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Friday, November 9th, 2007 at 5:06 pm  |  80 responses

Links: Meeting Michael Jordan

Lang Whitaker shares a day with the G.O.A.T….

by Lang Whitaker

A few years ago, our friends at Jordan Brand called and invited me to a special screening of the Air Jordan XX here in New York City. That night after work, Russ Bengtson and I walked to Soho House, a private club downtown, where we joined a collection of writers and editors in a movie theater. We sat through a presentation about Jordan Brand — their goals, plans, etcetera. And then Michael Jordan came walking out on stage. He answered questions about the shoe, smiled and waved, then walked back out the stage door.

To many people, this was a big deal. To me, not so much. I was never really a Michael Jordan fan growing up, mostly because he used to beat my Hawks single-handedly every time we played the Bulls. Plus, I’d been around him in NBA locker rooms during his run with the Wizards. So to me, having the chance to see Michael Jordan in person from a distance of about 30 feet for half an hour wasn’t quite the life-changing event.

This year, Jordan Brand informed the same collective of writers and editors that we were needed in Chicago to see the Jordan XX3 (whoops — can’t talk about that yet)…to see the lovely city of Chicago. We all arrived late on a Tuesday night, and Russ and I spent the evening grabbing dinner with some friends, then stopping by the famed Billy Goat Tavern, where a round of four beers set me back about $10.

The next morning we were all up bright and early, headed for parts unknown. Rumors were flying — that we were all going to play a pick-up game with Michael Jordan, that we were going to go through a work-out with Tim Grover. I was pretty convinced that Michael Jordan wasn’t even going to be at this event, because he wasn’t at either of the two previous events for the XX1 or the XX2, and those were before he was running the Charlotte BETcats. Now he’s got, like, stuff to do, probably better stuff than hang out with a bunch of ink-stained writer-types.

We boarded a bus and snaked through Chicago, eventually pulling up at the player entrance of the United Center. We were walked through the bowels of the arena until we reached a locker room, where we each found a locker with our name on the name plate. In each locker was a Jordan Brand jersey, shorts and a pair of the red/black J’s from the One Love pack, with MJ’s signature lasered onto them. After Jordan guru Gentry Humphrey ran us through a brief Jordan history, we were encouraged to don the provided uniforms. I put on the jersey but stuck with my jeans, like most of the other people there. And I happened to be wearing the red/black Jordans that day, so I left the lasered ones there in my locker, untouched.

We were lined up in a specific order and led out to the edge of the court. The lights cut off and the arena went dark. This started playing. Spotlights randomly traced paths through the empty seats.

And then a voice cried out over the PA system: “Annnnd noooow, from Antenna Magazine, Tony Gervino!” Tony jogged out onto the floor, slapping high fives along the way. Each person was introduced, and we each ran onto the floor, trying to temper the cool feelings it stirred up by remembering that this was the closest any of us would ever get to playing in the NBA. I’ve wondered before how it would feel to be introduced and run onto a court before an arena full of screaming fans, and I still don’t know the answer to that question. I now know, however, what it feels like to be introduced to an arena full of nonexistent fans.

I was one of the last to be announced, and I dutifully ran out, slapped all the hands and found my place at the end of the line. As Ben and I stood there waiting for everyone else, we were making jokes about Russ because he writes for so many outlets (from SLAM to King to Mass Appeal) that we decided the PA announcer is probably still at the United Center today trying to finish reading Russ’s resume. (“From king-mag.com…and SLAM…and his SLAMonline blog…and his MySpace page…from Facebook…”)

After the last editor was announced, there was a pause as we all stood there along the baseline, then a video clip kicked in on the scoreboard, featuring highlights of MJ’s playing career and interview footage. The clip ended, and I was ready for the lights to come back up.

But they didn’t. Instead, the PA announcer leaned into the mic and bellowed, “From North…Carolina…at guard…6-6…Michael…Jordan!”

The spotlights panned over to the same entrance we’d come running out, and lo and behold…there was Michael Jordan. He was wearing a blue suede blazer, a black turtleneck jeans and black Magli loafers. He did a little half-hearted run from the tunnel and went down the row of editors, slapping us each a high five. Our line, once orderly and respectful, quickly devolved into a squiggle, as each of us couldn’t wait to give MJ some dap.

I said before that I was never really an MJ fan. What I didn’t say was that I always respected MJ because I was an NBA fan. My Dad, though, was a huge MJ fan, to the point that when my Dad sends me letters even now he still signs them with “#23.” And in that instant, with the greatest basketball player to ever play the game running down the line toward me to give me a pound, I felt overwhelmed, I felt lucky, I felt grateful. Sorry if I compromised my objectivity, but damn was that a cool sensation.

OK, GAP HERE OF THINGS I CAN’T TALK ABOUT THAT HAPPENED THE REST OF THE TIME AT THE ARENA. PLEASE READ SLAM 115 FOR THE REST.

Later that afternoon, the spa at our hotel was opened for us. Scoop apparently got a pedicure. I passed — I wouldn’t wish my dogs on anyone — and stayed in my room and got some work done. Ben and Russ had no such reservations about their feet.

Russ and I eventually went for a walk around downtown Chicago before dinner, because I’d never really been to the city. As we strolled around, checking the buildings and fighting the wind, we talked about how funny it was that a group of adults who are all successful at what we do, who all work hard for a living and who have all met various mega-celebrities could still be transformed into giddy kids by the mere presence of Michael Jordan.

As darkness fell, we loaded up the buses again and drove to One SixtyBlue, MJ’s latest restaurant in Chicago. I was at a table with Russ, Tony, Datwon from King, Ming Wong from Inside Stuff and my homey Dinusha, the Jordan PR guru. We were nearing the end of the meal and we were all kind of kicked back, full of great food, wine and that amazing memory from earlier. I was chatting with Dinusha when, over her shoulder, I saw Michael Jordan walk into the room.

“Um, hey,” I told her, “MJ just walked in here.”

“What?” she cried.

“Was he supposed to be here?” I asked, but she was up and gone to attend to MJ before she could give me an answer, which I thought was pretty much an answer in itself. MJ stood there for a second, then started walking over toward our table, to Dinusha’s now-empty seat between me and Russ.

As he approached us, Russ and I stood up and I stuck out my hand.

“Mike,” I stammered as he pumped my fist, “Lang Whitaker from SLAM magazine. Just wanted to say thanks for having us all out here.”

“Words,” Michael Jordan said. “Words words words words words words words words words. Words words words words words words words.”

I don’t know what he said, because it was such a shock to find myself standing there talking to Michael Jordan. Then there was silence. I looked at Russ but he was even more shaken than I was. Someone had to keep the talk going.

“So,” Jordan asked, “how was the food?”

“It was great,” I said.

“What did you have to eat?”

“I had the steak…it was great.”

Mike smiled and reached over and started patting my stomach. “OK then,” he joked, “watch out now!”

Um…better change the topic.

“So Mike,” I asked, “is this the only restaurant you own in Chicago now?”

He answered but I honestly don’t remember what he said. I was just thinking that I couldn’t wait to call my Dad and tell him about the entire day.

A few minutes later, a waiter approached MJ and handed him a drink. MJ raised his glass and toasted everyone in the room, telling us we’d always be welcome in Chicago. We toasted back. He started making his way out of our private dining room, and I went out a different exit to call my Dad.

“Dad,” I said when he answered, “you’re not going to believe what I did today.”

Just then, Jordan came out the door and paused right where I was standing.

“Um, Dad? I’m standing next to Michael Jordan right now.”

“What?” my Dad said. “Well, tell him hello.”

I turned to MJ. “Mike, my Dad says hello.”

Jordan held out his fist, expecting a pound. I reciprocated, and as he walked away he looked back and said, “Tell your Dad I send my best.”

Believe me, Mike, I did.

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  • BETCATS

    lucky b@$+ard

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Yes, I was that day. No argument from me.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Kobe just opened a restuarant in Chicago called Two SixtyBlue.

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    Greatest Links Ever. Lang’s father is the coolest man in the known universe. Fantastic experience for you guys. And the patting the stomach thing made me about choke to death. “words, words, words, words, words, words, words.” Love it.

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    Lang, you didn’t appear portly in the Gil videos, but you were sitting down.

  • http://aspov.blogspot.com Cheryl

    What a great story. I cracked up at the “words, words, words, words…” hey, what did your dad have to say about you meeting Mike?

  • http://aspov.blogspot.com Cheryl

    oh, words, words, words, words…

  • TADOne

    I’m no MJ fan either, but I am officially jealous.

  • http://aspov.blogspot.com Cheryl

    you know, it still amazes me how celebrity impacts us emotionally. I mean, if I met Denzel, would I be speechless? Would said speechlessness be because he’s so fine, because I respect his work, or because I see him on T.V. and in movies? I’m not sure.

  • Gym Rat

    Can I switch jobs w/ you for a year?

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    The Jordan’s with the laser-etched signature sound hot. And will there be photos accompanying the mag story?

  • Edu

    Envy, envy, envy… it happens to me every time I met Zico…

  • deestarbuckz

    wow… envy, jealousy, HATE! all that… plus you got to see the XXIII’s!!! That’s a wonderful day in the Chi! I knew I should have become a damn writer. Now I am throwing a fit like Kanye!

  • http://aspov.blogspot.com Cheryl

    And it must be weird for the celebs too? How are you supposed to react to meeting someone while they stumbling over their words and stare at you with an awestruck look? What makes us do that? Okay, I’m in a quisitive mood today, I guess you can tell.

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    Lang, seriously, between Ping Ping, the Gil tapes, Walton-gate and now this, your Links legacy is just being etched over and over in the greatest sense of gratitude towards your awesome work.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    First, just like Mike..

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I can neither conform nor deny that I saw the XX3s. But yeah, we’ll have pics of the XX3 in issue 115.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    Dmn first time I ever try that, and then it goes horribly wrong.. Anyways Mike is G0D!

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    I met Bill Wennington once, wasn’t exactly speechless.. Very envious of you.. Very..

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    The best part about that meeting was that Bill’s head was the size of a suitcase.. Me and my pops had a good laugh..

  • http://tostateofmind.blogspot.com Hoop Dreamz

    I’m seething in my cubicle right now. SEEEEETHING!!!!!!!

  • deestarbuckz

    I just threw up in my mouth! Hopefully they won’t disappoint me like the XX’s did. All the hype that surrounded them… and then they dropped and I was not in awe. But there are already leaked photos Lang. Some folks have integrity issues.

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    Easy big fella.

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    deestarbuckz, was that a good puke or a bad one? And I’ve seen leeked photos of them too and I’m not sure what to think yet.

  • Edu

    The ones at niketalk.com don’t make me anxious…

  • deestarbuckz

    I am kinda disappointed from what I have seen… Looking forward to the countdown package, the VIII release and the AF1 X Jordan XII Fusions more than the 23′s. Maybe the photos that are leaked are not a finished product. If they are… well it hurts my hoop loving, sneaker addict heart.

  • Thomas

    im not ashamed to say the end of that story gave me goose bumps. and as everyone else said “words words words words”. awesome. and the xxiii is out there if you look.

  • deestarbuckz

    You don’t have to look hard Thomas… and I don’t know how they are supposed to “grow on you.” Need to see a real colorway. The packaging looks hotter than the shoe!

  • http://www.myspace.com/2536545 Bryan

    I met Pat Cummings once.And I saw Chris Dudley from underoath at wal mart last night.My friend told Pat Cummings he sucked.It was awesome.

  • http://www.myspace.com/2536545 Bryan

    Good sh*t Lang , you never disappoint with your posts.

  • The Best Yet

    Lang, you, Russ and the rest are truly blessed to do what you do. You guys get to meet people that most can only dream of glimpsing…on a regular. Great story.
    “words words words…” Classic!

  • bay area

    Nice work. That was a great read. Ever since Scoop posted his article on the worldwide follower, I’ve been waiting to read an account of this event in actual, well-written English that gave me some sense of what it was like to be there.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Bryan: It would’ve been way cooler if you saw Chris Dudley from the NBA at Wal-Mart last night. With Pat Cummings.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Lang, you’ve inspired me. Later tonight, I’ll post a few thousand words about the time Randy Smith patted my thigh. Awkward? Sure, but I’ll never forget it.

  • Nadav

    lang,
    you know iv’e been reading since day 1.
    this was the best thing ive ever read.
    thanks.

  • http://www.myspace.com/2536545 Bryan

    Dude the best part of the Pat Cummings thing was how he was with a girl.it wasn’t my friend cause I was just a kid, but it was my uncle and his friend and me at the game and we saw him walking out of the Garden with a young lady and the guy asked for his autograph and he was like no not now so Vinny was like “that’s ok you suck anyway”.I bet he wanted to smack the sh*t out of him.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    is Russ still speechless right now? i was waiting for him to chime in. that must be some experience though, to be introduced in United Center like an NBA player, then actually talking to MJ face to face (stomach pat from G.O.A.T. must be awkward though), i’m having goosebump just picturing it. this blows my mind.

  • Nadav

    if emjay told me to lose weight, ide become heidi klum in 2 months.

  • Brian

    Hey Lang, you may not know what it feels like to have the PA announce you to thousands of screaming fans, but you do probably know what is like to play for the Hawks.

  • http://www.cfpf.org.uk/articles/rdp/caasqp/caasqp.html Tarzan Cooper

    lang, did you tell mike you were wearing his underwear?

  • Dizzle

    Sounds very weird and strange, but I’d give anything to have MJ pat my belly. haha

  • Nadav

    wait, you called Him “Mike”?
    blasphamey with a little gangsta

  • http://www.myspace.com/impulseshopper_acquirente its just alex

    that’s a story to tell the grandkids someday.

  • http://miamiheat.com Reggie Evans

    MJ called Lang fat.

  • luckyluciano

    Lang, dude, get me a job(bee), get me a jobee Lang. Langie would you like a sausage? Langie would you like a sausage..

  • Philia

    Nice post Lang, that had my shaking a little bit too. I cant wait to see those 23′s when my mag gets here. oh and btw, the mag will have Kobe on the cover, and hopefully finally will give some love to my man Danny Granger, who played 4 years as a Lobo in my old hood. REPRESENT, THE OTHER A TOWN.

  • J Boi

    you have the best frikin job in the world…

  • Chris O

    I wonder how many of Jordan’s conversations with people have been lost to words words words words words…

    Fantastic stuff Lang. Best thing I’ve read from you, maybe ever. Everything that happens is an escalating “no way” moment. That story is never leaving my head.

  • nate dogg

    words. words. words. classic. best. links. yet.

  • dma

    mike who? mike jo…rdan?

  • dma

    i’ve chatted with blazers – travis outlaw, james jones, taurean green and martell webster. they’ve all dropped by my work this season. and im sure steve blake has too but he probably looks like any normal white guy

  • http://fsjfkff.com Jukai

    Damnit man. I got nothing. The greatest basketball moment for me was when I told Luke Walton “Hey, you’re pretty big, you should play basketball.”

  • http://fsjfkff.com Jukai

    I mean, JESUS. THE Michael Jordan. I’ve seen a handful of celebrities and any chance I’d get, I’d make a joke. But if I ever saw Michael Jordan, I’d probably just stare. And drool.

  • http://fsjfkff.com Jukai

    I’m with Dizzle on this one. If MJ told me I looked like a prison bitch, I’d tell everyone exactly what MJ said to me with pride.

  • Chris O

    dma, do you work for the Portland PD? Bail guy? Sorry dude, joke had to be made. I’ve been reading the end of this story to anyone in my vicinity (fam, girlfriend) tonight.

  • Diann Gordon

    What a fun read, and I can just picture Michael having fun seeing all of your reactions to him and the situation he put you in. I have had the pleasure of working at some golf tournaments that Michael has played in, and it always amazes me that he remembers me and will great me first. A few years ago, he played in an event on my birthday, and I was able to great him with, “Hello, Michael, thanks for being here on my birthday.” He responded with, “Hello my love; it’s so nice to see you here today.” Booyah!! Happy Birthday to me!! I know the “words, words, words” effect also, as the first time he ever spoke to me a few years ago, I have no idea what he said. After that, I knew I had to make myself remember. While all this might seem juvenile and adolescent to some, as an older fan who has loved sport for over 50 years, it is special to have someone like him who makes that memorable impact on us.

  • http://www.rubensborges.wordpress.com Rubens

    Tpny G. was the best Ed. in terms of comebacks at trash talk

  • Solito

    What can you say… Lang just got himself a personal Jordan highlight, that nobody will ever put on youtube. Thanks for sharing, Lang!

  • Dan

    Quite possibly one of the greatest stories I have ever read, not just on the Links, but in my entire life!

  • peteb80

    Yay! Payola!

  • MOMONEY

    wowsers

  • Ken

    Thank you for providing the midi file. I listened to it on repeat as I read the piece from that point on, and it took it to a whole ‘nother level. Good ish.

  • jon

    sweet

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Rubens, I’m afraid I can’t argue with you on that.

  • Balling NZ

    Wow.

    Just wow.

  • http://anf.blogspot.com anf

    This “Jordan Experience” is really really cool!

  • http://slamonline.com Holly MacKenzie

    Jeez Lang you just went and took us all on a trip. That was great. The experience, the writing, everything. I got totally teary-eyed when I read about your dad still signing off as #23. Those are some beautiful memories you get to share with him. That has got to be the absolute coolest part of this whole thing for you. Even since I’ve started with SLAM I’ve had those moments that have just been so surreal that it wasn’t until I was home, and replaying the interview on my recorder where it just hits me. I hear the confidence in my voice and the questions that I don’t even remember asking because it is all just a blur at the time. This entire piece gave me goose bumps from beginning to end. Thanks for sharing!!

  • pablo

    Man, I live in Argentina and I guess I´ll never be able to be any closer than 10000 miles than MJ. I believe if I get the chance to see him, I´d probably faint. period

  • Julian

    what a priceless, surreal day! awesome stuff Lang, really awesome. that something like that actually happened in real life, indeed, is even possible, is just unbelievable. i loved how you captured that moment when you and your stunned companions are lined up and there’s MJ hand-slapping his way to you under the United Center lights; really so dreamlike. i just saved this on my bookmarks. really an unexpected gem!

  • ktokyo

    that is unbelievable. I had goosebumps just reading that introduction stuff. And talking to Mike? I would’ve been speechless. I once met Charles Barkley and he was really cool. He’s up there with Mike in terms of legendary status, but it was after a game. I didn’t sit a table with him or anything…

  • Claire

    Lang-
    Best. Article. Ever. I know dad especially loved it!

  • Tommo

    SLAM i bought a copy of the 10th anniversary issue and i was a complete waste of money. This mag is now a joke. I followed slam from the first LArry Johnson cover to KG’s Kicks cover issue 1. this 10th anniverary issue had more ads than contents. it was a shallow piece of crap hastily put to gether amlmost like ‘er…ok i think we got just enought material, lets print the mag’ i know u guys have deadlines and stuff, but come on even the MJ article most of the stuff there are regurgitated things that many kicks fan already know about from MJ’s previous articles, MJ’s driven from within books etc.

    This 10th aniversy edtion sucks!

  • el MR ED

    oh another history class. nah not for me. ill be outside ,,, and that smoke with the funk smell would be … hers!

  • el MR ED

    come on now . all this jordin stuff is got old by now. my geography is the worst.?.?. but a chicago ballboy aint gonna reach to far … yeah maybe in posters and shinp. but prawly not on the sidewalk of an eL.A heart…. oh, can you feel it?!?!?!

  • bobby

    NO JORDAN WILL NEVER GET OUT THIS.COVER WAS THE BEST IN A LONG TIME

  • Bryan

    iam the bigest jordan fan in the world i wish i could meet him

  • switch

    AAAhh, another guy who never played basketball, marvelin’ over one who did. People from athletic backgrounds don’t kiss ass of other athletes–they respect them–but that’s it.
    Besides, Jordan is not colder player than Oscar Robinson who averaged a 3-2 his whole career!

  • Lord Bladez

    Man you are one of those lucky b@$tards that make the rest of us feel hope that we too will chit chat with a person like His Airness, Michael Jordan.

  • http://payday-loans-az.blogspot.com loans23

    wow ))
    its very reasonable point of view.
    Good post.
    realy good post

    thank you ;)

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