There have been so many articles and news stories about Michael Jordan lately since he is turning 50 this weekend. So I thought I might as well join in.
I was a season ticket holder with the Orlando Magic when they first started in October of 1989 The NBA was a big new thing in Orlando. There are no other big league sports in town so every night there was like a rock concert where star-gazing was as much a part of the game as watching the game and rooting for the home team.
When people found out I had season tickets, it was almost like becoming a lottery winner. I suddenly had more friends then I ever remembered. I was really popular whenever the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic were coming to town or the Boston Celtics with Bird. Isiah Thomas and The Detroit Pistons were the NBA World Champions then so that was a big deal. But the biggest of all was when the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan came to town.
The best game of that first season was a triple overtime game with the Bulls. The overtimes became almost a one on one duel between Otis Smith (yes that Otis Smith, Dwight Howard) and Jordan. MJ had over 60 points that night. He was already a big deal, but compared to what he would later become, he was small time. But even this night he was a big enough deal that before the game he realized someone had stolen his jersey. Nobody ever stole Bird’s jersey. Nobody ever stole Magic’s jersey. But someone stole Michael’s.
He had not won a championship yet. But somehow, someone with locker room access stole his jersey. This had to be someone with a pretty cool job that got up close to the players. But he or she was willing to risk it for MJ’s jersey. That’s how big he already was. He played that game wearing #12. You can see it in the background of Magic point guard Sam Vincent‘s NBA Hoops trading card from that year.
The following years, the Jordan phenomenon grew even larger, almost by the day. I can recall going to games and arriving a bit early and watching the pregame warmups. When other teams were in town there would be a few fans trying to get up close to watch the players. When the Bulls came to town there would be a thousand of them trying to get as close as possible to the front.
I’m too young to remember the Beatles and Elvis Presley, but I can imagine it was something like that.
Now, I saw a lot of not so good basketball in those first few expansion years. I also saw some really good basketball from the visiting teams. Watching the Celtics pass the ball around to each other without having to look for their teammates first was impressive. They knew where their guys were going to be so the ball just whipped around ending with a layup.
Watching guys like Thomas and Magic, Charles Barkley and David Robinson was impressive. But Jordan was in a class all by himself. He was un-guardable. He did whatever he wanted on the court. Sometimes it looked like he would try to make the shot more difficult even if he didn’t really have to just to keep fro getting bored. It was like watching an NBA player playing college players.
When he took two years off to play baseball, he came back late in the 1995 season. He was not back in his best shape. The Bulls and Magic met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In Game One, Jordan had the ball late in the game ad the Bulls were clinging to a one point lead. There was 18.1 left so the Bulls put the ball in Jordan’s hands.
Nick Anderson did the unthinkable. He stole the ball from Jordan. The ball ended up in the hands of Penny Hardaway who took a couple of dribbles and then passed it to Horace Grant for a dunk. The Magic went on to win the series. It was the only series in which Jordan and the Bulls lost in an eight year stretch. They lost a seven game series to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals the year before while Jordan was playing baseball. To this day I’ve never been in a louder arena that the Orlando Arena on the day during that play.
Maybe I was a lottery winner after all.