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I saw Michael Jordan play in person just once, and my only memory isn’t even real

I saw Michael Jordan play in person just once, and my only memory isn’t even real

Until today, I had a nice memory of watching Michael Jordan play basketball in person — a memory I’ve shared with my kids, a story I’ve told friends and coworkers through the years, and something I’ve semi-cherished as a sports fans for nearly 28 years.

But, it turns out, it never even happened. Let me explain.

I definitely did see Michael Jordan play in person. It was Dec. 29, 1992: Bulls at Hornets. The Bulls were headed toward the second championship of their first three-peat. The Hornets were still relatively new, just 4 years old, but were headed toward their first playoff appearance in franchise history. On paper, the makings of a great game. I don’t remember how I got a ticket. I’m sure a friend’s dad had an extra one, but the point is, I was there. The ticket was $5, by the way. Even by 1992 upper-level seat standards, that seems obscenely cheap, given that the Hornets were still a hot ticket in Charlotte, and because Jordan and the Bulls were the clear class of the NBA.

MORE: The best Michael Jordan moments from Episodes 1 and 2 of “The Last Dance”

The game was pretty exciting, with the Bulls eventually winning 114-103. Jordan had a triple-double — 28 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists — and threw in a block for good measure. Two other Hall of Famers were on the floor that night too — Scottie Pippen and Alonzo Mourning — but only Johnny Newman, of all people, matched Jordan’s point total, with 28 of his own.

But I don’t remember any of that. Not one bit. I had to look it up on Basketball Reference this morning. 

Granted, I was only 16 at the time, but that’s no excuse. I have plenty of vivid sports memories before that. I knew Jordan was Jordan. I knew he was a future Hall of Famer. I was even a pretty decent Hornets fan back then. Yet, I don’t remember anything of note. It’s not that my memory of the night is hazy — it’s just not there.

Except for one thing — which, until literally an hour before I started writing this, was a pretty good Jordan memory.

Here it is: I distinctly remember seeing Jordan bring the ball down the court and then watching 5-3 cult hero Muggsy Bogues buzz in from behind and steal the ball. It was funny to me: The scrappy Bogues caught Jordan in a rare moment of let-up, one of the few times when Jordan wasn’t 100 percent in the game and competing on a level that routinely left spectators in awe. For whatever reason, that’s the only moment of that game for which by brain decided to hit record. 

But here’s the thing: That moment never happened. My mental DVR corrupted the recording. And I didn’t learn this until today. You see, inspired the hoopla around ESPN’s documentary “The Last Dance,” my original plan was to write a snarky-ish column with a headline like, “I saw Michael Jordan play in person just once, and my only memory is of him making a mistake.”

But before I started writing, I wanted to check for highlights on YouTube, just on the 1 in 1,000 chance that someone had posted video of this random game and Bogues’ heroic steal from the greatest basketball player of all time. To my surprise, the first result was a 14:36 highlight reel from the game. I watched intently, hoping Bogues’ steal made the cut. 

At 10:38, there it was, pretty much how I remembered it — Bogues surges into the frame and steals the ball from … Horace Grant. 

Oh, no.

MORE: Ranking Michael Jordan’s five best baseball cards

Yes, my one “I saw Michael Jordan” memory is a 99 percent concoction, created by my brain to represent that one time I saw the best player in basketball history play in person. It’s anyone’s guess why this happened. Maybe it was because my seats were too far away. Maybe I was only sort of paying attention at that exact moment. I have no idea. 

Now, I’ll point out that the box score shows Jordan allowed three turnovers in the game and Bogues recorded two steals, so I guess it’s possible that my memory really happened. But I’m also pretty sure that would’ve been in the highlights, especially given Jordan and Bogues’ alleged run-in on the court a few years later. So I’ll consider the memory debunked.

But the whole episode makes me want to go back in time and slap my younger self — or just pay attention to the game and watch Jordan do his thing. That’s the takeaway here: Sometimes we, or at least me, aren’t very good at paying attention and fully appreciating greatness when it’s right in front of us. That is, forcing ourselves to watch and take it all in. I made that mistake with Jordan in 1992, and I’ve undoubtedly made it many other times in my sports life.

I think back to the ’90s and early 2000s, when I watched Atlanta Braves games in person or on TV. Greatness was featured nearly every night. I watched Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz pitch countless times. But I took them for granted. They were just part of the experience. I knew they were great. I knew they were the best at the time. Even after it became clear that they’d be considered among the best of all time, I don’t know that I ever sat back and said, “Hey, pay attention to this. Appreciate everything.” I kick myself for that.

So, enjoy every minute of LeBron James or Mike Trout or Tom Brady or whoever else might come to mind. Take it all in. Appreciate everything. Give everything its due attention, not just in sports but in life too.

It’s far better to pay attention and make real memories than it is to be a passive observer and live with fake ones.

Published at Mon, 20 Apr 2020 17:57:21 +0000

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