His memory was also legendary and I was victimized by it once. During the 1987-88 season, Jordan was irritated by suggestions that he was an offensive player but not a complete player. He didn’t give up any offense that season, but he did dedicate himself to defense and talked openly about wanting to win Defensive Player of the Year.
At the time, I worked in Dallas and wrote a column saying that the talent in the league was so good that it was impossible for one player to be the premier offensive and defensive player. There were simply too many great players, including some who were defensive specialists.
I was, of course, wrong but that’s what I believed at the time.
Jordan went on to lead the league in scoring and won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year that season.
Four years later, I had moved to New York to work for Newsday. Before a Bulls-Knicks game one night, I went into the dressing room to interview Jordan. I started asking him about defense and suddenly he stopped me and said, “So you think I play good defense?”
“Of course I do,” I said, laughing at the absurdity of the question.
“Well then what about all that s**t you wrote in Dallas?” he said.
Yes, the man had a memory.
He also had legendary stamina. Jordan is one of those people who doesn’t seem to need sleep and there have been countless stories documenting that over the years.
One I witnessed up close occurred in November 1992, a few months after the Dream Team won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. I went to Phoenix, where the Bulls and Suns were going to play on a Sunday night.
I had called longtime Bulls PR man Tim Hallam and asked him to set up an interview. Hallam told me he would say something to Michael but there were no guarantees. I told Hallam to tell Jordan I was going to park myself in the lobby of their hotel and await the bus when it arrived after practice. If Jordan was going to blow me off, I told Hallam, he would have to do it to my face.
He didn’t. When he came through the lobby, he said, “Hey buddy. Let’s go.” And we went to a small pool area at the back of the resort hotel grounds, sat down in pool chairs under an umbrella and talked for an hour. No one even walked by.
But the point of the story was his schedule. On Friday night, Jordan had played 47 minutes in a 120-118 overtime loss to the Lakers. He scored 54 points on 21-of-39 from the field and also had 13 rebounds and seven assists.
After the game, the Bulls bused to the airport and flew to Phoenix, arriving after 3 a.m. local time Saturday. Jordan had thought ahead because Phoenix has many great golf courses and he had his wife ship his golf clubs to Phoenix.
At 7 a.m., he teed off on the first of the 36 holes he would play. That night, he went to dinner with friends, got up early Sunday morning, went to a photo shoot for a commercial, went through a shootaround with the team, came back to the hotel, talked to me for an hour and went to his room. As he left, I asked if he was going to nap.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m going to watch football.”
That night, he toyed with the Suns, scoring 40 points in a 128-111 victory.
Yes, the man had stamina.
He also had a sense of humor. When I turned 50 while I was working for the NBA, Mark Vancil – who conceived and wrote all of Jordan’s spectacular photo books, including Rare Air – had Jordan sign a photo for my birthday.
“Happy 50th birthday,” Jordan wrote. “Halfway to 100.”
Yes, the man could even write trash.
But now it’s his turn, and it’s a big deal in the sports world because it’s a milestone for one of the three or four greatest athletes in the history of sports. So I very genuinely say, “Happy Birthday, Michael.” Thanks for the many cooperative moments and the great memories.
And you are now halfway to 100.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub. For Hubbard’s archive from SheridanHoops.com, click here.