Thursday, September 10, 2009

More Michael Jordan memories....

Once again, I was lucky to get to talk with Nick Fairclough(A Fellow member of the Niketalk forum and currently a Macro Financial Engineer with The Cambridge Financial Center (, former Utah Ball Boy about some of his favorite Michael Jordan memories:

Nick: February 13, 2003: The Washington Wizards utilize the Utah Jazz practice facility located at FranklinCovey. The practice seemed light and casual as players went through full court skeleton and shooting drills. Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing excused themselves from the court and engaged in a friendly game of ping-pong. Due to the laidback nature I thought it appropriate to approach MJ about signing some items I had brought in hope of getting autographed. With a few strokes of a pen…Cha-Ching!!! Michael made my day with additional MJ signatures to add to my collection as well as a posed photograph later that day.

As I left the practice facility I thought to myself “How could/should I possibly show my appreciation to a man who has everything?” I called a friend - Phil Rosenthal, Bell Captain at The Grand America Hotel where the Washington Wizards were staying, and had a case of Bud Light beer delivered to Michael’s room. A gesture that I hoped wouldn’t go unnoticed.

February 14, 2003: I met the Washington Wizards for their morning shoot-around. Michael made eye contact and approached me with an outstretched arm. As we shook hands it was clear who was in charge (my hand could fit in the palm of his giant hand).

“I know what you were trying to do. You got the tall bottles trying to get me drunk!” he said. “What is it with you guys in Utah? Always trying to get me sick or drunk, you remember what happened last time, don’t you?” I can only assume he was referring to the 1997 Game 5 NBA Finals. With the series against the Utah Jazz tied 2-2, Jordan awoke in the middle of the night before Game 5, shaking, sweating and vomiting with the flu. George Koehler, Michael’s long time friend and body-guard describes the event as follows:

“To this day, I don’t think anyone appreciates how seriously ill Michael was in Game 5 on the 1997 Finals against Utah. In those days, Michael never really left his room. So we’d all be in there close by, to pass the time. We all ordered room service, and Michael didn’t order anything. Then at the last minute, he ordered a pizza from a local joint. If I’m not mistaken it was a pepperoni pizza. Nobody ate the pizza except Michael. At two or three o’clock in the morning, Michael wakes up with an upset stomach. So he calls Chip Schaeffer, the trainer, who gives Michael something to settle his stomach. After the antacids, they gave him sleeping pills. Nothing works. He felt like throwing up, but he couldn’t throw up. And he’s getting hot and cold flashes. All of this could have been attributed to the flu, or whatever. Now it’s early in the morning, time to go to practice. So now they give him a laxative. He’s too weak to go to practice, so he skips the shoot-around. Michael tries to sleep, but he can’t sleep. We get on the bus to go to the game at 3 p.m. and he’s just a rag doll. He has no energy. He still hadn’t thrown up. And he still hasn’t slept. Now he’s got antacids, sleeping pills and laxatives in his system. At 5 o’clock, an hour before the game, he can’t stay awake. So he pumps himself full of coffee. He goes out and plays, and we all know what happened. He plays 44 minutes, scores 38 points, brings Chicago back from 16 points down, hits a key three-pointer to put them ahead, and the Bulls win. But at halftime, he’s just drained. If you had seen him, you would have thought there was no way this guy could walk back to the court, much less play. Michael always drank Gatorade to full himself back up with fluids. So one of the locker room kids went to get some Gatorade. Two cans came back, but it’s not Gatorade. It’s Gatorlode, the stuff you are supposed to drink after you are done playing. Michael didn’t even realize what he was drinking. He hasn’t slept in more than 36 hours; he’s get pepperoni pizza, all the medicines, sleeping pills, who knows how many cups of coffee, Gatorlode in his body – anybody else would have been in the hospital. And Michael should have been in the hospital. Nobody else would have been out there playing, much less been able to make a pressure shot and walk off the court. Michael was so dehydrated after the game that he could hardly move. He looked like he was dead. He was barely conscious. I had seen the whole show to that point, and I am still amazed by what he did and with what he had to deal with.That’s just who he is, and it’s hard for people to understand the depth of his will. His whole life is a competition – every aspect of his life. And he’s going to win. It’s just that simple.” (Driven From Within / Michael Jordan” Marl Vancil page.157)

1997 NBA Finals Post Game Comments: “I almost played myself into passing out," Jordan said. "I came in and I was almost dehydrated and it was all just to win a basketball game. I couldn't breathe. My energy level was really low…”

Now, just for the record, I was not trying to get Michael Jordan drunk or sick! Nor was I the individual responsible for giving Michael Gatorlode instead of Gatorade.

Michael thanked me for the beer and we engaged in casual chit-chat before he went onto the court for shoot-around. While the players were on the floor I assisted the Equipment Manager, Jerry Walter, with the set up and organization of the visiting team locker room (hanging uniforms, laying out shoes, placing name plates, etc.) After the team left I took the opportunity to get a few pictures. (How many people do you know who can say they wore MJ’s jersey?)

There you have it. My memory of Michael Jordan, The Greatest Player of All Time, Hall of Fame Inductee September 11, 2009.

Hey Nick, thanks for the info...a few follow up questions:

Did you work the Bull's locker room for Mike's sick game?

I was not officially assigned to the Chicago Bulls locker room during the finals. However, I assisted the Chicago Bulls bench and was on that end of the floor helping the other Utah Jazz Ballboys along with the Chicago Bulls Trainers and Equipment Manager.

Were those of you who were employees of the Jazz aware of what was happening with Michael's health?

Michael’s health was public knowledge due to the media. However, there were several employees (as well as fans) who believed that MJ was faking his illness in hopes of sabotaging the Utah Jazz mentally.

Do you have any specific memories from that game?

I was sitting on the basketball standard as Michael dunked the ball. The reverberation from the dunk was exciting as the standard shook. After MJ's epic performance, Pippen would say, "He's the greatest, and everyone saw why tonight."