Preface– In Mid- April of 2020, during the Coronavirus pandemic, I became very sick and for a brief time didn’t think I would recover. I realized there were a lot of stories and lessons I never had the chance to share with my kids, so I began to write, a lot. This is one of them.
The Jordan Rule
If you haven’t been watching ESPN and the 10 part documentary series The Last Dance, about the Chicago Bulls and their march towards their 6th NBA Championship , then you either don’t like basketball or are from Detroit, in which case, stop reading.
As any good basketball fan knows, there was a thing the Detroit Pistons invented called “The Jordan Rule,” which they talk about in the show. In a nutshell, it was a plan to inflict as much physical contact and pain that they could to Michael Jordan in an effort to keep him from scoring.
That was one of the Jordan Rules. This is mine.
During that glorious last year of 1998 I was a young producer for a CBS kids show called The Sports Illustrated for Kids Show. As a fan of sports, this was a dream job, I had all access to any and every sport and athlete in the world and it was all a fax request away.
Every and any, with the exception of Michael Jordan.
When Jordan took a “break” from basketball to try his hand at baseball, Sports Illustrated “ripped” him on their cover, something Jordan did not like and vowed to never talk to Sports Illustrated again.
This is where my Jordan Rule starts.
My boss, wanted Jordan to host the Sports Illustrated for Kids Show. In her mind there was a big difference between the magazine and the show.
Made sense to me too and one of my jobs became to get Jordan to host the show. Now, that’s easy to type, but the reality was harder than BJ Armstrong dunking (see I can still talk sporty).
The Bulls gave me a spiffy media pass and I was on my way to get Jordan on the show. So I thought.
Being near Jordan was easy, I was within 10-20 feet of him in the locker room, on the floor before the game, in media scrums and as he walked from place to place. Talking to Jordan, that was another issue.
If you watch pretty much any video of Jordan talking to the media, he is usually surrounded by an ocean of reporters yelling questions. I was normally in that crowd, but yelling “Hi Mike can you host a kids show” was not the question you wanted to yell in the presence of the “real journalists.”
I figured I would eventually get an opportunity to get him alone and ask properly. I figured wrong. Jordan was never, ever alone. Days turned into weeks, which turned into months and me getting yelled at, a lot. It was made very clear, if I didn’t get Jordan, I didn’t get to keep my job. I was in fact expendable.
I was cool with it. While I was chasing Jordan, I had the opportunity to talk to and befriend many of the other members of the team, and being a Chicago kid, getting to go to every single Bulls game wasn’t all that bad of a way to make a living.
Finally one of the “real” reporters for SI, Rick Telander pulled me aside and gave me some advice, I think, or looking back, he was trying to get me killed? Either way, I needed help. Telander was the “Michael Jordan” of sports writers at the time and for him to take the time to help me was incredibly kind.
Telander showed me where Jordan parked his car, way down in the guts of the United Center. Normally the media isn’t allowed back there or didn’t go back there, I didn’t really care. By the time he was walking the long walk to his car, he had been “interviewed” and was left alone. That’s where Telander told me to wait, if I wanted a chance to talk to Jordan alone. So I though.
Even before the next home game was over, I scurried out to where Jordan parked his car and waited. I was going to talk to Michael Jordan and ask him to host the friggin’ Sports Illustrated for Kids friggin’ show!
Time passed and eventually I heard people coming toward me and yes, one of those “people” was Michael Jordan. He was not alone. Michael Jordan was in fact surrounded by a group of security guards and friends, which included Hall of Fame Chicago Bears Defensive End Richard Dent (maybe it was Mike Singletary, but I am pretty sure it was Dent) leading the pack. Shit!
I didn’t care. I was about to get fired and if I was going down, I was going down swinging.
I took a deep breath, marched toward the oncoming heard of large athletic men and yelled “Hey Richard (or maybe it was Mike) What’s Up?” I put my hand up for a high five and so did Dent (or maybe it was Singletary) as his hand was up, I scurried under his raised hand (I know, I “swam moved Richard Dent… Or Singletary?) and suddenly I was face to face with Michael Jordan!
Here’s where it gets weird. I am 6’4, Jordan is 6’6, but I felt like I was a little kid looking up at him. His stature is about 100 feet tall. He looked at me, didn’t say a word and didn’t stop walking! How could he not stop walking? I was walking backwards, looking at Michael Jordan, and terrified.
Despite all that, I went into my “pitch.” Not very well, I was stammering, flop sweating and not making a lot of sense. Jordan, still walking, clearly explained that he did not talk to Sports Illustrated.
As I tried to explain the difference, things got much worse. One of the guys walking next to Jordan, who to me, and this is just to me, looked like Morris Day( you know Prince’s pal with the hair). That guy started giving me a hard time, for not making any sense.
If you are one of the twelve people who read this blog, then you know I can at times, lean towards being a smart ass and before my brain could stop my mouth I looked at Jordan and said “I need you to translate what he just said, I don’t speak Ebonics?”
Jordan stopped walking. Morris Day stopped walking. I became very aware that Richard Dent (or maybe it was Mike Singletary) was behind me and breathing, like a lot. I was about to die, in the United Center, without ever getting to get Michael Jordan to host the show.
Jordan looked at me, like Jordan does. He looked at Morris Day and looked back at me. This was it, Dent (or possibly Singletary) was going to tear my head off. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
Then “it” happened. Jordan began to laugh, Morris Day began to laugh, Dent (or possibly Singletary) began to laugh. I made Michael Jordan laugh! I might live after all!
Jordan gave me the opportunity to clearly explain myself, which I did. Instead of saying “you know I don’t talk to Sports Illustrated,” he asked me “Would they really fire you?”
I didn’t hesitate to answer “oh yea.” Cuz it was true.
Then “it” happened again. Jordan came up with a plan, or as I call it The Jordan Rule V2
Despite being a fierce competitor on the court and tough with the media, he didn’t want the weight of a mid-talent “kid” being fired because of him, neither did I! Or maybe he thought it would be funny to mess with Sports Illustrated, I didn’t ask.
We talked for a few minutes and then Jordan gave me the contact info. to his “people.” He told me to have Sports Illustrated set things up for a talk, an interview, whatever. The catch was he had no intention of showing up to any of it, which wasn’t unusual for him back in the day. What he was doing was helping me keep my job.
There wasn’t much season left, we/he/I could string them along until the season was over and then I was on my own. The big wigs at SI went crazy with excitement and of course took over, each time hitting a dead end and each time, having me reach out to “set it up again.”
It worked! A lot of times, a different player would show up to fill the seat and we ended up getting amazing stories with several of the Bulls players.
I was able to actually do my job better and produced stories with the other players that were different and interesting-
FACT– Tony Kukoc told us, English was his third language, so he was terrified of interviews, because in his mind he had to translate the question two times to be able to answer it!” Smart dude.
FACT– Steve Kerr can’t dunk. Didn’t bother him, because he used his other skills to help the team.
FACT– Dennis Rodman taught me what BPT means after showing up three hours late for an interview (Google it). He also showed up with a gift and a very kind apology.
FACT– Luc Longley is a bad ass when it came to accuracy with a Aussie Rules football.
FACT– Several good looking girls thought I was a member of the team, since I was young and tall. We will just leave that there.
FACT– John Salley is a great guy to smoke a cigar with.
Because of the Jordan Rule, I grew as a journalist and producer. I was able to prove myself to the big wigs as well as myself. I got to see and appreciate a different side of one of the greatest athletes ever.
It’s the last home game of the NBA Championship in Chicago. I am in the hallway, doing not a lot, but not wanting to leave either. Jordan comes out of the locker room and looks at me, I smile at him and nod my head and he smiles back and shakes his head.
It was over.
The Bulls won their 6th Championship on the road, the season ended, Jordan retired, the show got cancelled and yes, I got fired. I was cool with it.
Through it all, despite all that was asked of Michael Jordan during that last crazy year, he took the time to be kind and help a complete stranger, with a few words and kind actions.
That’s a lesson I carry with me today. A lesson that we can all learn from Michael Jordan and my own Jordan Rule.