A Great Basketball Player
In My Moment With Jordan
Never Met An Athlete With More Class
By Jack Coll
There’s been a lot of noise about a Michael Jordan documentary called “The Last Dance.” It’s a 10 part series featured on ESPN, I haven’t seen any of the episodes and I’m not likely to watch any in the future. I’m not a real big Michael Jordan fan, I liked Jordan, I loved the way he played the game but I wasn’t in love with him. I should disclose here that I’m not a real big basketball fan in general, but I enjoy a game here and there.
So back in my Hey-Day of taking photographs I covered my fair share of sports including the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, (Only one Flyers game, I wasn’t a big fan of Hockey) and I covered the Philadelphia 76er’s on occasion. I covered select basketball games, I had to at least like the other team the Sixer’s were playing for me to travel to South Philly to shoot a game.
Allen Iverson was drafted back in 1996 as the number one overall pick by the Philadelphia 76er’s and went on to become the League’s Rookie of the Year for the 1996-97 year. The 76er’s only won 22 games that year but with Iverson the future looked very promising. The Chicago Bulls had just won their fourth Championship with Jordan on the team and were headed for a fifth.
By the 1997-98 season the Bulls were playing with a stacked deck with players that included Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to go along with Jordan. The 76er’s were an improved team in Iverson’s second year but they still weren’t ready for prime-time. In 1997-98 the Bulls would finish the season with a 72-10 record, the 76er’s finished with a 31-51 record, nine more victories than the previous year. Jordan finished the season as the league’s leading scorer, and both the regular season and the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.
So all that information brings me to my brief encounter with Michael Jordan, it was the middle of January back in 1998, and Michael Jordan along with the rest of the Chicago Bulls were in South Philly to play Allen Iverson and the rest of the 76er’s. Like I said earlier the Bulls were having a dream season that would net them 72 victories, the 76er’s working on a rebuilding year and would finish the season with 31 victories.
The game I attended was a good one and Allen Iverson had a fabulous game leading all scorers with 31 points, and he seemed to dazzle Jordan at times as the 76er’s went on to win 106-96. Jordan finished with 20 points, the 76er’s actually went on to beat the Bulls two out of three games that year.
So after the game I headed to the 76er’s locker room to listen to the chatter of the players, the locker room was loud and upbeat, there were about a dozen reporters in the locker room and a good many of them around Iverson. Under the bright television lights Iverson gave an account of how the 76er’s outplayed Jordan and the Bulls, nothing cocky, but Iverson was beaming and after all the 76er’s haven’t had many mar-key victories over the past two years since Iverson had joined the team.
So having listened to Iverson I decided to wander around to the Bulls locker room to get Jordan’s take on the game. As I rounded to corner heading towards the locker room there was a line of reporters, it looked like more than a hundred people. (I’m sure it wasn’t that many but it was more than I’d ever seen at any locker room). One of the things I remember was this cute looking blond woman towards the front of the line with her two daughters, cute as a button maybe 10 and 12 year olds. I should disclose that anyone connected could get locker room passes, you didn’t have to necessarily work for the press if you knew someone, it was simply an autograph pass, a direct line to the players. In most sports the locker room doors are closed for 15 minutes allowing the players to shower and dress and then security opens the door to everyone with a pass.
Most players are decent with a towel or underwear but some players are still lagging making their way from the shower to their locker. (I always said that I don’t know any other business in the world where it’s OK to conduct business in the nude other than male locker rooms in sports) So this cute little blond mother of two grabs her daughters by the hand and drags them into the locker room where by the time I got there maybe 10-15 seconds later there were two players sitting in front of their lockers in their birthday suits and the mom had no problem wandering the room with her two little girls.
So back to Jordan, when I got into the locker room I noticed Scottie Pippen standing in one corner of the locker room with about a dozen reporters around him, I looked for Dennis Rodman but I heard someone say that he already skipped out the back door so I wandered over to the Michael Jordan circus. Once again it looked like a hundred reporters around him but I’m sure there wasn’t more than a couple dozen.
I stood in the back of the group and watched and listened as the reporters peppered Jordan, “What did you think about Allen Iverson?”
Jordan replied, “Allen played a good game tonight,”
Next reporter question, “Iverson really took it to you guys tonight didn’t he?”
Jordan replied, “Well Allen was on his game tonight and we didn’t bring our best game.”
Next reporter, “Iverson is an outstanding player it looked like you guys couldn’t keep up with him?”
Jordan, “Well like I said Allen is gonna be a great player in this game”
This went on for about the next twenty minutes, the reporters started to disappear one by one, Jordan stood there in a three piece suit that I’m sure cost more than my camera, and waited for each and every reporter to ask all the questions they needed and wanted to ask. Finally there was one reporter left, one on one with Michael and Michael said “Is there anything else you need” and the guy thought it over for a few seconds and said, “No I think I have everything I need” and Jordan replied, “Thanks for coming.”
Jordan was the very last guy in that locker room, all the other players had headed for the bus. Jordan had a lousy game, his team lost to a team that wouldn’t crack a 500 record for the season, and Jordan said to that last reporter “THANKS FOR COMING” I’m not sure why I stayed the entire time but now it was just Jordan and me and we excited the locker room at the same time. We walked down a short hall and turned left together into the main corridor, I was a couple of steps in front of Jordan on the walk and I felt the need to say something so I slowed up and turned and said “nice game tonight,” he said “Thanks.” Just down the corridor on the left was the bus entrance where the entire team was waiting on the bus, I stopped and watched Jordan step onto the bus, the door closed and the engine started, the garage door opened and the bus backed out.
I stood there watching the bus back out and thinking, this guy is the great ambassador for the sport of basketball, and when he’s done who’s gonna take his place with all the grace, elegance, and someone who can become the face of the game?
I witnessed that night what thousands of people had witnessed night after night. Jordan was off to the next city the following night where he would do the same thing all over again, when some shitty team beats them, he’ll stand in the locker room and answer all the questions, he’ll talk respectfully of the team and continue to put on a good face on the sport of basketball.
I’ve been around a lot of athletes in my time, and when I go down the line of class acts like Cal Ripken Jr., Tug McGraw, Mike Schmidt, and dozens of others no one compares in my eyes to the professionalism that Michel Jordan displayed that night.
Looking back to that night it was a small moment, a very brief moment, but one that I’ll always remember.