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Wednesday story — The time I met Michael Jordan

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Michael Jordan tees off at a recent golf tournament. Courtesy photo
Michael Jordan tees off at a recent golf tournament. Courtesy photo

Dear reader,

This isn’t going to be your average post here on Big Sky State Buzz.

And by that I mean that it’s not based on an event, and it’s not based on anything outside of my own experiences.

I’ve been mulling things over and I’ve discovered that one of the things that I have kept wanting to do but have not had the venue is a place to tell some good stories.

And by stories I mean personal experiences in my life that I think are worth telling.

You could maybe argue that I’m being narcissistic here. That I’m using my platform to brag about things I’ve done. You’d be partially right.

Just don’t think of it as a place to brag so much as a place to reminisce about some cool things I’ve done that I feel, I HOPE, others might find interesting. If nobody reads these, I’ll drop them and go on with my life, but part of my manifesto when I started Big Sky State Buzz was to take some risks and do things that I have never done before.

 

So, with that, here’s my first Wednesday Story about the time I met Air Jordan.

First, come with me as we go back to 2005. I was a student at the University of Montana studying journalism. Needing an internship, I chose to work at the Reno Gazette-Journal for two reasons — one was that I had an uncle who lived in Reno who I could spend some time with, and two, I thought the Reno sports section put out great work. They still do, even if the faces and names have almost all changed since then.

Anyhow, one of the perks of working as an intern there was that I got to do a lot of interesting stories and met a lot of cool people who came through the area that summer.

One of those experiences was helping to cover the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament at the Lake Tahoe golf course.

The ACC, as it’s known, draws some serious star power each summer. That year some of the celebs at the course were Donald Trump, Ray Romano, John Elway, Jerry Rice, Johnny Bench, Dan Patrick, and, Mr. Michael Jordan.

Being a huge MJ fan back in the early/mid 90s, (like most kids who were basketball fans back in that time) I felt like this was my once chance I may ever get to meet my idol.

I was told by one of the other guys covering the event with the newspaper that MJ probably wasn’t talking to anyone in the media, but, I didn’t care.

I had to try it. Whereas they were used to him being there, he’d came for the past 10 years or so, for me it was a new experience and one that, as I said earlier, might not ever happen again for me.

So the first day I got to the golf course, I quickly looked up what time MJ and his entourage would be playing their practice round. I made sure I had clearance to go exploring on the course, and my hunt began.

Here's an old photo of me with my friend Alan Panebaker.
Here’s an old photo of me with my friend Alan Panebaker.

I even had what I thought at the time was a unique and thoughtful question. I was going to ask him about his newly created motorsports team. A few days prior I even found a short interview he did about how after one of the riders on his team suffered a serious injury, Jordan himself took him under his wing and helped him recover. The guy eventually became one of Jordan’s favorite golfing companions, which I thought tied in nicely with Jordan being at a golf tournament over the weekend.

So, with my silver bullet locked and loaded in my notebook, I made the plunge. Granted, it took me several false starts, because, let’s get real here. If you had the chance to meet your childhood idol, you might be a bit nervous. After three or four holes of watching the tandem finish up their practice shots, I made my approach.

My palms were sweaty, and a part of me wanted to turn around. But, I told myself “Jake, this might not ever happen again, keep going. All he can say is no.”

I kept telling myself this. “All he can say is no, Jake, that’s it. Try it, you never know what might happen.”

So, finally I got up to the rope separating the spectators and the players. I said hello and shook MJ’s hand.

Now, if you’ve never had the chance to shake the hand of an NBA All-Star, it’s like having your hand engulfed in a bear paw. His hand was the biggest, most powerful I have ever shook in my entire life. I wondered if he had the chance, if he could pick up my entire skull with his right hand.  I suspect he probably could.

After we shook hands, I told him who I was and that I’d like to ask him a question.

I said something like, “Michael, my name is Jake Sorich and I’m with the Reno Gazette-Journal, the local newspaper here. I was wondering if I could ask you about your motocross…”

And before I could even finish my sentence, he looked away and said, “Sorry, not doing interviews.” and promptly sliced away onto the next hole.

After he left, two of his goons told me I needed to leave, or else.

I asked them why, and they basically said, “Because we said so, now go before we call security.”

Now, I know MJ didn’t have to talk to me, even if I had the best question in the world. That’s his prerogative. It was a hard lesson to learn at the time, but it was one that was important for me to learn, looking back at it.

One thing that did happen after that encounter, however, is that I’ve had a hard time continuing to be a big Michael Jordan fan. Because, yeah, he didn’t have to talk to me, and if I were in his shoes and some kid approached me wanting an interview, I’d probably chuckle and turn him down, too, perhaps.

But, I wish he would have at least heard me out. Let me tell him why I was approaching him. How I grew up wearing his jersey every time a Bulls game was airing on TV.

How when in the 96′ finals my dad had to take me outside and literally hose me down after the Bulls lost two straight to the Seattle SuperSonics and I was positive they were going to lose. (True Story)

How all I wanted was an acknowledgement that yes, I might not be able to talk to you, but I appreciate your courage and originality in your question.

If that’s the least I got I would have still considered it a successful interaction.

Instead, I never got to ask him anything. Maybe someday in the future I will.

The question, then, though, will be, but do I really have the desire to?

Because the next day, even though MJ said he wasn’t doing interviews, I saw him gleefully chatting with the Golf Network, answering all of their questions.

That’s the way the world works sometimes, I guess.

I’ve since learned that the danger in meeting your heroes is that you might come to find out that they’re just people like the rest of us.

Even if their name is Michael Jordan.

 

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