Back in the Spring of 1986 while me and my family were living in Germany, my mom saw that I needed some more shoes. She told my dad to take me to the base BX (Base Exchange) to get me some more. I would by lying if I said I remember a whole lot about what happened on that trip (I was 7 going on 8) but I do remember this particular trip. The young-ish guy who worked at the BX said 'I got the perfect shoe for you!.....we got these in yesterday (note: we were in Germany, so I think things were released later than in the US)!' and he opened the box and I saw the Red/White/Black combo. This is Michael Jordan's new shoe called the 'Air Jordans'....well, since you don't wear an adult size, these are actually called 'Sky Jordans'....what do you think?' At this point of my life, I really only knew of two superstars: Michael Jackson and Walter Payton. I was unimpressed. I remember my dad buying them for me and on the ride home, he started briefing me on who MJ was. I vaguely remember hearing he was from North Carolina, he went to UNC and could be better than Magic and Larry Bird (again.....I was like who? LOL). The next day, I put the shoes on and IMMEDIATELY got attention at school and on the playground. I remember I was playing bball on the outdoor court and an older guy in the neighborhood was like 'John John! You better not play out here with THOSE! Get out of here!' I then knew that these were special! That was my first introduction to Michael Jordan and who would then become the second most influential person (behind my father) on me and my love for the game of basketball.
Fast forward to 1988 and I am now ALL IN on Michael Jordan. I now even worship the UNC basketball program (partly because of Jordan, mainly because of my dad). This year, the now iconic All Star Weekend beginning with the Slam Dunk competition vs Dominique (As a kid....MJ jumped from the free throw line...game over....as an adult....Nique got robbed..dude did a two handed windmill FROM THE BASELINE...yikes....I discussed this before) to the game where MJ outdueled guys like Isiah, Magic and Bird for the All Star game MVP award. MJ was a super hero to me and could do no wrong. I even because a super bandwagon Chicago Bulls fan (including liking Brad Sellers...lol). I thought my special connection was that we both were North Carolina-based and the fact he went to UNC. I'm not going to bore you with why MJ was and is still my favorite bball player of all team (could dunk on anyone, was cool, blah blah blah) but I will say that (foolishly) I felt I had a special 'thing' with MJ and the Bulls that only I possessed. I actually think a lot of people felt and still feel the same way. MJ's influence on basketball is un-matched and while I listen to the MJ vs LeBron arguements just to see if there is a new wrinkle to it....deep down, I really believe the MJ is the greatest of all of time. The picture I included with this post is my favorite MJ pic of all time because it contains all of 'young buck' John John's favorite things: The iconic baby blue UNC uniform, the close up of the baby blue Jordan's, and of course....a prime MJ looking at the camera like 'Yep, I'm the best in the game and this is what I rep' My 14 year self (and ok....my 41 year old self also) gets butterflies each time I see it.
Through his shoes and branding, Jordan never really 'went away' but he is definitely back with the new ESPN series 'The Last Dance'. We are hearing him cuss (which is HUGE for people to remember how curated his image has been over the years), we are seeing up close how competitive he was/is, just riveting TV. The series is (of course) putting up HUGE numbers, not because its well done (it is), but because I think people are watching to re-live the Bulls glory days and are hoping 'their' love for MJ and the Bulls are validated through the series. I've seen people on social media mention that 'Hey, I'm a die hard fan, MJ wasn't even my favorite (yeah right)....I loved BJ Armstrong!' Statements like highlight my what I mean about people (including myself) think they had a special love of the Bulls. Through people telling us stories and the internet, we now know that Michael Jordan is a special, but flawed person that was given God like status. We now know that he maybe gambles too much, is almost psychotic competing with people, and maybe isn't the nice dude we thought he was when Gatorade was making the now classic 'Be Like Mike' advertisement. But that's what makes this special so....um....special. We get to see what was behind the curtain during all of those years. Now, let's be clear, even with the cocaine stories and the cussing, this is still a documentary of MJ that MJ himself had to sign off on and had the last say on what was included so things such as I mentioned about gambling or how he ended a few careers are routinely glossed over when discussing any back story. It has truly been my favorite documentary that I've seen in a long time. I almost wish all of the NBA superstars have a camera crew around to catch this kind of 'behind the scenes' stuff.
Quick story about Michael Jordan and my dad. Jordan 'retired' for a second time after he hit the game winning shot vs the Jazz. For many people that loved bball, that was it. If you didn't get a chance to catch the Bulls and MJ, you missed out. HOWEVER, Jordan had resurfaced with the Washington Wizards first in the front office as an Exec. Then there were rumors of MJ inviting some of the NBA's top guys to Chicago to 'scrimmage'. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, it was announced the Jordan would indeed come back to play with the Wizards. This was mainly to bring some attention (read: money) to the franchise for a few years which he would then slide in as some type of owner for the franchise (which...uh....didn't work out that way). Anyway, during the second and last year he was going to play with the Wizards, it was announced that Jordan and the Wizards would play in a preseason game vs the Denver Nuggets....IN FAYETTEVILLE! Yeah man, you KNOW I had to go. So my man Leon somehow got three tickets to that game which was billed as 'Jordan's last game in North Carolina' (This was before the Charlotte Bobcats made their appearance in the league). So I tell my dad we got tickets and we both are super excited! We all heard that Jordan's playing status for this game was up in the air because of a 'knee' issue. But everybody figured that since this was his last time in NC to play and having heavy UNC hitters (such as Roy Williams and Dean Smith) in the building that he would suit up and at least sit on the bench right? Nope. As a matter of fact, Jordan himself didn't show up on the Wizards bench until RIGHT BEFORE the starting lineups were announced. Most of the time in preseason games....NBA teams, especially if the team is playing somewhere other than their home court but are counted as the 'home' team, will send a representative/player for the team to the microphone and they stand at half court and thank the crowd for their support and look forward to the season. You would think "Ok, MJ's not playing, he SURELY would address the crowdm right?.....SINCE WE ARE ALL THERE SPECIFICALLY TO SEE HIM (can you tell I'm still a little mad about this? LOL)' Well, spoiler alert...he didn't...the team instead sent another UNC product, Brendan Haywood, to mid court to thank everyone. Uh.....so nothing against big Brendan....but c'mon son.....we are here for Jordan. As a matter of fact, MJ didn't even address the crowd once during the game AND left before the game was over. On the ride back to Raleigh, I could tell my dad was very disappointed in Jordan. Someone that my dad probably pulled for his whole career, especially since that magical shot Jordan hit as a freshman at UNC for the championship went and pulled this bullshit. Just a disaster all around. This just illustrates that MJ and his mystique was maybe a little over-inflated by me as a kid/in the 80's. Michael Jordan, while very rich and the best basketball player I have ever seen......is just a guy like the rest of us. I think 'The Last Dance' pulls back the curtain a bit on that while still maintaining that Michael Jordan and the Bulls were a special team, which at a time like this....is ok with me.