Jesus of Madison St.
Growing up in Chicago during the Jordan Era.
In two weeks Michael Jeffrey Jordan will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as the G.O.A.T. It’s a fitting acknowledgment and the crowning achievement in the career of the best basketball player to ever play this game of ours.
SLAM has always acknowledged his dopeness, so as the NKOTB who also happened to grow up in Chicago during the Jordan Era, I figured it would be cool to share a few fond memories I have of the man during his ascent to the title as one of the best to ever do it.
There are two types of Jordan fans; those who are from Chicago, and those who aren’t. Being a member of the former, it’s impossible to explain in words what it meant to grow up in this city during Jordan’s reign. His influence and his presence were everywhere. For me, it was more akin to a religious experience than anything having to do with basketball. The best way to describe it, or better yet, the closest thing to it would have to be when Jesus walked the Earth. After Jesus of Nazareth and before Jesus of Coney Island, there was Jesus of Madison Street.
Jesus Christ is the most popular and well-known person in the world today. Michael Jordan is basketball’s version of Jesus. The Bible, as a permanent reminder of Jesus’ works on Earth, is similar to the Air Jordan sneaker line, which reminds us every day of the work MJ put in on the court. JCs and MJs walks were similar. They brought joy to the lives of everyone they touched. We are all witnesses, but like Zaccheus… some of us had a better view.
Jordan Performs a Miracle
When I was 6 my grandparents opened a tavern a block from the old Chicago Stadium on the west side. My grandfather and I would go to games all the time because he was a fan of former Sacramento Kings head coach Reggie Theus who at the time was the man around these parts. Before “Air” Jordan, there was “Rush Street” Reggie.
The ’82-83 Bulls squad was especially bad, and even that may be generous in describing how woeful a season they had that year. That team sucked. You could buy tickets and get great seats the day of a game, no matter who the visiting team was. That’s how bad they were. I went to a lot of games that season and the thing I remember most was every time my grandfather and I went, the stadium was always empty. And not just empty, but EMPTY. Empty like a 7 p.m. tip-off of a Lakers/Kings game at ARCO last season. Only emptier.
To put it in perspective, a sellout, standing room only crowd for a Bulls game at “The Madhouse on Madison” was 18,676. The average home attendance for the Bulls that year was 301,050 which was fourth-worst in the entire league. It was like a ghost town in there.
But two years later, Michael Jordan flew into the Windy City and things began to turn around. Three years after that, the Bulls would embark on a remarkable 610 game home sellout streak–third longest in NBA history–that would end in 2000 A.D. (after dismantling), two years after Mike played his last game in a Bulls uni. Just like Jesus fed the multitudes, basketball Jesus put multitudes of people in the seats. Considering the circumstances surrounding both, each qualifies as a miracle.
Jordan Heals the Sick… Sort of (A True Story)
February ‘88, the last time Chicago played host to an ASG (you hear that Stern?! We’re due), I was 11 years old and my uncle, who worked for the local CBS affiliate here, got his hands on a couple of tickets to All-Star Saturday night. As the saying goes around here, I was on 10. The whole week leading up to it, all I could think about was going to the dunk contest. I was the envy of all my friends. Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins, nothing else mattered and all was right in the world. But then the worst possible thing imaginable happened that week. Winter time in Chicago, I caught the flu. That Thursday morning I woke up with a 102 degree fever that rolled over into Friday.
My mom called my uncle and told him that I was sick and it was a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to go with him on Saturday. As I lay in my bed, burning up and shivering at the same time, I told myself there was no way I was missing that dunk contest. I woke up Saturday morning with a normal temperature and no traces of flu. It was a miracle (or a combination of lots of ‘Tussin and even more Vicks). I begged my mom to still let me go. Hesitant, but knowing how bad I wanted to go, my mom against her better judgment relented, bundled me up and sent me out the door so I could be in attendance at one of the greatest dunk contests—and incidentally the greatest three point shootout in NBA history.
Jordan Walks on Wat… Um, Flies Through the Air
I’ve seen just about every minute of Jordan’s career as a Bull along with every highlight of him there is to see. But there was one in particular during a home game against the New Jersey Nets on a cold winter night in February that made me think he had wings underneath his jersey. The date was Saturday, February 16, 1991–one day before his 28th birthday.
If you’ve never seen it, the play by play goes something like this:
Jordan gets the ball, drives left, blows by Drazen Petrovic and takes off just inside the key above the low block. He flies past Mookie Blalock, still in the air… Here comes Chris Dudley, still in the air… Jordan shows the ball to Dudley, still in the air… Derrick Coleman slides over to help, still in the air… Jordan splits Dudley and Coleman, still in the air… Jordan gets underneath the basket and lays it up on the other side with his left hand… the Nets bench goes wild!
Yeah, something like that.
I missed the game that night but I saw the highlights on the evening news and my jaw hit the floor. It’s the most supernatural thing a man has ever done since walking on water.
To sum it all up, Jerry West may be the logo, but Michael Jordan is basketball. As we celebrate the career of a man that was second to none, for those of us who had a chance to watch him play on TV or in person, you realize how special it was. But it was nothing like being in Chicago from day one. Truly an honor and a privilege. MJ, I salute you.