced by MJ plus 4. I’m still guarding one of his bodyguards near the paint. Out of the corner of my eye I see Jordan shake the college kid checking him. As I turn, King Air Jordan is catching big air on his way to a thunderous dunk to end my time on the floor with him. I had to move quickly to get out of the way. I sensed then that MJ dunking hard near me was a statement: He was much better at basketball. I didn’t have to over-think that then or now.
My only dance with Michael Jordan is a lifetime memory.
The Huge Show is heard Statewide in Michigan Weekday afternoons 3-6pm. To get the podcast and to listen live: thehugeshow.net
Photo from the Chicago Sun-Times