Let's run a clear-out for Michael Jordan. Before he scores one more oooh noo, hook up the VCR, mama, he's throwin' it down again basket; before he gulps down one more Big Mac with one more Coke; before he laces up one more Nike and spins one more Wilson basketball while sitting on the fender of one more Chevy while checking the time on one more Guy Laroche watch and saving one more generation from one more chemical dependency; before he wins the Masters, marries Whitney Houston, purchases controlling interest in AT&T, takes over The Tonight Show, is elected President of the United States, moves the White House to Chapel Hill, N.C., sprouts two of those incredibly dangling tongues out of his ear-lobes and actually does take off and fly...let's run the old clear-out the way the Chicago Bulls do and just stand around and watch him.
In San Diego, which hasn't had an NBA team since 1984, the San Marcos High School playground overflows within seconds of Jordan's arrival to tape the syndicated TV show Greatest Sports Legends. Jordan, who must hide behind an equipment truck to escape the teeming crowd, is the host of the show this season. The guests, the legends, include Al Unser, Don Maynard, Nate Thurmond and George Gervin. Jordan is most familiar with Gervin; two seasons ago Gervin was Jordan's teammate on the Bulls.
As the TV crew wilts beneath the hot sun while taping the guests' dialogue, Jordan addresses a bearded technician as "Kenny Rogers" and a short director as "Pee Wee." Soon Jordan asks Gervin about the right hand Gervin threw long ago in an NCAA tournament game that ended his college career at Eastern Michigan.
"Ice, if you had it to do over, what would you do differently?" Jordan says.
November 9, 1987
"Throw the left," Gervin says.
Cut. Don't print.
And Jordan and Gervin break out laughing.
Later, while taping on the golf course at La Costa, the crew holds up a cue card the size of a small condominium on which is written Jordan's intro for the next feature, on Vince Lombardi. "Aren't I a little young to be reminiscing about him?" he asks.
In Pittsburgh, which hasn't had an NBA team since 1947, Jordan is making promotional appearances for Coca-Cola, which has furnished a white stretch limousine so he can escape the crowds that seem to gather wherever he goes. Women TV reporters gasp as he enters a hotel suite set up for interviews. He knows the routine, the requirements. He understands about wireless mikes. He knows enough about how dark backgrounds look in pictures to suggest that he change his black T-shirt to one of a lighter color. "I got a whole bagful of them. Just be sure to pick up the [Nike] logo," Jordan says with a laugh. On camera, a wink on his lips, he says to the interviewer: "It's a habit of mine now, noticing labels, logos, shoes. For instance, your sound man, with his Fila jacket and his Reeboks.... I haven't said anything to him yet, but I will."
"Let's be real," the woman with the mike says, refusing to melt. "Kids wearing Air Jordans out there on the playground aren't going to turn into Michael Jordans."
"No, but they'll have the advantage," Jordan says through his most disarming grin. "I tell 'em, the first lesson: Don't be like me. Be better than me. That's the goal."
During an ensuing visit to a children's hospital, Jordan lights up the corridors, bringing smiles and laughter all around. Grown-up orderlies practically knock over wheelchairs trying to catch a glimpse of him. He calls the kids "partners," and in one room he pulls a makeshift rim closer so a bedridden partner can swish the ball through the basket. "You can't go back to sleep until you make one," he says.
Later Jordan mingles with Coca-Cola bottlers and their guests before a baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium. In the home team clubhouse, he signs balls for the Pirate players. In the Pittsburgh dugout, Bucs manager Jim Leyland says, "Michael, hi, I'm the manager. Tell these guys about the time I held Bird scoreless until I bumped my head on the rim blocking his reverse layup." After he throws out the opening ball, Jordan is stopped along the first base line by the umpires who delay the start of the game by asking him for more autographs. In the runway leading from the visiting New York Mets' dugout to their locker room, Mets' coach Bud Harrelson gets Jordan to sign yet again.
By the time Jordan finishes an interview with the Pirate broadcasters during a rain delay, all the kids in the stadium seem to be waiting outside the radio booth. At the end of the evening he has in some way affected practically every soul along all three rivers except the hulking Pirate parrot mascot. The parrot pats Jordan on the head. Glancing down at the bird's feet, Jordan pats back. "Wrong shoes," he says.
In Charlotte, which has never had an NBA team although one is coming next season, there's no crowd. It is pretty hard to believe, but virtually no one at the airport takes notice of Jordan even after he has been paged several times. He is in North Carolina, back home where his parents live. They are vice-presidents of JUMP (Jordan Universal Marketing Promotions) and operate his auto parts store and Nike sportswear outlet. While Jordan's custom black Corvette (license plate: JUMP 23) remains in Chicago, the midnight blue Mercedes (UNC 23) is in Charlotte along with the white Porsche Turbo. No autographs, pictures, handshakes, squeals here. "How're the tips, my man?" he says to the skycap at the curbside. "They just got better, Mr. Jordan," the man says.
The driver of a car sent to pick him up by the sponsors of a local charity basketball game informs Jordan that he graduated from the University of North Carolina, as did Jordan. Majored in geography, as did Jordan. "Mike, you remember Dr. Florin?" the driver asks pleasantly. "He got us all fired up for map ID. He told us the average starting salary for UNC grads in geography was $250,000. Later we figured out he was including yours."
The preceding scenes occurred in a 36-hour period. Tired yet? Jordan's only regret might be that he didn't squeeze in his usual daily golf fix, which sometimes extends to 54 holes. Over the summer he cut his handicap in half, to eight. His itinerary describes not so much the wanderings of a superstar basketball player as of a major political campaign cum rock tour. A couple of other Mikes, Dukakis and Jackson, would do well to generate comparable excitement among all races, colors, genders and creeds. And this excursion occurred in mid-September: pre-football strike, mid-baseball pennant race and weeks before the basketball season.
Though Jordan won't be 25 until Feb. 17, he looks, acts and sounds like a teenager in the pleasant sense of the term. "Real nut," for example, is his favored catchall phrase—as in he, she or it is a real nut. Friends, meanwhile, even brand-new ones who are invariably real nuts, are always addressed by their initials, as in GK, uh, George Koehler, the human buffer zone who occasionally chauffeurs MJ to his promotional appearances and appointments around Chicago.
So what's the big deal?
Deals, really. Multimegaton deals—the dollars and details of which might overwhelm Jordan if he didn't have eight people to help conduct his business affairs. Suffice it to say that Jordan's basketball and business careers, though still in their infancy, have combined to produce a phenomenon best explained by a remark he once made in justifying his outrageous, archetypal playing style.
It seems a veteran coach, whose perception of the game is confined by the limits it places on normal humans, not long ago suggested that Jordan try a...layup. "You know what he told me? And when he said this, I knew one of us was over the hill," Jordan says, not without a kind of droll respect. "He told me, 'The highest percentage shot on the drive is to lay it up.' He asked me, 'Why do you go on trying those outrageous jumps and moves and dunks?' I couldn't believe it. I just stared at him and said, 'Hey, I don't plan this stuff. It just happens.' "
It happens off the court as well. Though he was so shy as a high school kid that he sat in a corner bouncing a basketball when Tar Heel coach Dean Smith came to visit him in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C., Jordan now operates confidently in the heady atmosphere of the corporate boardroom. The same fellow who once left a note on his door at Halloween telling trick-or-treaters to come back another day when he could see them personally; who divided his $12,500 prize for winning the 1987 NBA slam dunk contest among his Bulls teammates; who greets visiting reporters with "Hope you had a nice trip" and means it; who honors his older brother Larry by still wearing the uniform number 23 (the closest thing to half of the 45 Larry wore in high school); who honors his school by still wearing his old North Carolina shorts under his Chicago uniform; who honors his sport by insisting on a unique "love of the game" contract clause that enables him to play pickup basketball virtually anywhere, anytime; who has sent his game soaring with a work ethic that defies rationality; this same fellow has adapted to the one-on-ones of celebrity, responsibility and corporate sponsorship as easily as he fills those 16-13-45 scoring lines in the box score.
"It took getting used to, but now I enjoy all the off-court stuff," Jordan says. "It's like being back in school. I'm learning all the time. In college I never realized the opportunities available to a pro athlete. I've been given the chance to meet all kinds of people, to travel and expand my financial capabilities, to get ideas and learn about life, to create a world apart from basketball."
A weighty dissertation indeed from the portfolio of a sage veteran.... And yet here comes that grinning kid again. Jordan plays his impassioned game with short-clipped hair ("you mean my little-boy cut?"), with baggy pants specially tailored an extra 2½ inches long, with a massive cradle grip and vicious rockabye dunks, with that tongue wagging down to his waist as if he were some voracious Pound Puppy in the toy store window.
"People outside the sport always ask me how old I am," he says. "They think I'm 28 or even 30, and in my corporate involvement I try to project myself as that old. In reality, I never want to grow up.
"I don't know, it's like sometimes I've skipped the years between 24 and 30. At 30 a guy has to watch what he says, and I'm careful that way. The business people I meet would probably think I'm a jerk if I talked and acted the way I normally do around my friends. And what would my friends think of me in the executive wing?
"You know what it's like? It's like the difference between when you're out to dinner at a fancy restaurant with a napkin in your lap and the silverware all perfect and your manners impeccable. And the next day you're at home lying back, feet up, slopping down some pizza. You know, acting normal."
In the off-season, Jordan wiped out Givenchy while shopping in Paris before continuing his vacation in Monte Carlo and Villa D'Este in Italy. Now he's back noshing Chicken McNuggets from a paper sack on the Bulls' team bus. He exhausts himself during team workouts—"He's easily the best practice player I've seen in my life," says Chicago coach Doug Collins—yet he refuses to come out for pregame shoot-arounds. "I want to be hitting the court for the first time, fresh," Jordan says.
Jordan's effect on women is positively staggering—a stark reversal of his high school days when Dumbo ears and a self-described "gooney" status with his classmates deprived him of dates. He enrolled in home economics courses as preparation for life as a bachelor, but by the time he arrived at the Olympics in 1984 he had become a renowned ladies' man. In Los Angeles, Jordan and Kim Gallagher, the silver medalist in the women's 800 meters, were an item that coach Bob Knight almost discovered one night while checking his players' rooms at curfew time. Luckily, Jordan and his suite mates hid Gallagher in their closet just before Knight got there.
Distaff executives, journalists, nurses, p.r. types, waitresses, the general female work force with whom Jordan comes in contact—all tremble in his wake. His steady flame remains Juanita Vanoy, four years his elder, an administrator for a mortgage company whom Jordan met in a Bennigan's restaurant in Chicago. She's helping him decorate his new five-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home outside Chicago. They were engaged last New Year's Eve.
There are as many twists to Jordan's life as there are Nikes in his closet. (The man seems to change Air Jordans every three or four hours, even on the road. "I love 'em right out of the box," he says. "No blisters or anything.") For one thing, he's nearly trans-racial. Jordan lives in the suburb of Northbrook, Ill., which has a large Jewish population, and is at ease bantering with doctors and lawyers on the 18th green. At the same time, denizens of the inner city appreciate his dazzling essence as a "street player," and his black scrimmage mates in the gyms around Chapel Hill kid him about the ebony color of his skin, calling him "the man in the dark suit."
Most black—or white—athletes who attempt this kind of cross-culturization come off as phonies, stilted and unnatural. Even the revered Julius Erving as a young player would use some of his $10 words in comically misplaced situations. Jordan, his Barry White bass voice alternately starring at power lunches and slurring street jive in the locker room, seems totally secure in either world.
If we are to believe Jordan, he never sensed his abundance of surpassing skills until he continued to quite literally dance upon the heads of the best players in the world as easily as if he were hemming his pants (which, as we all know, he can also do).
Rumblings about a new prodigy were heard in the NBA underground in the summer of 1984 when Olympian Jordan began embarrassing a collection of All-Star (albeit out-of-shape) pros in a series of exhibition games. During the pregame warmup one night in Indianapolis, an Olympic team ball bounced to the pros' end of the floor. Jordan chased after it. Larry Bird picked it up. Instead of handing the ball to Jordan, Bird sneered and kicked it back over Jordan's head. My world and welcome to it. "Bird was showing me it was all business now, and I was beneath him," says Jordan. "I didn't forget."
Despite opening the 1984-85 NBA season with a rush—Jordan scored 37 points against Milwaukee in his third pro game and 45 against San Antonio in his eighth, and he had 25 or better in 10 of his first 15 starts—he was unimpressed with himself. "The scouting report said play me for the drive, that I couldn't go left," he says. "They didn't know about my first step or the moves or the jump. I knew I was taking everybody by surprise, including myself."
Not everybody. When Jordan left North Carolina following his junior year, ProServ, the sports marketing and management company, challenged shoe companies to come up with something special for their special guy, specifically a signature line in which Jordan had equity. Converse, which already had Bird, Erving and Magic Johnson under contract, didn't feel the Jordan proposal would work, while the Adidas people, whose shoes Jordan had grown up wearing, didn't meet the financial demands, says David Falk of ProServ. They didn't know their subject. Only Nike went for the deal—hook, line and swoosh.
When Jordan fractured the navicular tarsal bone in his left foot three games into his second season, his and Nike's future seemed bleak. But three years and $165 million in sales for those extraordinarily ugly red and black clodhoppers and related sportswear later, Falk—who came up with the signature name Air Jordan only to be laughed at by Jordan himself—is laughing all the way to the rubber factory.
ProServ solicited a few elite corporations for Jordan, inquiring which ones might desire the services of the NBA's No. 3 draft choice (Akeem Olajuwon was No. 1, Sam Bowie was inexplicably No. 2). In time McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Wilson Sporting Goods and the five other companies he represents all came around. And then there was CBS, whose 60 Minutes profile by Diane Sawyer is now dubbed "our 10-minute Michael Jordan commercial" by the folks at ProServ.
Eyebrows are raised over Jordan's relatively modest five-year, $4 million Bulls contract—Chicago center Dave Corzine made $10,000 less than Jordan last year—but at the time it was signed, in 1984, it was the best deal for a guard in league history.
Before anybody else, Falk realized this: "In the age of TV sports, if you were to create a media athlete and star for the '90s—spectacular talent, midsized, well-spoken, attractive, accessible, old-time values, wholesome, clean, natural, not too Goody Two-shoes, with a little bit of deviltry in him—you'd invent Michael. He's the first modern crossover in team sports. We think he transcends race, transcends basketball." In other words, he's up there with Spuds MacKenzie.
At any rate, Jordan's NBA salary represents a mere 20% of his annual income. Now you can even see him in the comics—in Shoe, the nationally syndicated strip drawn by fellow North Carolina student and Pulitzer Prizewinner Jeff MacNelly. At Christmas you will see his line of basketball-related toys. Next year you will see him featured in the film Heaven Is a Playground with Danny Glover.
And yet...it just happens. Jordan seems such an infant still, so unaffected, naive, almost inured to the wealth and fame, the pressure, responsibility and expectations. And just think of all those McMuffins he'll have to devour.
"He's exactly what he appears," says Sacramento Kings guard Reggie Theus. "Michael's a product of his own gift." Or in the words of Bill Needle, the p.r. director of the Atlanta Hawks, "a national treasure."
On learning of his date to throw out the opening ball at the Pirates-Mets game, Jordan's first reaction was "Great! Do we get good seats?" And now they're asking him, at 24, to be the conscience and image of professional basketball, to succeed the retired Erving as the game's goodwill ambassador. "Nobody can replace the Doctor," Jordan says. "He was the epitome of class and defined the NBA for me. It's a challenge to try and emulate him, but it's not as if I have to go out of my way. Being Michael Jordan means acting the same as I always have."
The major change is that now, finally, Jordan knows how good a basketball player he is. Was that so difficult to figure out? The only explanation for Jordan's callowness might be that, like the once fat beauty who will always consider herself a tub, the spectacular Jordan could until very recently never picture himself as anything more than the jugeared 10th-grader who couldn't make the varsity at Laney High in Wilmington.
Not only did it take his shot that won the national championship for the Tar Heels in his freshman season, it also took college player-of-the-year trophies as a sophomore and junior, an Olympic gold medal, NBA Rookie-of-the-Year honors and his back-from-season-long-injury, 63-point playoff game against the Celtics in 1986 to prove something to Jordan. It seems also to have required last season's fairy-tale 37.1-points-a-game performance, an accomplishment that no pro player less than seven feet tall had ever achieved, tongue hanging out or not.
In only his second full season, Jordan became the most prolific scoring guard in NBA history, opening with a 50-pointer against the New York Knicks and not letting up until he had finished with the league's fifth-highest season average ever (Wilt Chamberlain has the top four). Jordan exceeded 30 points in all but 15 Bulls games, had 40 or more in 37 games, and scored at least 50 in eight. He matched Chamberlain by scoring 50 or better in three consecutive games and by surpassing 60 twice. On April 13 in Milwaukee, after Jordan went for an even 50, Bucks coach Don Nelson whipped off his tie, which was designed to look like a fish, inscribed it with the words "Great Season, Great Person," and handed it to Jordan. Three nights later against the Hawks, Jordan scored an NBA-record 23 straight points for the Bulls and 61 for the game, but he was short from half court at the final buzzer—"Michael was an inch exhausted," said Atlanta's awestruck Doc Rivers—and the Bulls lost.
That was a home game, but the situation was familiar on the road, too, as Jordan is wont to point out: "What the fans on the road come to see is me get 50 and their team win." Which is what happened often enough. The Bulls finished the season with a 40-42 record and came in ahead of only Cleveland in the Central Division. They then lost in straight sets to the Celtics in the playoffs as Jordan failed to nail a single 63—he averaged a mere 35.7 for the three games. Then the Bulls retired to contemplate what life would be like without him. "We'd be the L.A. Clippers," said Collins.
Jordan's Wiltonian performance obscured his work on the defensive end, and, shamefully, he was left off both the first and second NBA all-defensive teams. "I'd rather make all-defense than all-NBA," Jordan says. If he had made first team all-defense, he would have joined Jerry West, the former Laker guard, as the league's only scoring champion to have done so. As it was, he was the first player in NBA history to have more than 200 steals (236) and block more than 100 shots (125). Of all his scoring extravaganzas, Jordan's favorite was a 61-pointer at Detroit in March. Why? "Because we won," he says. "And because I switched onto Adrian Dantley in the last few minutes, stole the ball three times and held him without a basket. A victory for defense."
Jordan always knew about his defense. "Michael Cooper [the Laker who won defensive player honors for 1986-87] is great at ball-denial," says Jordan. "But check his other stats [78 steals, 43 blocks]. This league gives defensive awards on reputation. It just tees me off."
Jerry Sloan, the Bulls' legendary defender and now an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz, says, "I'm not so sure Michael's not one of the better defensive players in basketball. He doesn't hound you to death. He's just got so much athletic ability, he can cover anybody."
Sacramento Kings assistant coach Jerry Reynolds speaks to Jordan's versatility: "The thing is, every time you see him, he does something different. You might see a Dominique [Wilkins] or a [Clyde] Drexler and think they're just about as good. Then you see Jordan again and say, No way.... If you guarded him with one person straight up every night, he'd average 60. The other guys put on a great show, but Michael takes it to another level. And when he can concentrate on it, he's a totally great defensive player, as good as there is in the league. If he only had to score 15 or 16 a game, he'd be the best on defense."
Evidence is that Jordan's status in the NBA is nearing mythical proportions. In a sense, he's more of a cult figure within the league than he is out of it. That's how good he is. This is difficult to get a bead on, but a remark by Magic Johnson—no close friend of Jordan's, as we shall see—to a Los Angeles TV producer is definitive. "Everybody always says it's me and Larry [Bird]," said Magic. "Really, it's Mike and everybody else."
The sad thing here is that since the day Michael arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan the other Bulls have, for the most part, been awful. "Michael's their only Division I prospect," said a Celtic last year. Still, Jordan's dominance of the ball—he took 32% of Chicago's shots last season—left Collins open for widespread criticism. It didn't seem to dawn on the carpers that, aside from Jordan and power forward Charles Oakley, who emerged as a young Paul Silas on the boards, the Bulls had less talent than any other team in the NBA. They questioned whether all those shots by Jordan didn't have a negative impact on his teammates' psyches. They even doubted his ability to "make the players around him better" the way Bird and Johnson supposedly do. One personally insulted reviewer actually labeled Chicago's clear-out offense as "antithetical" to the purpose of the game.
Even Bird, whose complimentary line about No. 23—"he's God disguised as Michael Jordan"—has been overused enough to qualify for Bartlett's, got into the act last season, intimating that Jordan had a one-dimensional game. "I don't like to watch the same guy take every shot. That's not what the game is all about," said Bird.
This is Birdfeathers. Or Bullwash. For starters, Bird should go back and check the box scores of the 1978-79 Indiana State team for which a certain 6'9" blond senior took 30% of the shots and scored 33% of the points. That's the most recent occasion on which a player so dominated a nationally known team. Furthermore: Every time they tip off in the NBA, the purpose of the game is to win. Bird and Johnson make the people around them better by passing rather than shooting—not that making people like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson better is a cumbersome task. If Jordan concentrated on passing to the other Bulls, Chicago might finish 20-62, or 0-82. Perhaps some week during the winter, commissioner David Stern—he's supposed to be a great innovator, isn't he?—will allow Jordan and Bird or Jordan and Johnson to switch teams, and we can see how many games the Bulls win. Or the Lakers and Celtics lose.
"I'm taking these raps as a challenge just to get better and see that my team gets better," says Jordan. "But it's not as if I'm playing with a bunch of all-leaguers. What are the factors here? Are you telling me Kareem and James wouldn't be All-Stars without Magic? That McHale and DJ wouldn't make it without Bird? Anybody who thinks that is a damn fool."
Bird has won the NBA Most Valuable Player award three times, Johnson once—beating out Jordan last season. The definition of an MVP is best left to basketball Einsteins. In '86-87, Magic's scoring and assist figures were up slightly, but Jordan had a season for the millennium.
Nevertheless, dunk for show, win for the glow. And the dough? It's no secret around the league that, even with his four championship rings, Johnson harbors something that seems to be more than professional jealousy toward Jordan. Commercially, at least, Magic should have been Michael seven years ago when he followed up winning the 1979 NCAA title for Michigan State with a tour de force sixth game in the 1980 NBA championship series, which the Lakers won over the Philadelphia 76ers. Yet, despite that glorious start in the pros and all his stellar seasons thereafter, Johnson has never come close to earning the off-court sums that Jordan is making after only three years.
The infamous "freeze-out" of Jordan by his Eastern Division teammates in his rookie-year All-Star Game—he played 22 minutes and scored only seven points—was widely considered the work of the Johnson-Isiah Thomas axis. Johnson and Thomas deny the "freeze-out" theory, but NBA veterans were reputedly offended by what they perceived as hot-dogging by Jordan in the slam dunk contest, during which he wore gold chains and some kind of Nike paratroop gear. Following the game, Charles Tucker, the East Lansing, Mich., psychologist and adviser to Johnson and Thomas, said that players were giggling about having taught Jordan "a lesson." A furious Jordan exacted his revenge two days later, when he scored 49 points as the Bulls beat the Pistons.
Before that game Thomas held a meeting with Jordan, supposedly to apologize and clear the air. "Mostly show," snickers Jordan. As for Magic: "I don't hold anything against him. I just think he doesn't like players who come from North Carolina."
Johnson and Thomas, along with their buddy Mark Aguirre of the Dallas Mavericks, hardly speak to Jordan. Moreover, Johnson reportedly—though he denied it—once tried to get his fellow Laker (and Jordan's former Tar Heel teammate) Worthy traded to Dallas for Aguirre. "James is getting too good for Magic's taste," says Jordan. "Magic has a charity all-star game in L.A. in the summer that everybody is invited to. He invited me. I won't go."
As for Thomas, when the producers of Heaven Is a Playground offered Jordan a cameo for $50,000, ProServ sniffed and told them to come back with a six-figure deal. They said they could get Thomas for 50 grand. ProServ said well, then, go get him. Eventually Jordan signed for more than $400,000.
Recently Johnson and Thomas parted company with both Tucker and their longtime agent, George Andrews. There was speculation the players did it partially out of frustration caused by this man Jordan stealing their thunder—and most of the commerce.
Jordan's commercial singularity is obviously a mirror of his individual brilliance on the court. "As an opponent, you just try and contain him," Reynolds says. "If Jordan gets 40, O.K. You can hold the rest of the team to 65. But you're really afraid he's just going to go nuts. Jordan's the only player in the league you can say that about."
Forget trying to guard Jordan alone. Cooper says, "When people say I do a good job on Michael, or that so-and-so did the job, that's wrong. There's no way I stop him. I need the whole team. As soon as he touches the ball, he electrifies the intensity inside you. The alarm goes off because you don't know what he's going to do. He goes right, left, over you, around and under you. He twists, he turns. And you know he's going to get the shot off. You just don't know when and how. That's the most devastating thing psychologically to a defender."
The shame of the matter is that the Bulls haven't begged, borrowed or stolen some ground support for their extraordinary young pilot. Chicago vice president Jerry Krause, who made his NBA reputation as a talent scout, has promised Jordan the Bulls will get him a supporting cast capable of a title challenge. Yet after 24 roster moves since Jordan joined Chicago, most of the scoring help is gone and the Bulls are only two games better in the win-loss column. This season's stopgap is none other than Chicago's ancient A-Train, Artis Gilmore, who is back in the Windy City after five years of exile in San Antonio.
In Jordan's view, Krause, a short, pudgy character out of Damon Runyon—or is it Damon's restaurant chain?—got off on the wrong track when management tried to force Jordan not to play after his recovery from a broken foot two years ago. Jordan implied then that the Bulls' front office was happy to lose so as to qualify for a lottery position in the draft. Jordan, who calls Krause "Crumbs" because of his love of doughnuts, admits that episode's wounds have healed more slowly than his foot. Moreover, Jordan hasn't been satisfied with Chicago's draft choices. In 1986, Krause picked Brad Sellers over Jordan's friend from Duke, Johnny Dawkins, and last spring—by a predraft agreement that resulted in a trade with Seattle—he opted for unknown but highly regarded Scottie Pippin when Jordan's former Tar Heel mates, Joe Wolf and Kenny Smith, were available.
"Crumbs and I, we keep our distance," says Jordan.
Jordan also mistrusted Collins when, at age 34, he took over the Bulls in 1986. "I don't want to get to know you," he told Collins when he thought Collins was "spying" on him during a North Carolina alumni game the summer before last. But the two found common ground—both being former high draft choices, ex-Olympians and golfers, not to mention high-profile orthopedic patients. Remember Collins's bum knee that led to the end of his career with Philly in 1981? Last week the common ground seemed a bit shakier when Collins and Jordan had a spat over practice rules.
"Both Michael and the Bulls know he can't survive long with the inhuman burdens we put on him. Of course, sometimes I'm not sure he's a mere human," Collins said before the incident.
A lot of people have been paying to find out if Jordan is human. Last season Chicago's home attendance was 650,718, an increase of 181,492 over the previous year, when Jordan missed 34 home games. And on the road, the Bulls increased their drawing power by 39%, selling out nearly every night as the league's third-best attraction, behind the Celtics and the Dr. J. Rockin' Retirement Review. Chicago, with Air Jordan, brought in an extra 276,996 fans last season, an astonishing 33% of the league's overall attendance increase. Based on an average ticket price of $13.40, that's $3.71 million in revenue.
So how much is Jordan worth? Is it any wonder that he can be all things to all people? Is it really a shock that the same guy can be sought after by GQ, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Ebony, Jet, Miami Vice and Golf Digest? What better definition for a pop icon: He can stick out his tongue at the world, and the world loves every golden moment of it.
Best of all, as Jordan, 24 and never been hissed, guarantees us up there on the television screen upon leaving his neighborhood McDonald's: "There's still time left on the clock."