23 on 23: The many legends of Michael Jordan
Here are 23 lesser-known stories on the most famous person to wear No. 23
We knew Michael Jordan had a combination of skills and determination that were unmatched. What we didn’t know, until the airing of The Last Dance, is just how maniacal he was behind the scenes in his pursuit of excellence. To the point where many of his teammates feared him.
As the world tuned in to The Last Dance, it seemed everyone who had ever encountered Jordan had a story to tell. We’ve compiled a few here — from Jordan’s tailor to the guy who wore the No. 23 before him at North Carolina to the rookie who dared to poke the bear.
Here’s 23 people who shared their stories on the most famous person to ever wear No. 23.
1. Jordan and the swordsman
The Michael Jordan Samurai Sword Storyhttps://t.co/cHNxpOu9Oi pic.twitter.com/C7zngBXAUm
— NBA Force (ACC FOR SALE) (@FW_Force) July 20, 2019
After he retired from the NFL, Bill Glass launched a ministry that eventually focused on prisons (it’s now called Bill Glass Behind the Walls). In 1982, he scheduled a visit to a prison in Raleigh, North Carolina, and wanted a “name” player from the area to join him. He recalled this week during a phone conversation that he specifically asked for UNC’s Sam Perkins.
He got Jordan instead.
“We don’t have a name player available,” Glass recalled coach Dean Smith telling him. “But we have a promising prospect that will come through.”
By the time the visit rolled around, though, Jordan had made a name for himself by hitting the game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA title game. But when he joined Glass in his effort to steer inmates in the right direction, he participated in a stunt that nearly finished his career as it was just getting started.
A watermelon was placed on Jordan’s stomach. Then a blindfolded swordsman took aim, swiftly lowering the blade and partially cutting through the melon. Not done, the swordsman swung again to finish the job. He had gone too far.
“He cut Michael, but it wasn’t deep,” Glass said. “We sent Michael to the hospital, and they sewed him up with three stitches.”
“He stayed good friends with us over the years,” Glass, now 84, said. “But he never came back.”
2. when mj called olive garden
When Brad Sellers was selected by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1986 draft, Jerry Krause told him he was going to be the NBA’s first 7-foot small forward. But Sellers’ minutes diminished the following season with the emergence of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, both first-round picks in 1987. As Sellers sensed he was the odd man out of the rotation, he wanted out of Chicago. And Jordan, he figured, was the man to help him.
“I told MJ, ‘You got to go in there and tell them that this is not going to work for me here,’ ” Sellers said.
“You really want me to do that?” Jordan asked.
“Absolutely,” Sellers replied.
“OK,” Jordan said. “I’ll do it.”
The next day, Jordan tracked down Sellers, who was enjoying a plate of chicken parmesan at Olive Garden when he was interrupted by the restaurant manager.
“Michael Jordan’s on the phone.”
Sellers took the call.
“They’re trading you to Seattle tomorrow,” Jordan told him. “Good luck, B.”
Sellers spent half a season with the Seattle SuperSonics before being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“When I got to Seattle, I said, ‘What in the hell did I just do?’ ” said Sellers, who since 2011 has been the mayor of his hometown of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. “I was young and dumb.”
Sellers would later sign with the Detroit Pistons as a free agent in 1991 — the year the Bulls’ dynasty began.
3. how MJ’s look was created
Jordan’s competitive drive was tough to match. So were his suits, which were custom-made by Burdi Clothing, a Chicago-based luxury Italian menswear brand.
“[Jordan] was buying sportswear from us originally, sweaters, shirts and polos, etc.,” said Rino Burdi, the current owner. “After he had been shopping with us for a while, I asked my dad (Alfonso Burdi, the original owner) to come up and take some measurements for a custom suit.”
Jordan was reluctant, explaining that all of his attempts to purchase custom suits to that point were disappointing. But the Burdis took measurements of the clothes Jordan enjoyed wearing and made a try-on suit for his next visit.
“He was not expecting much, but he went to the fitting room to try it on anyway,” Burdi said. “When he came out he was absolutely in love. …
“We tried tailoring a suit to the way we thought was proper [more tapered and fitted],” Burdi said. “But he wanted it back to the original try-on measurements, and his look was created.”
Michael Jordan pulling off that yellow suit is arguably the most impressive part of the doc so far
— Adam Reckamp (@AdamReckamp) May 18, 2020
Jordan had wanted a bigger, extra-long jacket because he was self-conscious about jackets that he believed were too short (forcing him to constantly yank them down); and he desired extra wide-legged pants because it camouflaged how big his shoes were in relation to his skinny legs.
“From the moment he became a custom client, it was a complete collaboration,” said Burdi, who styled Jordan from head to toe. “He loved bright colors, fun and wild patterns. It wasn’t just clothes, it was an identity.”
4. the time mj Picked up a bowling ball like a grapefruit
Michael Jordan’s 11 3/8 inch hands would’ve been the biggest in the 2020 NFL Draft by a quarter inch pic.twitter.com/yOixIGXyvF
— Charles Power (@CharlesPower) May 19, 2020
The friendship between Rex Chapman and Jordan goes back to 1984, when the future Kentucky guard was recruited by UNC. But, in 1996, Chapman scored what was at the time a career-high 39 points in a Miami Heat win over a Bulls team that would lose just 10 games that season.
Weeks later, the Heat played in Chicago, and just as soon as the jump ball was tossed up, Jordan elbowed Chapman in the sternum.
“I went, ‘Oh, s—, it’s gonna be like that tonight?’ ” Chapman said. “Guess what, it was exactly like that.”
Jordan dropped 40 in that game.
According to Chapman, now a social media star and host of the Block or Charge TV show, an underrated asset that helped his good friend dominate games was Jordan’s massive hands.
“His hands are unbelievably big, like Dr. J, like Kawhi Leonard, like Connie Hawkins,” Chapman said. “They’re different.”
Chapman recalls a story when he and Jordan went bowling one night with some friends. Jordan, talking to the group with his back to the lane, didn’t realize that the pins needed to be reset — which requires a ball being thrown. Jordan picked up a ball and, with his back to the lane and not inserting his fingers in the holes, threw it toward the pins. Backward.
“Picked that 17-pound ball up like a grapefruit,” Chapman said. “And never stopped [talking].”
5. ‘You grew up watching me, I didn’t grow up watching you’
As a kid growing up in North Chicago, Vincent Yarbrough had Jordan posters in his room, wore Jordan sneakers and followed the Bulls every step of the way to their six NBA championships. “When the Bulls came on television in my house,” Yarbrough remembered, “you couldn’t talk.”
So after making the Denver Nuggets’ roster as a second-round pick in 2002, Yarbrough circled the Jan. 20, 2003, game against Jordan’s Wizards in Washington on his calendar.
Yarbrough and Junior Harrington, a fellow rookie, got to the game early to see Jordan, but security had blocked off the court where he was shooting. When the game started, both were disappointed to see their idol struggling.
“Kobe averaged 44 against us that season and Tracy McGrady gave us 43,” said Yarbrough, now a shooting instructor with Cheat Code Basketball. “So with Mike retiring that season, we really wanted to see him go off.” Jordan missed nine of his first 14 shots, and the Wizards were getting hammered early. “So me and Junior started to poke and prod him, telling him, ‘That’s garbage,’ each time he missed,” Yarbrough said.
They even went after his shoes when Jordan changed his sneakers at halftime. “Take them ugly a– shoes off,” Yarbrough said.
Jordan grew furious.
“Hold on now, you little b—-,” Jordan replied. “You grew up watching me, I didn’t grow up watching you.”
Jordan proceeded to score 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. During the game-deciding stretch, he hit four straight baskets. After the game, Jordan had the final word.
“At the end of the day, winning can shut up a lot of people,” Jordan said. “And once we got the lead, some of the conversation disappeared.”
Yarbrough, who wore a Jordan T-shirt in the locker room after the game, had no regrets:
“We were able to bring out his greatness.”
6. ‘I was the last guy to wear your jersey at Carolina before you’
For years, Ged Doughton had a UNC basketball jersey with the No. 23 framed in the game room of his North Carolina home. “Some people would come to the house and ask, ‘Why do you have Jordan’s jersey?’ ” Doughton said. “They didn’t know my story.”
Here’s his story: Doughton earned a scholarship to play basketball at North Carolina in 1975. Smith called and asked what number he wanted. He asked for No. 22, his high school number, but that was already taken by incoming freshman Dudley Bradley.
“Well, how about 23?” Smith asked.
In that jersey, Doughton would average 2.3 points while playing sparingly for three seasons behind three-time All-American Phil Ford. He continued his role as a backup point guard his senior season after Ford graduated. Two years later, Jordan would put on No. 23 for North Carolina.
“We’re the bookends of Carolina basketball,” Doughton said, laughing. “He’s the best Carolina player of all time, and I’m probably the worst player of all time. …
“People think it’s cool that I was the last person to wear No. 23 before Michael Jordan. To me, it’s embarrassing. I really didn’t do anything with the number.”
Years later, Charlotte Hornets president Fred Whitfield introduced Doughton, the senior director of major gifts at UNC Charlotte, to Jordan.
“You recognize this guy, right?” Whitfield asked Jordan.
Jordan looked puzzled.
Doughton offered a clue: “I was the last guy to wear your jersey at Carolina before you.”
Jordan thought hard for a few minutes.
“I want to say your name is Ged Doughton,” Jordan said.
When Doughton told him he was right, Jordan slapped his hands, jumped out of his seat and said, “I told you I’d get it!”
7. THERE’S HUGGING IN BASEBALL
They were teammates with the Birmingham Barons for less than a season in 1994, but Scott Tedder, a first team All-American in both baseball and basketball at Division III Ohio Wesleyan University, has quite a few Jordan stories.
There’s the bat story. After being released by the Chicago White Sox (the Barons were their Double-A team), he was immediately signed by the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A team in Orlando, Florida. The Barons and the Cubs were scheduled to play the next day, but Tedder’s equipment didn’t make the trip. No problem. “After batting practice,” Tedder said, “there were three Michael Jordan bats in my locker.”
There’s the birthday story. “The day before my birthday, he asks me to meet him in the lobby the next day at 6 a.m.,” Tedder recalled. “We get in the car and go to TPC Southwind to play golf. … After golf, he took me to the Nike warehouse and told me to go shop for my birthday, and put it on his tab.”
And there’s his favorite story. When Tedder was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003, Jordan, who was playing his final NBA season with the Washington Wizards, found out about it and invited him to a Wizards game in Atlanta. Tedder, now a real estate manager in Alabama, drove to Atlanta and was brought into the locker room after the game. “I saw Michael, and he gave me a hug,” Tedder said. “He wanted to make sure I was doing great and my family was OK. …
“As a baseball player, he was a great teammate. Him checking on me all those years later, that really meant a lot.”
8. ‘michael’s weakness is his shot’
RARE footage of Michael Jordan playing pickup ball post-retirement at the Athletic Club at Illinois Center, circa January 1994. pic.twitter.com/ZqSRIayQcO
— Adam Howes (@Howsito) May 12, 2020
Aaron Watkins was at his home on the South Side of Chicago when he got an urgent call from his dad.
“Get to the gym, now.”
Watkins, 14, hopped on the bus. An hour later, he arrived at the Athletic Club at Illinois Center on Wacker Drive, where a crowd pressed up against the windows to watch Jordan playing pickup two months after his first retirement in 1993. Watkins followed his father inside the gym to watch his hero.
When it was time to head home — it was a school night — Jordan approached Watkins. “Hey, little man,” he said. “You want to run with me?”
Watkins ripped off his snap pants and tossed them aside. Then he hit Jordan with a precision pass (“He flashed to the elbow, and I threw it to him”) that led to a Jordan turnaround jumper.
“I had an assist to Mike that I could put on my resume,” Watkins said. “I’m good.”
It would get better. Watkins, with the ball at the top of the key, got a screen from Jordan, took one dribble to his left and let fly a jumper.
His father ran onto the court screaming and high-fiving everyone within reach. Watkins walked over to Jordan, expecting some love from his idol. “I was thinking he’d say, ‘Good job, kid,’ ” Watkins said. “He slapped me on the back of my head and said, ‘Play better defense.’ ”
After the game, a news crew caught up with Watkins, who offered a now-legendary scouting report: “Michael’s weakness is his shot,” Watkins told the reporter. “You just keep him around the perimeter, and when he does this move right here … don’t fall for that.”
Twenty-seven years later Watkins, who three years ago launched the California-based Unfnshd clothing line, laughs about it.
“It didn’t matter, Mike was retired,” Watkins said. “So I was willing to divulge his secrets.”
Watkins said he went on to play with Jordan at the club about four times.
“The other times, I didn’t play that well,” he said. “But that’s OK — when I played with him, Mike always wanted me to shoot the ball. I’ll always have that moment where I hit the game winner and helped Mike win.”
9. when jamal crawford tried to be like mike
Midway through his 2000-01 rookie season with the Bulls, Jamal Crawford got a 6 a.m. call from Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover. “You can meet MJ.” Crawford, who had a 10 a.m. team practice in the Chicago suburbs, immediately dressed and headed to the downtown gym, where he walked in on Jordan, two years removed from the NBA, practicing defensive slides. During a break, they talked. ”He told me he liked my game,” Crawford recalled. “He asked if I would work out with him that summer.”
That launched a longtime friendship, which included Crawford playing a younger version of his idol in the 23 vs. 39 Gatorade commercial.
While the two spoke all the time, it was Crawford’s agent who called about the spot.
“He told me MJ wanted me in a Gatorade commercial, and to be at the United Center,” Crawford said.
“It was unbelievable. I was dressed like him when he played with the Bulls, and we just played.”
The two went at each other during the five-hour shoot, talking trash for the duration. At one point, the director asked Crawford to do the dunks seen in the commercial.
“MJ looked at me and said, ‘Don’t do all that dunking,’ ” Crawford said. “I’m glad I got out of that because I was nervous. I don’t dunk like that.”
10. jordan trashed his daughter’s shoes
Jasmine Jordan was born in December 1992, while the Bulls were in pursuit of their second of six titles during the decade. She recalls her father always being present in her life, but recently shared a story with The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson about something he did not approve of in his house:
“The funny thing is, as a kid, I was rocking a lot of Skechers, which was not OK in my father’s eyes. I used to beg him, ‘Please, let me get the light-up Skechers!’ Or the shoes with the wheels. He would let me wear them for a day, then the next day they would end up in the trash. …
“It didn’t matter what pair they were. It didn’t matter who bought them. If they were in his house and they were on my feet, by the next day, they were in the trash.”
As she got older, she got wiser and wore Jordans.
“I definitely was in 1s a lot,” she said. “And a silhouette I didn’t realize I wore a lot was the 5s. I really enjoyed 5s when I was younger and the colors we did in those. I still love my 5s. But before those, I was loving Skechers.”
11. DOUBLE-NICKEL GAME: ‘I’m hot now, there’s nothing you can do’
The day before Jordan was to play his first game in Madison Square Garden after returning from his 18-month retirement in 1995, New York Knicks point guard Derek Harper arrived in Manhattan, New York, to take the pulse of the city.
“If you know how the people feel about basketball in New York City, you can only imagine how fired up the city was,” Harper said. “There was a buzz like I have never felt in New York for the game.”
The star-studded crowd got treated to a show. Jordan got hot early, scoring 20 points in the first quarter. After destroying John Starks, the Knicks shooting guard, Jordan began to pick apart small forward Anthony Bonner. By halftime, Jordan had scored 35 points and hit 14 of his 19 shots.
With Jordan virtually unstoppable, Harper requested a shot to slow him down. “What did I have to lose?” Harper recalled thinking.
As he approached Jordan for a brief stint guarding him, Jordan basically waved him off.
“He told me, ‘I’m hot now,’ ” Harper recalled. ” ‘There’s nothing you can do.’ ”
Jordan ultimately scored 55 points and the Bulls won a tight one 113-111.
“We just didn’t have an answer,” said Harper, now a game analyst with the Dallas Mavericks. “When a game is on the line, there’s something about greatness that comes to the forefront. And Michael Jordan is the greatest.”
12. Pickup game or playoffs?
When The Last Dance debuted, Tracy Murray, a 12-year NBA veteran, earned respect from his followers after posting highlights of his 1997 playoff performance against the Bulls.
But through the years, he’s earned cool points with his kids by showing them his performance with Jordan in Space Jam.
“They laugh,” said Murray, now a shooting coach and television analyst. “I only made it across the screen twice.”
Murray’s fondest memories of shooting the movie, however, are the pickup games that were held in the Jordan Dome constructed near the set. The runs were so popular that NBA players flew into town to play.
“An all-star game every day,” Murray said.
Battles between Jordan and Reggie Miller were the most intense, featuring trash-talking that Murray described as “downright disrespectful” at times.
“That was their relationship, that was how they competed,” Murray said. “Mike initiated the trash talk, but Reggie never backed down. It got to a point where everyone just passed to those two, cleared out and watched. …
“It was a heckuva matchup. And a great memory seeing two NBA players go at each other in a pickup game like it was the NBA playoffs.”
13. mj’s emotional return in 2001
In September 2001, Jordan announced he was returning to basketball with the Wizards. His decision came two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Etan Thomas — who had joined the team in June when Jordan, then the president of basketball operations for the Wizards, acquired him from the Mavericks — vividly remembers that day.
“We were sitting in the locker room and were watching on the TV family members of some of the people who lost their lives,” Thomas said. “And I looked over at MJ and he was locked in on the screen, and his eyes started watering and he bit his bottom lip as if he was trying to fight back the tears. Then he told [Wizards personnel] right there to donate his entire year’s salary to the family of the victims of 9/11.”
Jordan insisted that those funds go directly to people who needed it, and not through an agency.
“People always cast Michael as if he didn’t care, and that’s just not what I saw,” said Thomas, now an author and activist. “Now, he didn’t take political stands like Ali or speak out about the community like Craig Hodges. But I can’t cast him as if he doesn’t care at all, because that’s not what I physically saw with my own eyes.”
14. ‘Now I know what a championship team is like’
Jordan punched Steve Kerr. Made up a story to torch LaBradford Smith. Said he had no problem with Gary Payton aka The Glove. But the individual player who was in Jordan’s crosshairs the most on The Last Dance appeared to be Scott Burrell, who came to the Bulls for that 1997-98 season after playing much of his early years with the Charlotte Hornets.
Was Jordan a bully in Burrell’s eyes?
“No, he wasn’t a bully,” Burrell said. “He coached like a leader and we respected him for what he said. In this day and era, it might be too aggressive. But, no, I mean, guys loved it. I enjoyed it, and I needed it.
“I played on good teams, but I never played on a championship team. And now I know what a championship team is like.”
Burrell once welcomed the chance to play Jordan one-on-one in practice. And Jordan welcomed the opportunity to crush him. After an intense game that Jordan barely won 7-6, Burrell wanted a rematch. Jordan declined.
When Burrell asked why, Jordan replied: “So you can tell everyone, all your friends, family and relatives that you beat Michael Jordan?” Jordan asked. “If I win, what am I going to say to my family: ‘I beat Scott Burrell?’ ”
Burrell said there was a method to Jordan’s perceived madness.
“Everyone respected Mike — you could say maybe feared or respected,” Burrell said. “Every time he yelled, it was for a specific reason, and he was right. You might have forgotten a play, or a defensive responsibility.
“Effort, mental focus, you needed to bring it every day.”
15. the man who gave mj the proper send-off
Ray Clay was a year removed from his job as the public address announcer for the Bulls when the Philadelphia 76ers asked him to introduce Jordan for his final NBA game in 2003.
“Why not?” Clay responded. “Here’s my chance to give him a proper send-off.”
The Sixers’ regular public address announcer would announce the first four Wizards starters before yielding to Clay for the Jordan introduction. The lights dimmed and a voice familiar to Jordan filled the air:
“From North Carolina, at guard, 6-6 …”
Jordan couldn’t immediately see Clay, who was at the free throw line near the Wizards’ bench. But when the house lights came on, Jordan finally caught a glimpse of Clay, walked over and gave him a hug. “Thank you,” he told Clay. “I really appreciate this.”
Clay is now the public address announcer for basketball games at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also is bombarded with special requests.
“I do a lot of weddings,” Clay said. “People, when they get married, want that Chicago Bulls introduction.”
16. mj’S 63-POINT GAME: ‘bird was right’
It would have been easy for Gene Banks and Jordan to clash during their time together in Chicago, considering one is from Duke and the other UNC. But aside from some occasional good-natured ribbing, the relationship between the two was respectful.
Banks recalls the moment he knew there was something different about Jordan: It was when Jordan, midway through the second quarter of Game 2 against the Boston Celtics in the 1986 playoffs, dribbled three straight times through his legs before elevating over Larry Bird for a midrange jumper.
“That’s when we knew he was on another level,” Banks said. “We had seen that in practice, but in a game against Boston, that was unbelievable.”
Jordan would finish with 63 points, which still stands as the best individual scoring performance in NBA postseason history. Boston swept the first-round series on the way to winning the 1986 NBA title, but Jordan had set the foundation for his legacy. “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan,” Bird said after the game.
Banks, who is now the host of The Bank Shot podcast, can’t say it any better:
“Bird was right.”
17. the first dance
You’ll catch the name Leah Wilcox in the closing credits of The Last Dance. But the NBA vice president of talent relations is eager to talk about Jordan’s “first dance” alongside Full Force, Kid ’n Play and Lisa Lisa on the set of the 1991 Michael Jordan’s Playground video.
Wilcox’s advice after seeing Jordan’s moves? “Stick to playing basketball.”
But what you saw of Jordan in the music video is part of what Wilcox has encouraged NBA players to do since joining the league in the 1980s: show another side of themselves. That’s earned her the title among players as “Big Sis,” along with her reputation of helping build the league’s connection to the world of entertainment.
She formed a bond with Jordan on the set of the Come Fly With Me video in 1988. During that filming, Wilcox even surprised him by flying his sister into town for a visit.
“With Michael, I was more that recognizable face whenever we were going to do an interview with him or set up stuff that involved him,” Wilcox said. “I was just Leah, and I got to be trusted by Michael and by those in his circle. I was also that nag, that pain in the neck. When he said no, I would beg him to do whatever.”
In her role working behind the scenes with a large number of players, Wilcox observed the difference between Jordan and the rest of the league. “He could never just be Michael,” Wilcox said. “With his celebrity, the little things like walking to the park, he couldn’t do that.”
But Jordan did enjoy driving fast down the streets of Chicago, which Wilcox found out one day from the passenger seat of his Ferrari while on the way to an interview. “I don’t remember seeing anybody, that’s how fast he was going,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox has been along for nearly the entire ride of the off-the-court video content that the league has produced. Just days before the conclusion of the ESPN documentary — where she, again, appears in the closing credits — she received a photo of Jordan’s last shot of the 1998 Finals inside a league frame with the words, “The Last Dance.”
“It was amazing,” Wilcox said. “I’m humbled to just be listed in the final credits.”
18. giving up a home run to mj
The scouting report that Knoxville Smokies pitcher Jeff Ware had on Jordan as he faced the three-time NBA champion in a 1994 Double-A baseball game: pound him inside on his hands.
The ball Ware actually pitched sailed right over the center of the plate.
As Jordan swung, Ware muttered two words: “Oh, no.”
For Jordan, it was the second home run of his first season with the Barons. As Jordan rounded the bases, Ware’s mind began to race. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna get some calls tonight,’ ” Ware recalled. “I was pissed.”
But that home run turned out to be a pivotal point for Ware, who had missed the first part of the season following shoulder surgery. His velocity, in the innings after Jordan’s home run, increased over the course of the rest of that game, and the rest of the season.
“The next year I go 7-0 in Triple-A, and get called up to Toronto,” Ware said. “That moment was a turning point for me.”
Ware uses that story — the drive and focus he needed to shake off that moment — with the players on the roster of the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A team of the Toronto Blue Jays where he’s the pitching coach. “I bring that home run up because I was angry, but I overcame it,” Ware said. “I want them to know that they can, too.”
In 1994, during batting practice the next day, Ware grabbed a few new balls out of the team equipment bag and approached Jordan in left field.
“We spoke a bit, and I asked him to autograph the balls,” Ware said. “Here’s one of the best basketball players in the world, just off of three championships, and I got a chance to play against him. Even for an opponent, it was exciting.”
19. ‘I beat Michael Jordan, one-on-one’
As one of the nations’s leading financial executives, John Rogers is asked to make presentations at conferences around the world. And the icebreaker he often uses when he stands in front of those audiences is classic:
“I beat Michael Jordan, one-on-one.”
The complete story on that one-on-one battle is here. In short: Rogers paid to attend the Michael Jordan Senior Flight School camp in Las Vegas in 2003. The attendees, at the end of one of the sessions, can volunteer to play Jordan one-one-one, game to three. Rogers beat Jordan 3-2 by hitting a driving layup that was more prayer than pretty, which prompted Jordan to scream, “Oh, no,” as the ball dropped through the net.
Rogers wasn’t just any business executive who managed to throw up a prayer to beat a legend. He’s a former Princeton point guard who has played on 3-on-3 basketball teams that have won regional, national and world titles. He was also part of the group of guys who hooped with Jordan as he contemplated a comeback that eventually led to his return to the Wizards.
“I got switched off on Michael from time to time during those games, and I remember he was going up for a shot once and I thought for sure I was going to block it. I whiffed,” Rogers said.
“That still bothers me to this day.”
20. ‘he’s paying for my education’
Jordan’s Jordan Brand has collaborated with 23 countrywide community partners in five cities to provide more than 225 students — and counting — with complete academic scholarships through the Wings program. Dyamond Baker’s not really a fan of sports, but she’s a big fan of Jordan.
“I never really knew a lot about him,” Baker said. “But Michael Jordan has helped change my life.”
Baker, who’s from Portland, Oregon, has just completed her sophomore year at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she’s majoring in public health. That education is being fully paid for by Jordan, via the Jordan Brand Wings Scholarship program.
This is the sixth year of the program, which saw its first scholars graduate last year. The students are allowed to attend any school where they’re accepted.
For Baker, the scholarship allowed her to attend an out-of-state college. “I’m from a single-parent household, and with my mother raising three kids, I wouldn’t have had enough money to go to school out of state,” Baker said. “My sister just graduated from college, and it was a stressful time for my mother financially. So this is a huge help.”
While Baker has yet to meet Jordan, she’s looking forward to the day when she can thank him in person. “He’s paying for my education,” Baker said. “Aside from what he did in basketball, he’s a legend for allowing me to go to college.”
21. ‘you going to take them glasses off?’
How embedded was Ahmad Rashad while he covered Jordan? Enough to ride in the car to games in Chicago with Jordan, with whom he watched parts of the documentary series, and get an exclusive interview during the 1993 Finals. Rashad told the story to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears in a recent Q&A:
“He wasn’t talking to anybody. I wasn’t the guy on the side going, ‘Come on, man, come talk to me. Come on, man, let’s do this.’ I never said that, ever. You do whatever you want to do. I wasn’t out here trying to make headlines of having the first interview or anything like that. So, he called me one morning and goes, ‘Hey, man, go get a camera, and let’s do this interview so I can get this out of the way.’ I went, ‘OK.’
“But then I started thinking how much I was going to get killed if I did it, because I knew how jealous everybody else was of our relationship.
“So, that’s when I incorporated Dick Ebersol, to tell him I was bringing Michael over to do the interview and I want you to write the questions so they don’t kill me and say I didn’t ask him any tough questions. … And so, we get over there, Michael comes in, he had sunglasses on. And I’m thinking he’s going to take them off before we start. I said, ‘Hey, man, when are you going to take them glasses off?’ He’s going, ‘Oh, I’m all right, I’m all right.’ And so, I’m looking at him like, ‘Hey, man, you need to take those glasses off.’ And he’s just like, ‘No, I’m OK, I’m all right.’
“OK, let’s go. Whatever, it’s your s—.”
22. from coach to tour guide
Wilmington, North Carolina, is home to Civil War historical sites and one of the largest domestic production studios outside of Los Angeles. But many tourists stop through with one destination in mind: Laney High School, where Jordan emerged as a star.
Fred Lynch was the assistant basketball coach back then. Now he’s the athletic director at Laney, one of the few holdovers from the Jordan era.
“Every summer some of the Chinese students who attend the universities here stop by, and we’ve had people from France and around the world come through to see a piece of history,” Lynch said. “They know all about Mike, even if they never saw him play.”
The new gym at Laney opened three years ago, at the cost of $7.6 million. In the lobby is a museumlike display that holds Jordan’s high school jersey alongside 30 pairs of Air Jordans. But the tourists still want to see the old space where Jordan played, which has been spared even with the opening of the new facility.
“That would be blasphemy,” Lynch said, laughing. “We’ve been begging for a new gym for a long time, but we still have use for the old gym. Plus, it has so much history.”
23. mj’s OTHER last dance
There was 1:46 left on the clock when Jordan received the inbounds pass in the final moments of his last game on April 16, 2003, in Philadelphia. Sixers guard Eric Snow immediately ran over to Jordan and fouled him to set up the final points of a storied career.
“I did that?” Snow asked, when told about the events. “I know we were trying to get a dead ball to get him off the court. I didn’t know it was me.”
The importance of that sequence of events was twofold: It gave Jordan a chance to soak in the love that was being showered onto him by the crowd. And it gave him the chance to make two free throws that would give him a 20-point scoring average for the season (he was at 19.97 when he stepped to the line). Jordan made them both, scoring 15 points in his real last dance.
“I’ll take credit, but I had no idea,” said Snow, the associate head coach with the Texas Legends G League team. “Now, I’m definitely glad that I did it.”
While Snow can’t remember the events of his last game against Jordan, he does remember what happened more than two decades ago in their first encounter. “I was defending him and he grabbed my arm, moved it out of the way and yelled, ‘Give it to me, I got a little mouse on me.’ ”