The year is 1992.
Here I am, a Peruvian kid in Lima, a city going through economical and internal conflict but also—and just like the rest of South America—welcoming the initial effects of modern American culture.
Saved by the Bell is reaching the heights of its popularity ,and even though it’s been almost year since its release, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze is still playing in movie theaters across the capital.
McDonalds were expanding across the city, right next to cevicherias, and everyone wanted G.I. Joe action figures for Navidad.
Thanks to developments in television streaming and market consumption, American products were placing an imprint all over the world, and it was no different in Peru.
We also felt the U.S. takeover in sports. Sure, soccer was still the absolute dominant national force, but thanks to the introduction of international cable, Peruvians were now also watching NBC and ESPN, and their fandom habits were diversifying.
And this is when the NBA entered the party.
If you ask any Peruvian who grew up in the '90s, they will tell you that their memories, in one way or another, always came back to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s hard to explain this to an American reader, but for South Americans, MJ opened a door that signified more than just basketball. It was as if we realized there was another way you could define an athlete and cultural icon.
So here we are, back in '92. I remember the moment so vividly.
It’s May, less than a month away from my 11th birthday, and I’m staying over at my close friend Alonso’s house to watch Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Bulls and my New York Knicks. (I had already made this decision based on my love for John Starks, my favorite player.) It’s not official, but I am willing to bet my life savings that Alonso was also the biggest NBA fan in Peru at the time. He was obsessed with the game. Obsessed.
Miguelito Jordan, as my dad called him, and his Bulls returning as the defending champions, are now doing something quite remarkable off the court. And this was being felt everywhere, even in Peru.
I didn’t know it at the time, but years later, when I started to work in the sports industry, I realized seeing that specific Game 7 (Chicago won 110-81) and watching it with my friend essentially proved to me that sports was more than just a game. It was a cultural movement. And that’s what Michael Jordan and the Bulls did for a chubby Peruvian kid in the '90s.
The '90s, you see, was not just a glorious time for the league in America. It was a pivotal moment for the world of sports because Miguelito was rewriting the way we—the world—looked at superstars.
I reached out to Alonso (Guzman) for this piece because I wanted to make sure my memories were more than just nostalgia.
Without a beat, he concurred.
“Honestly, at the beginning of 1991, my life changed because I discovered basketball and the Bulls embellished my love for the sport,” says Alonso, now an illustrator and writer in Lima. “And even though it’s widely accepted that the Dream Team lifted the game to epic global proportions in ‘92, I’d actually argue it was the '90s Bulls—alongside satellite TV—who were responsible for the start of this phenomena. Especially where we grew up.”
For Alonso, his love for Michael Jordan and the Bulls was also personal. “Watching them became a means of bonding with my dad,” he says. “I remember how he used to talk about their great chemistry, the grace of Scottie Pippen, the strength of Horace Grant and later Dennis Rodman, the clutch play of John Paxson and later Steve Kerr. And as the seasons went by, we became one while watching their games, and even congratulated each other for a good job after every championship clincher. It was as if we were two of 'the guys'. And whenever I watched Phil Jackson on TV, I saw my dad: a throwback grey-haired man who was strict, but also very kind.
“The endless summer days in which I saw more hardwood than sun, all the ups and downs of the seasons (including the '93-'94 team) and that final Bulls salute after Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, when I embraced my dad in the same fashion as Jordan and Phil Jackson. We saw history together, and all those precious moments will remain with me forever.”
After our conversation, he confessed to me that though this team was important to him, he didn’t realize just how much the Bulls meant until he realized they were a connector, a bridge that united father and son.
The '93-'94 season—as any NBA fan remembers—came with change like no other for many reasons. The Bulls were without MJ, and due to the fragility of the nation, my family and I left Peru for England.
It’s not a surprise to say the culture shock changed me, and life in the United Kingdom transformed almost everything about me. Here I was, no longer a Peruvian, but now also an immigrant, having to acclimate myself to a new world, a new society and a distinctively different way of life.
At first, due to my basic knowledge of English, making friends was difficult. But one of the saving graces were my Air Jordan VII sneakers, my knowledge of U.S. pop culture and, most importantly, Michael Jordan. This immediately became a conversation starter, and slowly, piece by piece, I felt more comfortable in my new home.
Have you ever seen Fresh Off the Boat? That was my life—the Lima-to-London version. I was a foreigner in a new land using pop culture and sports as my Get Out of Jail passes.
Again, just like in Peru, soccer was still the ultimate sport in the country and my first love, but the NBA, Jordan and the Bulls were once again the major influencers in '90s England, especially for young people.
Channel Four in England was the vehicle that introduced U.S. sports to British audiences. In the '80s, the network broadcasted the NFL and achieved success in viewership so the mid '90s was naturally a move for the NBA. Showing the '96-'97 season was a major step for the network. The deal to broadcast the league became the biggest move since making a similar agreement with Serie A soccer, also an incredibly popular league at the time. The show would be called NBA 24/7, and almost every single British teenager watched it religiously.
The year is now 1998. I am a junior in high school and fully accustomed to English life. Jordan the Bulls are still iconic and heading to their sixth title. Most importantly, from a personal standpoint, his poster is still hanging on my wall, right next to my other sports hero Dwight Yorke (though his poster would come down the same year after leaving Aston Villa for Manchester United).
In England, the NBA didn’t just attract the attention of young British fans, but it also represented minorities, especially the black British community. The NBA, therefore, appealed to people of color in England because, as mentioned earlier, it was more than just a sport; it was a symbol of cultural representation.
“Like many teenagers growing up in London, a love of the NBA came from watching rap stars on MTV, and all I wanted to do was emulate their style, while rapping into a hairbrush in the mirror,” says James Chinery, now an English teacher and educator in Greater London. He is also a good friend from my college years. Like Alonso, James was influenced by U.S. culture—especially Jordan and the Bulls. “First, it was the Raiders cap and jacket, which were almost like school uniforms growing up in North London. Then quickly, the legend that was Michael Jordan took over the consciousness. Jordan trainers, t-shirts, hoodies, caps, posters on walls—you name it, we all wanted it.”
James’s love for MJ and the Bulls elevated after subscribing to Slam Magazine and staying up until midnight to watch the NBA 24/7 on Channel Four, and his overall view of the world changed because of this team. “My daily cartoon drawings changed from black superheroes to street ball players," he says. "But whatever I drew, they were wearing Jordans and a Bulls cap. To this day, I still religiously wear my AJ3’S when I’m not at work.”
My immigrant story is a testament to this very notion: Michael Jordan and the '90s Chicago Bulls offered the world—not just America—a new meaning to sports and superstardom. Their success sparked an international spectacle, idolized and adulated.
And this Peruvian kid will never forget it.