I never got a chance to see Michael Jordan play basketball, but I did get a chance to see him play baseball. And, for a young sports obsessed boy growing up in my generation, any chance to see His Airness up close and in person was considered a true privilege.
The year was 1994. Jordan had just retired for the first time to pursue a dream of playing baseball. He signed to play for the Chicago White Sox, and was sent down to play Double-A baseball for the Birmingham Barons, who just happened to be in the same league as my hometown team, the Memphis Chicks.
Jordan’s coming to Memphis!
It was the talk of the town, and I was not going to miss it.
As we drove to Tim McCarver Stadium at the old fairgrounds, my brother Eddie and I devised the perfect plan. Since Jordan was a right fielder for the Barons, we were going to buy tickets in the right field bleachers. This would give us a front row seat to every throw, catch and bubble gum chew of Mr. Jordan.
Unfortunately as we entered the stadium, it was obvious that we were not the only people with this idea. While most of the rest stadium was empty, the right field bleachers were just about filled. But, thankfully, there were a few seats available. As we climbed to the top of the section, I was happy to be there.
Truth be told, Jordan was not much of a baseball player. His 6-foot-6 frame, an ideal height for his basketball talent, made him seem awkward on the diamond. Jordan struck out his first two at bats in the game, and finally reached on an infield hit on his final appearance.
But, we were never really there to see him play baseball.
We were there to be in the same presence, to breath the same air, of someone who we knew would go down as one of the greatest athletes in the history of the world.
Those of you who are too young to have seen Jordan play basketball do not understand what you missed. This is why I am pleased that ESPN is currently airing its 10-part documentary series ‘The Last Dance’ which highlights Jordan’s final championship season in 1998.
Jordan was not only the most talented player of his generation, but he also the most determined athlete I have ever seen.
Jordan was smooth as silk on the court. His high flying dunks, were electrifying. As he twisted in the air, churning his legs while floating past defenders, it truly seemed he could fly.
Jordan had all the intangibles. He was the best defensive player of his time, and came up clutch in the biggest moments.
I know there are some who will argue that LeBron James is an even better player than Jordan, and there are some valid points to be made on LeBron’s behalf.
But, you will never convince me that anyone was better than Mr. Jordan.
Even if he could not hit the curveball.
David W. Healy is the sports editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.