I remember the first time I actually realized it. I looked up at my uncle and asked him in that semi cute kids voice, “Is Michael Jordan the best player ever?”
It was 1993, I was 7-years old.
It was my first year actually following the team, having been hooked during the NBA Finals the season before. Seeing the Bulls finish off the Phoenix Suns that year and earn their first three-peat is probably my first vivid sports memory. Even as a 7-year-old I knew this was special, I probably wouldn’t see one of my favorite teams win a title again, much less three in a row.
The Bulls winning that third title was my first moment of sports euphoria, a few weeks later I’d experience my first taste of sports heartbreak. Jordan’s heart was no longer in the game after the murder of his father. He was giving up basketball for baseball.
I hated baseball, and at that point everything else in the world. I was a seven year old kid who got attached to sports and their stars quickly, and my “idol” had just retired.
I tried to make due cheering for Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, and B.J. Armstrong but things just weren’t the same. The team couldn’t find an identity without MJ, even with Pippen putting up career numbers that year.
Then if by some miracle the rumors started flying, Jordan was practicing with the team again. He missed basketball, he wanted to see if he still had it.
Turns out he did.
I got another three-and-a-half seasons with Michael. During what many would consider there most formative years as a sports fan. I would estimate I missed maybe 10 Bulls games in that span. By some miracle I even attended the “70” game in 1996, when the Bulls beat the Lakers record for wins in a season against the Milwaukee Bucks.
It was the one and only time I got to see MJ in person. I still cherish that memory to this day. I remember the smile on his face as the horn sounded that night. Just another accolade to add to an increasingly large list.
Michael Jordan was my childhood, plain and simple. He ranks above everything else. Nobody had the drive or determination to beat Michael, it seemed like things would always turn out alright with the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter. As a kid I couldn’t say the same for my other interests, Batman, The Power Rangers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
So when Michael Jordan took the podium last night with tears in his eyes I wasn’t surprised when it transformed me into a little kid again if just for a few minutes. Counting down and shooting game winning shots in my driveway.
Hitting game winning fade away jumpers against my grandfather and pumping my fist afterward, and sitting on my couch with tears of happiness in my eyes seeing Jordan, follow through extended as he drilled a jumper against Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals.
So when my 3-year-old cousin waddled into the room last night and asked me “Who’s that on TV?” I didn’t have to ask anybody this time
Through tears of my own I looked at him and simply said:
“That’s Michael Jordan, he’s the best ever.”