So, who did you want to be growing up? For me, it was simple. Like the infamous jingle heard around the world in a 1992 Gatorade commercial, I wanted to “Be Like Mike.”
Of course, I’m referring to the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers — Air Jordan’s to be exact — Michael Jordan.
I don’t want to upset any readers out there who believe LeBron James is the greatest of all time, but I will argue until my last breath that MJ is the best to ever play the game of basketball.
I bring up “His Airness” because when the COVID-19 pandemic began to wipe out college and professional sporting events across the country this past spring, I was at a loss.
A highlight of mine for as long as I can remember is filling out tournament brackets for March Madness, but this year’s tournament was cancelled. Luckily for me, I got my basketball fix in mid-April with the release of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part docuseries that centers around the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season, Jordan’s last with the team, and mixes in snippets from his illustrious career.
Spoiler alert for those who have yet to watch it and want to do so on Netflix: Jordan leads the franchise to its sixth championship over an eight-year stretch.
The docuseries was full of all my favorite Jordan highlights, but what I enjoyed most was hearing personal stories from Jordan himself.
One of the most interesting stories he told centered around Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. With the series against the Utah Jazz tied at two games apiece, Jordan became ill the day of the game. In what was dubbed the “flu game,” MJ went out and somehow found the strength to score a game-high 38 points to lead the Bulls to victory.
During “The Last Dance,” Jordan revealed what he and others close to him believe to this day — he was the victim of food poisoning after ordering a pizza the night before the game from a pizza place in Park City, Utah. I knew Jazz fans were dedicated, I just never knew they would go to such great lengths in an attempt to give their team a competitive advantage.
I might be a little biased, but the 10-part docuseries was, by far, the best thing I watched all year, mostly because it brought back so many childhood memories.
For instance, one episode reminded me of the time I wouldn’t let a trip to the local grocery store in my hometown stop me from watching the 1993 NBA Finals. As my parents shopped, I sat inside their Ford Aerostar with my eyes glued to an old handheld television. I watched as Jordan led the Bulls to a victory over the Phoenix Suns. The Bulls would go on to win the series, their third championship in a row.
Another episode brought back memories of the 1996 NBA Finals, which I taped on VHS and still have to this day. Since I didn’t have a VCR in my room, I had to watch the entire series from my parents’ room while the rest of the family watched something else that they thought was more important on the bigger screen in the living room. Sitting on the edge of an old waterbed wasn’t the most comfortable seat in the house, but I made do in order to watch Jordan win his fourth title after taking a few years off to play baseball. While I try not to remember his attempt at playing America’s pastime, I do have fond memories of my dad and I trying to hunt down his Upper Deck baseball card, which we finally did at a yard sale a few blocks down from where I grew up.
Speaking of my dad, while the NBA wasn’t always my parents’ favorite sport to watch, “The Last Dance” did conjure up some fond memories of time spent with my dad. For instance, I remember sitting there with my dad watching Jordan as he hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to win his sixth title. It would be the final shot he ever took in a Bulls uniform, and I don’t recall watching another NBA game since then with my dad as I went on to college two years later.
The best memory, however, that came flooding back as I watched the docuseries was the time my parents surprised me for Christmas back in 1991 with tickets to the Dec. 30 Bulls game that year in Indianapolis.
We weren’t rich by any means, so having the opportunity to watch Air Jordan in person is something I will never forget. In fact, I still have the ticket stub from the game and the photographs I took from the nosebleed section inside Market Square Arena. Jordan scored a game-high 29 points that night, leading the Bulls to a 109-104 victory over the Pacers.
While I have attended hundreds of college basketball games since 1991, that game still remains the only NBA game I’ve ever attended in person. Part of me would like to keep it that way, but with a son who loves sports just as much as I do, I’m sure he will talk me into taking him to an NBA game in the future. Unlike my first trip to a NBA arena, his won’t involve watching the greatest basketball player ever. I was just lucky enough to have wonderful parents who spent their hard-earned money on a kid who spent night after night shooting baskets in the backyard, a place where he pretended to “Be Like Mike.”
Joshua Keeran is editor of The Delaware Gazette. Reach him by email at [email protected] or by phone at 740-413-0900.