WHAT WOULD it beworth to you to be able to utter the greatest barroom boast ever? What if thenext time the fellas are sitting around playing Can You Top This?, you couldblow away their tales of high school homers and once-sorta-dated-a-sorta-modelwith this bad boy: "I beat Michael Jordan one-on-one."
I first heardrumor of the feat from a friend in Chicago. The details were hazy: It(probably) occurred at MJ's basketball camp (about) five years ago, when helost to a camper for the first time—an old(-ish) guy who threw up a(musta-been) crazy lefty hook to which Jordan (undoubtedly) yelled, Nooooo!
What's more, myfriend said, the whole thing was (purportedly) videotaped.
A call led to acall led to a name, John Rogers Jr. Now 49, Rogers is a Chicago rainmaker:Princeton grad; founder and CEO of Ariel Mutual Finds, the nation's largestminority-run mutual fund; friendly with Oprah; even friendlier with BarackObama (who has used Rogers's conference room for mock debates). Most important,he could afford Jordan's Senior Flight School, a three-day summer camp in LasVegas for the 35-and-over-and-affluent crowd that ran 15 grand, or more thantwice what it would cost to go to, you know, actual flight school.
March 3, 2008
Simply put, Rogersis in love with the game. Despite knee surgery three years ago he not onlyplays but also practices regularly. How many pickup players actually practicein their free time? (For that matter, how many NBA players do?) And whileRogers was captain of the 1979--80 Princeton team, he's six feet tall, a tadnerdy-looking and not too athletic. As Rogers puts it, "Coach [Pete] Carrilalways said I wasn't a good dribbler and I was a terrible passer, but I couldfinish." To watch him now, rec-specs on nose, moves equally herky andjerky, is to see bits of every middle-aged guy at every YMCA, juiced on pregameAdvil and hoping that this time his ball fake will work on a younger, springierdefender.
Before we get tothe one-on-one video, shot by camp staffers, some caveats. For starters, thegame is short: first to three, make-it-take-it, no rebounds. And this is notvintage MJ but rather the Floor Jordan model after his final final season,2002--03 with the Washington Wizards. Even so, bear in mind that 1) MJ hadnever lost to a camper in the seven years of Flight School, and 2) this isMichael Jordan we're talking about, the most competitive life form on theplanet. As former Chicago Bulls guard Steve Kerr says, "I played withMichael for [five] years, and I never beat him one-on-one."
The game begins,fittingly, with Jordan still ribbing a previous victim. "Don't be mad atme, I'm just too good," he booms. "What, you think I had this camp justso you all could beat me?" Taking the ball first, Rogers drives right andlofts in a runner. Then he goes left to hit a leaner. The crowd of 150 orso—campers but also coaches like John Thompson and Mike Krzyzewski—begins tomurmur. Predictably, Jordan evens it, and the end appears imminent until ...Michael misses a jumper. Then he clangs another!
So Rogers againhurtles left and, nearing the hoop, jumps off both feet. Jordan, clearly intoit now, times his leap to swallow up the shot. Only Rogers, in a move he'spracticed a thousand times but that still appears impossibly awkward, leansaway from MJ as if eluding the curl of a crashing wave. He spins the ball up,up, up and over Jordan's fingertips, off the glass and in. On the video thefirst thing you hear is Jordan ("Oh, no!"), followed by comedian andcamper Damon Wayans, who jumps at the chance to mock MJ. (Lest you think Jordanhad lost his edge, he immediately brought Wayans onto the court and humiliatedhim 3--0.)
Naturally, Jordandemanded a rematch with Rogers, right? Actually, he didn't. Instead he huggedRogers—the two go back a ways from Jordan's days in Chicago—and said, not sohuggably, "Next time we're on the court together, I'll show you what it'slike to play in the NBA." But that has yet to happen. Rogers hasn't beenback to Flight School, and MJ stopped playing campers a few years ago. As forRogers, he had DVDs made from the tape and dispensed them to friends andemployees, because, well, wouldn't you?
It's tempting totake away an inspirational morsel: On the right day Everyman can take downSuperman—provided, of course, Everyman is loaded. Still, Rogers did beatJordan, and for that, all the creaky-kneed, bald-spotted dreamers thankhim.
They likely allwant something from Rogers now too: The chance to play him. Because, with luck,they could be the guy who beat the guy who beat Jordan.
If you have a comment on your ultimate sports fantasy, send it toPointAfter@si.timeinc.com.
The details were hazy: It (probably) occurred atJordan's basketball camp (about) five years ago, when an old(-ish) guy threw upa (musta-been) crazy left hook.