Come on and slam, even if you don’t want to jam.
It was 1998 and Michael Jordan was done after this year (Lies. Lies. Lies. Oh. Lies. Black Keys songs). It was his farewell tour and he was singing his swan song all over the league. I was 10 years old, and Jordan was not human to me. He was an idea. A force forged in sports heaven. He could fly. That was not opinion. That was fact. He could stretch really far. Like, SUPER far. I watched Space Jam. So don’t tell me he couldn’t. Cuz he could. He also got kissed real hard by Daffy Duck, which is kind of weird, but whatever, it was the 90’s.
Jordan did things that caused spasm reactions. Stuff that made your body jolt like you were waking up from a dream in which you were falling. Stuff that made you make a face like you smelled something really bad. Plays that made those white guys in their chunky 90’s Cosby sweaters with multi-colored stripes and swirls do their own, grounded up and unders while standing in front of their seats.
Gravity is a jerk to most of us. Jordan tamed it.
My Uncle Jeff lived in Houston. He was a lawyer there. He had season tickets to Rockets and Astros games. One incredible weekend he invited myself and my Dad to come watch an Astros game in the afternoon, and a Rockets game that night. The Astros would be playing the Rockies. The Rockets would be playing the Bulls.
…Tire screech sounds. Car slams into a telephone pole and the airbag deploys and there is smoke coming from the hood and BBMack plays in the background as I hear sirens approaching. A little boy rides up on a bike and says ‘Gee wiz mister, you alright?’ I look like Anton Chigurh…
Wait. THE Bulls. The ones with Rodman, Pippen, and Jordan? I’m a basketball playing kid that grew up in the 90’s in a part of the country that had no team I was geographically obligated to be a fan of. That means that you bet the farm I’m a HUGE Bulls fan at this time. And my fan hood, like most of the rest of the country’s, was predicated entirely on the fact that the god-man who wore the number 23 on his jersey played for them.
Please note: I’ve since read the Jordan Rules and a few other books that don’t really paint Jordan as the Patron Saint of Kindness. I know the trumors about him and his gambling and how he treated his teammates and all that. I know he punched Steve Kerr in the face. I know he wears acid wash jeans. He was, by quite a few accounts, a jerk. That sucks. But, you know, when you’re a kid, you don’t know that stuff. You know he’s amazing at playing a thing you want to be amazing at playing. This isn’t about Michael Jordan the person, though, because who am I to throw stones? I really wanted to frost the tips of my hair once and threw a fit because my Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me get them. I have no room to talk.
So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the greatest basketball player in the history of human (and alien) existence.
We get down to Houston and we go to the Astros game. I’m not going to talk about that game much because I don’t remember much of it. I remember my Dad and Uncle talking about how incredible the Astrodome used to be. I remember thinking it was amazing the Bad News Bears were able to sell a game out there as a bunch of Little Leaguers. I remember three drunk ‘Stros fans in front of me shouting the words “Darryl” at the top of their lungs all game.
They were shouting at Darryl Kile who I came to know later as the pitcher who started for the NL All Stars on Ken Griffey Jr’s Major League Baseball for Nintendo 64. You had one nice Super Fastball, Darryl. Hit the Z and the B at the same time and watch hitters fan the ballpark. Shouts out to that game.
We left that game early to beat traffic since it was a Rockies beat down and Jeff Bagwell was injured. I couldn’t see the infamous Bags in his batting stance, I was done with my pretzel and popcorn, and we all three had dates with His Airness that night. We had to done up.
Now, let me just say that, outfit wise, I was at a crossroads. I was in Houston. I was going to this game because of my Uncle who is a Houston fan. I had been given a Hakeem Olajuwon jersey by my Uncle for just such an occasion. As a young boy, I tried to be thoughtful. I did what I could to be a good nephew. I said thanks after presents and gave out some pretty dope high fives when requested. I even wore Harvard Law shirts because Uncle Jeff graduated from there and they made me feel smarter than I actually was. So, I thought it the decent to do to wear the Hakeem jersey.
…With my Jordan shirt underneath it.
We get to the arena and I am dragging my jaw on the floor. This place. You talk about big. Just so incredibly big. All I had to compare it to were the OU football games I’d been to. Don’t get me wrong, Owen Field is the greatest place in the history of places, but that was outdoors. This monstrosity, this thing was inside. It was a big, gigantic building that was built just so super athletic guys that did things on a basketball floor I could never dream of doing could play a game in front of a bunch of people.
So. Many. People.
I’d never been to a NBA arena before, much less a NBA game. I was stupefied. I really wanted to use the word “stupefied”. Thanks for letting me.
The Rockets were loaded with future Hall of Famers at the end of their relevancy. Barkley. Drexler. Hakeem.
The Bulls were trying to get that second 3-peat. Rodman. Pippen. Jordan.
I got to watch six Hall of Famers play basketball that day. Six. I had no idea how good I had it.
The game itself I don’t remember a ton about. I was ten and there was so much going on in that building and in my own head because of what I was getting to do that day that it’s really a wonder I didn’t pass out or go into a seizure.
I remember me and my Dad sat behind the goal closest to the Rockets bench. I remember there was a dude right across the aisle who was decked out in Jordan gear. Literally, he wore a Jordan sweatsuit and a Jordan hat and a pair of Jordan IV’s. Looked like type of ChillWhiteHomey that would wear Kangol because “If LL Cool J can do it then why can’t I?”. I mean that as an insult. He spent the majority of the game going to town on some nachos when he wasn’t shouting “It’s over” every time the Bulls scored. When he clapped, because of the nachos, he would slap his chest with one hand. He was also wearing glasses. Basically, he was B-Rad from Malibu’s Most Wanted. I also think I remember having some ice cream. It wasn’t Dip-N-Dots, though, so let’s all just relax.
That’s about it. I remember Jordan had one up and under on the goal closest to us. That’s it, though. No more amazing plays. Nothing crazy memorable. No cool shrugs after six first half threes or free throw line dunks or shutting his eyes while he shot a free throw or placing Patrick Ewing in a poster or helping Bryon Russell take a seat on a Salt Lake City floor while he redefined iconic.
The main thing I remember is the feeling I had. The feeling that I was watching something that mattered. I got an opportunity to see someone who is considered the absolute greatest at something do that thing they were considered the absolute greatest at. I got to watch Michael Jordan play basketball that day. By the end of the game, one which the Bulls handed the Rockets a fairly convincing L, I had my Hakeem jersey off and was popping my Jordan shirt every chance I got. I did what Three Six Mafia would do years later. I popped my collar. I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s hard out here for a Jordan fan. The G.O.A.T. was out there putting in work. I had to pay homage.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how polite you want to be. When it’s time to bow down at the throne of He Who Puts People In Posters, you don’t think. You just apologize to Hakeem, lay his jersey along the back of your chair, and turn your eyes to the floor so The Crowned King of Air can make a memory or twelve for you.