Air Jordan cleared for landing in Springfield


Sep 10

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There’s never an award night anymore. It becomes a weekend, and so it is for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the induction of the Class of 2009, featuring Michael Jordan.

And I had a favorite Jordan moment from Thursday evening, long after Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton, Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer were introduced briefly as the honorees for the year.

The gala enshrinement will be Friday night at Symphony Hall here and televised by ESPN at 5:30 (central). The Hall of Fame is moving the ceremony out of its building to the bigger music center downtown here to accommodate the larger crowd expected for Jordan’s entrance.

Jordan is scheduled to appear at a press conference starting Friday 9 a.m. (central) along with the other inductees, and you know this is big for the Hall of Fame. There is planned for the first time a parade Friday evening here before the ceremony of the Hall of Famers in convertible limousines in a sort of red carpet arrival.

Though that remains up in the Air given a questionable weather report.

And my story has to do, appropriately enough, with the air.

During the awards dinner Thursday night to honor onetime Bulls coach Doug Collins with the Curt Gowdy broadcasting award and Bulls legend Johnny “Red” Kerr with the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement award, Jordan stopped by to greet Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who was at a table with a large Bulls contingent.

Jordan joked casually with Reinsdorf and said he’d heard an earful of tall tales earlier from Bulls media chief Tim Hallam and Bulls ticket czar Joe O’Neil. Jordan laughed about the stories and said he’d catch up with everyone Friday.

It seems Jordan had called Hallam and O’Neil earlier in the week and asked if they’d like a ride on his jet to the ceremonies here.


Because Michael remembered and was grateful.

No, the plane wasn’t filled with well wishers and celebrities and hangars on and sycophants.

It was Michael, longtime security man George Koehler, a Jordan friend, O’Neil and Hallam.

Both Hallam and O’Neil have been with the Bulls more than 30 years and were there during Jordan’s entire career. Hallam was the media specialist who protected Michael and served as a barrier as the media intensity and demands grew to proportions never seen before in professional sports. Hallam was there to guide Jordan as well, to let him know, gently, when perhaps he needed to do something or speak to someone he may not have wanted to, though it would serve him well later.

O’Neil was the man behind the tickets with the Bulls. Michael always had more demands than anyone, and even this weekend has a huge contingent of friends and family coming. Bulls tickets long have been a treasure in Chicago, and O’Neil always made sure Jordan could get what he needed and where he wanted them so Michael could look good for the people he wanted to impress. It wasn’t always easy and required some fancy wheeling and dealing at times. But it got done.

They are the kinds of guys you need but who are so easy to forget. They’re wallpaper of sorts, lending something special and distinctive, always there and easily taken for granted.

The demands are many; the thanks are few.

Michael moved on a decade ago. But he remembered.

So he called Hallam and O’Neil and said he had a jet going to Springfield for the ceremonies and since they were going, why didn’t they come with him. Just some guys smoking cigars and talking old times. Guys like Hallam and O’Neil don’t do the things they did because it was Michael Jordan. They do them now and did them before Jordan arrived. It’s not only because it was their job. It’s because they’re pros.

Jordan remembered and appreciated and wanted to say thanks.

Now that’s cool.

There were several other awards presented Thursday, including to Bob Lanier and Alonzo Mourning with the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award and Peter Vecsey the print Gowdy award.

But Collins’ comments were the highlight.

Collins talked about persevering through the knee injury that prematurely ended his career and three coaching firings, though Collins also singled out Reinsdorf for his support over the years.

Charles Barkley, who was sitting with Collins, wagered Collins couldn’t finish without crying, and Barkley likely won, apparently among the few wagers he wins if we can believe his gambling stories.

Collins broke down in talking about son Chris, who won the Olympic gold medal in 2008 as part of the coaching staff, the medal that Collins was robbed of in the 1972 Olympics in the refereeing controversy. Collins also introduced his daughter, Kelly, and referenced the Temptations song, “My Girl,” and then brought up two other songs, “The Wind Beneath my Wings” by Bette Midler and “You’re he Best thing to Ever Happen to Me,” by Gladys Knight and the Pips to describe his wife of 37 years, Kathy.

Can’t wait to get a look at Doug’s iPod.

Though the best stories were before the event at the Turner Sports reception for Collins with Barkley talking about the 1992 Dream Team.

I had asked Barkley if he’s staying with the big Jordan group at the Mohegan Sun complex, which the Hall of Fame is using for some events this weekend.

Nah, Barkley said. He can’t keep up with Jordan. On the court or off. So Barkley proceeds to tell about this time during the Dream Team games in the 1992 Olympics when he was out late one night with Jordan.

“The guy is amazing,” Barkley says, shaking his head (I’m omitting the questionable modifiers because this is not cable TV). “We go out at night and do something and he takes this power nap for like an hour and he’s ready to play golf in the morning. We play 18 and then everyone wants to leave to get a nap. We’re, like, ‘It’s a game that night.’ But he stays and plays another 18.

“Then we’re playing Puerto Rico or someone (it was Puerto Rico in the quarter finals) and there was something in the paper their point guard said about Michael,” Barkley goes on. “So Michael says to Chuck (Daly), ‘I got the point guard.’ And Chuck says, ‘Uh, OK.’ So Michael goes out and he won’t let this guy get the ball. He’s all over him, knocking the ball away and the guy can’t even get to the ball. It was like that with him. He’s guarding this guy all over the court and he doesn’t want to come out of the game and he’s dunking and pushing everyone to play harder. I’ve never seen anything like that with anyone. The guy is unbelievable.”

On Friday, Jordan, the most amazing of basketball talents, gets his reward from the Basketball Hall of Fame. They have the old Naismith peach bucket hanging there on display at the beautiful center court area of the Hall. I thought I may have seen an image of the Jumpman on it.

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