As a shorty, I idolized Michael Jordan. I mean, straight up and down … he was a god to me. I remember being at his camp that he used to have in Chicago’s north suburbs … I had to be about 12 at the time. Stan Edwards and his biddy basketball program had taken some of his players to the camp so that we could both promote the skills he was developing with his young players and, most important to all of the kids that went, so we could get close and personal with the man each one of us tried to imitate both on and off the court. From his walk, layered socks, wristband, knee brace, gold chains, baggy shorts, and low Caesar, we all did our best to be like Mike, all the way down to slapping our wrists when we put up lay-ups with or without traffic.
Being the industrious kid that I was, when Mike was giving a pep talk to all of the campers one day, toward the end of the talk I asked to be excused so that I could use the restroom. It was really just a ploy to meet Mike one-on-one in the hallway after he was finished speaking. When my counselor gave me the nod to go ahead, I had to pull my shirt over my mouth to hide the Kool-Aid smile that had spread across my face.
I left the gym, entered the bathroom, sat on the sink for a few minutes, and then, just as I heard the cheers from the other campers as Mike finished his speech, I slowly sauntered out of the bathroom headed in the direction that I expected Mike to be in when he left the gym. Sure enough, when the doors opened, Mike came strolling out the door in only the way that Mike could. As I hastened my pace toward him, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Where you going?” in a voice that sounded eerily similar to my father’s. I was in awe. Dumbstruck really. All the plotting of a pre-teen mini-mogul left my body and I sheepishly responded, “… to get some water.” Mike shook his head, still invoking images of my father, and said, ‘Uh uh,’ and pointed his finger toward the door leading back to where the other campers were. And just like that, my first face to face meeting with MJ was over. I felt extreme jubilation and ultimate defeat all at the same time. It was … unexplainable.
I eventually got to meet Mike again at that camp. Our team took a picture with him and he signed one of my shoes – white, red and black Jordan IV’s, of course. Again, I was over the moon. I adored that shoe, including it as the main artifact in a time capsule assignment that I had to do as a 13-year-old freshman at Chicago’s St. Ignatius (a school that I got kicked out of for being a rebellious youngster with no real cause). I idolized Mike so much that, that freshmen year in high school, me and some buddies of mine from my freshman basketball team (I was one of only two Black kids on the team I might add), went to the Metra station and cut out the 5-foot-8 foot Michael Jordan Sports Illustrated poster of him clowning Glen “Doc” Rivers that was on one of the billboards. We hit two spots so that at least two of us would have one. I remember clumsily running down the street, hoping to make it home before the Metra police figured out what we had done.
I absolutely adored Michael Jordan and, now that Mike’s billionaire status has been celebrated by Forbes magazine, it reminds me that as an adult, my only wish regarding Michael Jordan is that he show just a little bit of that same adoration for the communities and the children that continue to risk life and limb in efforts to be like Mike.
You see, misguided teens and young adults are still killing people over Michael Jordan shoes. They will still stop you on the street and take the shoes right off of your feet if you’re in the wrong place. People are still spending three days worth of their paycheck so that their kids and even themselves can feel like the hero that we all once adored. For those reasons alone, I wish MJ would take a stand, make some public statements, and be just a little more Magic Johnson-like when it come to investing in communities most in need. Now that he’s a billionaire, let’s hope that Mike finds time to do a little more to give the poor kids who idolize him a leg up. Because they are definitely still willing to give a leg up … and maybe more … to be like Mike … and support his billionaire status.