Michael Jordan Taught Rogelio Nunez English by Paying Him to Spell Correct Words

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

Birmingham Barons Michael Jordan is brushed back by a pitch in the third inning of their game against the Chattanooga Lookouts at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Birmingham, Ala., April 8, 1994. Jordan flied out on his first at-bat in his first official game for the AA Barons. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Dave Martin/Associated Press

Michael Jordan's former teammate with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, Rogelio Nunez, said the Chicago Bulls legend helped him learn the English language by paying him to spell words correctly. 

"He said, 'If you spell Mickey Mantle right now, I'll give you $1,000,'" Nunez told Alec Lewis of The Athletic. "And guess what? I couldn't even start it. I didn't know how to spell."

"Everybody was like, 'Come on, Nunez!'" he added. "But I didn't know how to start it. So Jordan said, 'OK, from now on, every word that you spell to me, I'll give you $100.' I said, 'It's hard for me.' He said, 'We're going to ease into it. I'll give you a letter the day before. The starting letter. And it has to be about baseball.' And that's how it worked."

Nunez said the challenge prompted him to buy an English book and helped foster a friendship between the men.

"I think I made close to $2,500," he said. "But the whole team was like, 'Come on, Nunez!' And really he wanted me to get it right. It did help me a lot."

Jordan spent the 1994 season with Birmingham, hitting .202 with three home runs, 46 runs and 51 RBI. Those numbers may not sound like much, but Jordan was 31 at the time and hadn't played baseball since high school. Stepping into Double-A baseball after that layoff and hitting .202, against some of the best prospects in the game, was an extraordinary accomplishment. 

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It obviously doesn't rival his six titles and five MVPs with the Bulls, but it does add to his legend. It also suggests that had he pursued baseball instead of basketball as a young man, he may have eventually been an MLB player. 

Nunez said the men fell out of touch over the years after both of their baseball careers came to a close, but if he spoke to Jordan again he said he would like to thank him.

"For being so nice and for being my friend," he told Lewis. "He didn't have any reason to help me. ... That he would give me money for me to learn English is unbelievable."