When I was a little kid I grew up in the Chicagoland area on the Indiana side of the border. Like any boy, or full-grown adult male, at the time, I loved Michael Jordan. He was Chicago sports. I had the jerseys, the pre game rituals memorized and when I dunked on my little basketball hoop it was always with the tongue out. I remember staying up late with my father to watch him play or special nights when my dad would take me to see him play in person.
I was always amazed by his play and I frequently as a child tried to mimic him, but that all started to change when I realized that Indiana had a team of their own. Although I was closer to Chicago, the fact I was from Indiana made me want to cheer for the Pacers. Michael went from being the hero to the enemy. I would always argue with my father over who was better, Reggie Miller or Michael Jordan. I understand now why he would always get frustrated, but that argument is chalked up to my belief that you should never give up on your own players. Your guy is always better than theirs, regardless of facts. I've let up on that a little bit since then, but I digress.
When Jordan retired for the first time I was honestly shocked, I thought it was way too early for him to be seeking an exit from the game. Yet part of me was excited because I thought a Pacers' championship was right around the corner. Prior to the 1994-95 NBA season my father and I were looking at Pacers' games that we could attend. Just because we always honored the connection between where I currently lived and a city I used to call home, we decided to buy tickets to the March 19th game against the Chicago Bulls. Just a few months later we found out how lucky we were, for this was the day that Michael Jordan returned to basketball. I honestly don't remember a lot from this game, but here's what I do remember:
-In the elevator on the way to the game a man who found out we were attending the game offered my father $1000 for the tickets with no knowledge of where the seats were. My dad politely refused. His story to this day is that he valued my happiness over the money.
-My father and I spent a large portion of the pre game discussing what Jordan's uni number would be, we found out at the time of introductions that it was 45.
-The Pacers won, which I used to "pad" my argument that Reggie Miller was a better player.
I saw the majority of what I remember from Jordan's career from the perspective of a Pacers' fan. Yet my view was always different than other fans because I had lived on both sides of the fence, as a Jordan lover and as a Jordan hater.
When the Bulls went 72-10 during the 1995-95 season, I always reminded the Bulls fans near me that the Pacers were the only team to beat them twice.
My strongest memory involving Michael Jordan is the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. This was the year that the Pacers pushed the Bulls to seven games and at points, held the lead over them. I will always remember that seventh game. It was one of the best games I've ever watched. This isn't due to the fact that it was pretty to watch, in fact, quite the contrary. It was wonderful to watch because it was such a battle. I cannot think of many other games I have watched that were as emotional as that game 7.
So in the end, thank you Michael Jordan. Thank you for being a boy's hero and villain. And to all who claim that he's full of himself or that he only focuses on himself, that's what most who want to succeed on a high level have to do. Jordan has been/was always a competitor who only wanted one thing...to win. As a sports fan could you want anything more from a player? Not I good sirs, not I.