Air Maximus. The name of Nike's newest shoe? No, the handles of
the respective heroes of two films, Michael Jordan to the Max
and Gladiator, each opening on Friday. One is a sports
documentary. The other is a gladiator movie. Which is which? Who
can say? There are myriad similarities.

--Dreamlike opening sequence. Jordan: Air soars to dunk in an
otherwise vacant United Center. Gladiator: Maximus (Russell
Crowe) walks alone through a field--Elysium, perhaps?

--Death of father figure sends hero into exile. Jordan: Air,
three-time NBA Finals MVP with the Bulls, abruptly retires from
basketball after his father, James, is murdered. He makes a
career switch and winds up in Birmingham as a minor league
baseball player. Gladiator: Maximus, the most decorated general
in the Roman Empire, flees from Germania after Emperor Marcus
Aurelius (Richard Harris), who earlier had told him, "You are
the son that I should have had," dies under mysterious
circumstances. Maximus makes a career switch and winds up in the
backwater city of Zucchabar as a gladiator.

--Pregame cameo by person wearing a bull head. Self-explanatory.

--Graybeard Zen master helps our hero ascend to next level.
Jordan: Former player Phil Jackson becomes the coach in Chicago
and advises Air to "live in the moment" through meditation.
Gladiator: Proximo (Oliver Reed), who as Maximus's slave master
initially comes off as ruthlessly Reinsdorfian, later reveals
that he's a former gladiator and can help Maximus win his
freedom. "You're good," Proximo tells his charge, "but you could
be magnificent."

--Feckless foes fall early in the playoffs. Jordan: Air
dominates as the Bulls sweep the Nets and beat the Hornets 4-1
in the first two rounds of the 1998 NBA playoffs. Gladiator: In
preludes to the final match at the Colosseum, Maximus and his
supporting cast annihilate opponents.

--Mars. Jordan: Blackmon, who pays Air homage. Gladiator: Roman
god of war, to whom Maximus and his soldiers pay homage.

--Adoration by children. Jordan: Kids in Gatorade ad sing, "I
wanna be, wanna be like Mike!" Gladiator: "Are you the one they
call the Spaniard?" Lucius (Spencer Treat Clark), nephew of
newly installed Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), asks
Maximus. "My mother says that I should imitate you."

--Heroic comeback. Jordan: Air rejoins the Bulls late in the
1994-95 season and goes on to win three more NBA titles.
Gladiator: Maximus, buoyed by his success in the arena,
entertains a plot to reassume command of his army and seize Rome
from Commodus.

--Climactic, spine-tingling match against Western Conference
nemesis. Jordan: Air must defeat Utah. Gladiator: Crowe must
defeat Phoenix.

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: JAAP BUITENDIJK (C)2000 DREAMWORKS LLC./UNIVERSAL PICTURES The parallels between the films starring Crowe (far left) and Jordan are unmistakable. COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [See caption above]


Baseball All-Star balloting on the Internet

This Monday marks the beginning of Web voting to help determine
the starters in the 71st edition of the Midsummer Classic on
July 11 at Atlanta's Turner Field.

Polling place: (with links from,, and Limit: one vote per E-mail
address. Deadline: July 1, 11:59 p.m.