Da Kid, Michael and his Big Ticket – 1996 NBA Tour

Contributor: Michael – a fan and collector (eBay: baby-jordan) | A young NBA fanatic, travels to the USA – experiencing memories that will last a lifetime.

Hoops in Australia.

I’ll start with a quick back-story. Growing up in Australia, I was obsessed with all sports. In 1992 I discovered the NBA, but MJ was (soon) retiring. I started to obsessively collect everything I could, with the little money that I had and studied his (VHS) videos over and over. By the time he made his comeback from baseball, I was so excited. I finally got to see him play – although,  on TV – it was better than watching old videos.

I was convinced I was going to be in the NBA and would hit a buzzer-beater to defeat Team USA in the gold medal game at the Olympics. Everyone I met – I’d sign my autograph – for them, “it would be worth a fortune in the future.” Long story, for another time; I never made it.

Then, I worked professionally for five years in the music industry – promoting, producing and performing music. In 2009, I had a son, got a ‘real’ job and lived the life of an ordinary man. Throughout this time, I made a lot of contacts, met lots of amazing people and collected a lot of items.

 

I’m not a hoarder; am I?

Now, it has become my obsession. My partner calls me a hoarder. Like all hoarders, I say my items are valuable – many are and I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d have over 5000 items – signed items, game-worn items, other collectibles, memorabilia and sports history. I have a room in my house, stacked with boxes and cupboards full of items. Most weeks I can’t get in the door. I’ve been trying to sell items on eBay. Have sold a few hundred, however, I don’t seem to be making a difference to the never-ending piles.

I’d love to get my favorite pieces framed, but can’t justify the prices to do so, when I can spend that money on another Jordan autograph. Arrrgggh!! Adam asked for submissions of first-hand accounts – here are two…adventures, shall we say, that I can remember almost every detail of.

 

My NBA Tour.

November, 1996: I don’t usually mention names in stories; as I was 15 years-old at the time, I will. I went on an NBA Tour to Los Angeles and Chicago with a group of approximately 20 people, including former NBL legend, Bruce Bolden, and Jeff Van Groningen. To me, he was just Jeff; a cocky, confident and highly-driven young American man, living in Australia and trying to make a living off the game he loved. He later did some commentating and a lot of other NBL-related things. Jeff had my back while I was in America and we shared a room for two 2 weeks. He was always on the phone, trying to plan things. He was ringing the Clippers, ringing the Bulls. He seemed to know everyone.

Whilst in L.A., we stayed at the same hotel as the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves. I saw a lot of things, the few days we were there. As a 15 year-old, obsessed with the NBA, I was completely in awe most of the time.

 

Heal Me, Shane.

The first day, Shane Heal knocks on my hotel door. He wanted to talk to Jeff. Shane played for the Timberwolves at the time. Oh my god, SHANE HEAL is in my room! Jeff was in the shower, so Shane entered the room and asked how I was enjoying my trip. I couldn’t answer. Was this a dream?! He talked to Jeff, through the door. I did what any kid would do (wouldn’t they?) and pulled out my (bulky) video camera. I pressed record and laid it on my bed, facing Shane. I had to prove this to my friends! I must have freaked Shane out; he left and all I have on tape is his voice.

I headed to the lobby. As I’m getting in the elevator, I see Tom Gugliotta. Damn, these guys are even staying on the same hotel floor. I say hi, to Tom; he says hi, back. He seemed a little freaked out. Did Shane already tell him there was a freaky kid around? Was it my accent? Was it that I was a kid, by myself? I don’t know. Now, I’m in the hotel lobby and see Dikembe Mutombo and other players, arguing at the counter. There were a bunch of nice cars outside; they must have hired them and the cars were too small or something. It was funny to watch.

 

Good camera? Negative.

I turn around and there is legendary coach, Lenny Wilkens, having a bite to eat. I just stare for a while, trying to take photos on my vintage 1980s wind-up camera (with no zoom). Next, Steve Smith walks in. I walk up and ask for a photo together. No worries. I then ask someone else to take the picture. Then, I go up to Christian Laettner and get a photo with him. I see this really huge guy, all by himself. He is wearing a Hawks top, so I go over to him. He couldn’t believe that I wanted a photo; he was so happy to do it. I never figured out who he was – Priest Lauderdale?

At this stage, I’m like a kid in a candy store; literally surrounded by 20 NBA players, in total awe. I’m trying to record them with my video camera. In walks Slam Dunk Champion, Brent Barry. He was playing for the Clippers, but visiting his brother, Jon. I got a photo with both of them, together.

Then, a different noise falls over the room – someone special was coming. He had a couple people walking by his side. He was wearing very dark glasses and big headphones. He looked like a giant. He exits the elevator, walks through the lobby and out the door; ducking, on his way out. He doesn’t talk to anyone. It was 19 year-old (Da Kid) Kevin Garnett. Oh my god! He just walked past me, less then a metre away.

We go to the Knicks versus Clippers game – seated in a box, about halfway up. You missed a lot of atmosphere, being in one of the boxes. There were a few TVs and some food, but, it didn’t excite me and the game was ugly! Ewing top-scored, with 20 points. Malik Sealy (RIP) top-scored for the Clippers, with 13 points.

That night, Googs and a few other players are eating at the same place we are. They had walked from the hotel, just like us. When we return, a few of the guys stop at the bar next to the lobby for a drink. As a 15 year-old, I managed to get one also – thought I was pretty cool – you had to be 21 years-old, in the United States.

Doug West, or Terry Porter, were there with a couple of ladies. A few other players left, with ladies. I was thinking to myself; I’ve read all about this. This is so sweet. It was all too much for me, so I called it a night. As I’m trying to swipe my door key, I hear a noise behind me. I turn, to see KG has just arrived, out of nowhere. He is in the room, two metres from mine. Directly across the hall! He looked at me – no glasses or headphones, this time. I looked back and then quickly shut my door and almost fainted like a girl who had just met One Direction. To this day, it is one of my biggest regrets. Why didn’t I say something? Maybe we could have played video games all night! haha…

The next day, a few of us go shopping and pick up some cool items, to hopefully get signed; jerseys you’d never find in Australia, etc. Jeff offers us a choice. He has hooked-up (for the following day) court-side seats to the Timberwolves versus Clippers; or, we could watch the Hawks take on the Lakers – a night game, but not as good seats. I chose the Lakers. This was Shaquille O’Neal’s first year in L.A. and Kobe Bryant’s rookie season. This was only the third home game of the season. Kobe’s third home game, ever!

 

Insert ‘Smitty Shimmer’, here.

In this game, Steve Smith was unstoppable; before spraining his ankle. He returned, but wasn’t the same. He scored 14 points in as many minutes, before the injury. The Hawks were up 14 point, at half time. The third quarter was all Eddie Jones. We went nuts, with the whole L.A. crowd, screaming “Edd-ie!”, all quarter-long. He led the Lakers to the win. Kobe scored 2 points in 8 minutes.

The next day, Eddie was at the Nike store – not one person went up to him, the whole time. On returning to the hotel, Smitty and Mutombo were in the lobby. Remember, Steve sprained his ankle during the game. A few of us sat down – Steve and a friend, joined us. I told him he was having an amazing game (before the injury). He modestly replied, “I was, wasn’t I?”

Smith sat and spoke with us for about 20 minutes. The whole time, Mutombo stood about 3 metres away, not engaging with us at all. He occasionally rang people and would say something to Smitty. Steve would then say to us, “Does anyone know what he is saying? I can’t understand him.” We all laughed, as none of us knew, either. I started feeling bad for him – as we were all laughing with Steve, getting photos and autographs from him. I walked over to Mutombo, with pen and paper, for an autograph. He didn’t look at me and it was totally like I wasn’t there; I went and sat back down with Steve.

We spoke a lot – one conversation I recall was about jerseys. I had a Kobe jersey on. He told me (in jest) to take it off before we got a photo. I told him we were in L.A. and I had to wear it. I then told him that his jersey wasn’t available at the time. He couldn’t believe it. We explained that the only jerseys you could buy in Australia were Jordan, Shaq, Grant Hill, Shawn Kemp & Larry Johnson. That then got us on to conspiracy theories about why some player’s jerseys sell the most – maybe they are all that is offered in certain places and countries.

The next day, we went to Hollywood. It was the day after the official Space Jam premiere. I bought a heap of memorabilia and saw the movie a few weeks before it was released in Australia.

Another L.A. highlight was playing ball at Venice Beach. Who happened to be there that day? None other than NBL Hall of Famer, Steve Carfino. He had retired from the NBL, five years prior, but was still killing it on these courts. It was also fun to play some ball against Bruce Bolden. He was taking it easy on everyone. Mostly, just shooting jumpers from the elbow that never seemed to miss. I did take it to Bruce, for a spectacular Jordan-like reverse layup – that had the crowd ‘oohing’ and me thinking, I was king. I tried the same move again; Bruce blocked it that hard, I thought my arm was going to break.

 

Chi-Town.

It was then time to fly to Chicago. I got to see my idol, Michael Jordan, live. Our seats were very high in the bleachers; so high, the players looked like ants in all my photos – maybe the size of my finger, in person. The atmosphere was amazing. They showed the Bulls players on the big screen, in the tunnel, for their famous chant, “What time is it? Game time!” During warm-ups, we did the (more famous) chant, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi”. A few of the players looked up at us, including Luc Longley – but, there was no chance they would see us – we were a post-code away. Still, amazing that they heard us. The player introductions sent shivers down my spine. “At guard, 6-6, from North Carolina!” – the crowd went into a frenzy and were so loud, you couldn’t even hear, “Number 23, Michaeeeeeel Jordan!”

Michael Jordan, shooting a free-throw (photo: Michael Simms)

MJ had a quiet 25 points, on this night. Quiet, in the fact that it was just so easy. Dennis Rodman was the star – the high-scorer at half-time, with 11 points; including a huge 3-pointer. Other highlights included viewing the banners and the 4 Championship trophies that were in a cabinet, inside the Bulls’ store.

Although Jeff tried hard, we didn’t get to meet Luc. Whether that was Luc’s decision, or the Bulls’, I’ll never know. (Jeff was dealing with the Bulls – it looked good, but then, they called back with the big N.O.)

My second-most memorable adventure, “Sydney 2000 Olympics”, coming soon…

Water Heater Game – Erving and Bird

Contributor: Greg – a fan, collector and researcher (Dr. J. Memorabilia) | A perfect example of how ‘your story’ can become a great part of NBA Narratives.

April 6, 1986 | Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers [Box Score]

In small-town Canada, the NBA on CBS was the only television pipeline to NBA games. For me, it was religion. This spring Sunday, the Sixers and Celtics were playing their last of six regular season match-ups. The Celts had won four of the previous five and would be collecting another NBA title, a couple of months later. The Sixers were no longer title contenders and Julius Erving would begin his final season in the fall of this same year. Regardless, it was still Sixers / Celtics.

My friend and I were die-hard Sixers fans and would often watch the games together. We’d usually watch at his house, because his cable TV clarity always trumped my rural antenna reception. All games were recorded on VHS. This day was no different.

A third friend joined us and we settled in to enjoy what was once, one of the greatest rivalries in sport. There was no Moses Malone or Andrew Toney that day for the Sixers. Instead, we saw unfamiliar players like Terry Catledge, Greg Stokes and Perry Moss. But Cheeks, Erving, Barkley and Clemon Johnson (off the bench), kept the Sixers in the game.

With only 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter, the Sixers trailed 94-92, with Boston about to inbound the ball in the Sixers’ end. Philadelphia inexplicably let the clock wind down to seven seconds, before fouling Larry Bird – the leading FT-shooter in the league. We needed Larry Legend to miss one. These were Bird’s only two FTs of the day and he shockingly missed them both. Barkley grabbed the rebound, called timeout and promptly flashed the choke sign.

Barkley 'choke' sign

Barkley ‘choke’ sign

From half-court, Erving in-bounded to Barkley, outside the arc. His drive for the tying basket ended with Kevin McHale tying him up. Jump ball, with just three seconds left.

McHale ties up Barkley

McHale ties up Barkley

This play was the breaking point for my friend and he stormed out of the room, marched over to the hot water tank and gave it a good kick. The two of us still watching the game, could hear hissing and the sound of water hitting the floor. Pleas for assistance were ignored as there was still 3 seconds left in the game. So, as my friend frantically searched for the water shut-off, we watched Barkley win the jump and tip the ball to Erving, just outside the 3-point line.

"...he's got a crack at it!"

“…he’s got a crack at it!”

Doc’s buzzer-beater was good and the Sixers won the game, 95-94. Our pal had no idea why we were screaming with delight – he was still battling the flood. Good thing we recorded the game.

 

Brush with Greatness – Michael Jordan

Contributor: Ross Franco | Learn about his encounters with Michael Jordan.

I grew up in a small coastal town in North Carolina, called Wilmington. I moved there when I was about 11 years old and absolutely fell in love with it. As any NBA fan knows, Wilmington, North Carolina, is also the home of Michael Jordan – the greatest basketball player to ever play the game.

I went to John T. Hoggard High School and graduated in 1982. Across town at E.A. Laney High School, a future legend was finishing up his high school career for the Buccaneers. Michael Jordan graduated from Laney HS in 1981. He went on to star at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We all know about MJ’s legacy in college, the Olympics and the NBA.

Ross' 1981 HS Yearbook | Laney Buccaneers vs. Hoggard Vikings

Ross’ 1981 HS Yearbook | Laney Buccaneers vs. Hoggard Vikings

Back in the early 1980s, we didn’t have the Internet, Twitter and Facebook, bombarding us with a constant flow of information; so, I had not even heard of Michael Jordan, until he was a senior in high school. MJ entered my consciousness about the same time as most other people – when he played at UNC as a freshman and hit this game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship, against Georgetown:

I have been fortunate to meet Michael Jordan, on four or five different occasions in Wilmington, NC.

The first time I met him, I was at Independence Mall in Wilmington, with a friend of mine. We were talking, looked up and saw a familiar figure, bobbing his head and walking toward us with another guy, who would become one of my best friends. It was Michael Jordan and David Bridgers – one of MJ’s lifelong friends. It was kind of surreal, because MJ was a sophomore at Carolina and was already becoming a little bit famous. Can you imagine him walking in a shopping mall now? We exchanged pleasantries and the guy I was with said, “Let’s go play some ball.” I was actually a really good player for a 5′ 10″ white guy, but I knew immediately that there was no way in hell, MJ was going to lace them up and play basketball with us. He kind of laughed and gave the smile that we all know so well. That was the end of that meeting.

Jordan was in Wilmington, another time, which I think was the summer between his rookie year and second NBA season (broken foot and 63-point game against the Celtics). At that point, he was VERY famous. I had also become good friends with David Bridgers during the two or three years since I first met MJ. I was invited to meet them at a local dance club, which was actually in the local Holiday Inn (that’s how small the town was back then). When I arrived, MJ, David and a couple of other guys – Buzz Peterson and Adolph Shiver – were already there. I walked up to MJ and introduced myself to him. He was sitting down at the bar and I was standing beside him. I tried to play it cool like I was ‘one of the guys’ and never once mentioned basketball to him. However, on the inside I was thinking, ‘Holy f#$k, I can’t believe I’m talking to Michael Jordan!’ That was a very long time ago; I don’t specifically recall the conversation. I know he was in town for a golf tournament, so, I wished him good luck. What was most impressive to me was that before I left, he said, “You taking off?” and called me by name. He knew, even at that young age, that it was important to remember people’s names – knowing it would make a lasting impression; it certainly did. I left with David and had to drive him back to MJ’s house to pick up his car, as he had ridden with MJ. I’ve had my car parked in MJ’s driveway, more than once – but that’s another story.

In 1987, MJ ran a basketball camp at UNC-Wilmington. I was neither one of the campers (mostly young, local kids – I was 22 or 23, attending college there), nor, one of the coaches, mentors or guides. I was a student, hanging around that camp a lot, just to see MJ play. Every evening after the campers were sent to their dorm rooms, I’d go and watch pick-up games at Trask Coliseum. Sadly, for me, that was my one opportunity to play in a pick-up game with MJ and some other local talent that I knew well; however, I’d just had surgery on my shoulder, a week prior to the camp – my arm was in a sling and I couldn’t play. I’ve played several times with Larry Jordan, MJ’s older brother, but, it’s not quite the same.

I remember Cozell McQueen, of NCSU, played in some of those pick-up games, as did a then-unknown, Sean Elliott. I think MJ flew him in, just to upgrade the level of competition for him to abuse. I remember MJ doing a drive to the basket that was the most athletic, spectacular MISSED shot, I have ever seen. The closest move I can compare it to, is this one that MJ made against the New Jersey Nets, in 1991 – except, even more spectacular!

Wondering if footage exists from these pick-up games? In the documentary to Michael Jordan’s, ‘Come Fly with Me’, the narrator alludes that the (following) video is from a pick-up game in Chapel Hill. However, it is in fact, from the 1987 UNC-Wilmington camp. Watch from the 19m 21s mark – what you see, is actually Trask Coliseum:

[Adam: I always questioned the date of this. Thanks for the definitive clarification, Ross!]

UNC-Wilmington’s colors are green and gold – you can clearly see those colors painted on the court. Also, see the photo below – MJ is wearing the exact same clothes in the video. I was probably standing beside the guy filming the game when I took the photo, as I was equally close to the court. Possibly, I was at the opposite end. I’m not sure.

Michael Jordan - 1987

I do recall one funny moment from the 1987 camp. I’m now 49 years old – most people think I’m in my late 30s, as I still look relatively young. Well, when I was 22 or 23, I looked like I was 17 or 18. I was at Trask Coliseum, right before the pick up games started one night and I walked past MJ. He said, “Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?” He thought I was one of the campers…probably because he had seen me hanging around so much.

As far as memorabilia goes, I have a couple of MJ photos that I took at the camp – also, an autographed poster, from around the same time. I can’t recall if it was at the camp or somewhere else that I got the poster signed but, I do still have it. It’s in terrible condition, but I would never part with it.

I have been really good friends with David Bridgers, for about 30 years. He is known as “MJ’s childhood friend.” I have read about David, in Sports Illustrated and he appears on ESPN’s 30 for 30, Jordan Rides the Bus. He is one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever known. You can hear and see David, at around 2m 8s and 5m 16s, here:

I called David at home, the night that Mr. Jordan’s body was discovered. He probably thought it was MJ calling, because the phone didn’t even ring a whole ring, before he answered. I told him I was sorry to hear about Mr. Jordan and he just started sobbing uncontrollably. He was really close to “Mr. J”, as he calls him.

Everyone wants to hang out with MJ and get to know him (myself included). David has to be really protective of his relationship with Michael – and, who he ‘lets in.’ He keeps a really tight lid on it because as you can imagine, everyone wants a pair of shoes or an autographed jersey or something else from MJ.

Me (left) and David Bridgers - circa 1995

Me (left) and David Bridgers – circa 1995

I want to make it clear that I don’t know Michael Jordan; I just know lots of other people who do. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to meet him and I hope I have a chance to talk with him again one day.

Those are my few encounters with the Greatest of All Time.