The Treasure of Michael Jordan

By George Ofman

It was the late summer of 1986, early evening as I recall. I decided to pay a visit to my brother's upscale clothing store on North Clark Street. I did it fairly often because I would get a pretty good discount. My parents didn't raise a dummy, though there are times that claim is debatable. Much to my lament, Sirreal has been gone for 20 years.

There was one customer standing at the counter near the front entrance that evening. It happened to be Michael Jordan. This was before Michael became mega-Michael. There was no entourage. Matter of fact, it was just Michael in a short-sleeve shirt. He looked rather pedestrian when you consider how splendid Michael dressed as the years moved on. He liked shopping at Sirreal because he enjoyed the privacy. No one bothered him. Few dared ask him for his autograph. He not only worked with my brother but a fellow named Henry Woolford, a real gentleman of the industry with one of the sharpest eyes for color you'd ever meet. All I did when I walked through the door was say," Hi Michael" and walked right by. I had my own shopping to do, and for a discount. Did I mention that?

I respected Michael's right to spend gobs of money at my brother's store. And anyway, I would be talking to him a lot once the season would begin.

Michael was a noted clotheshorse. He loved to buy outfits probably as often as he gambled, which as we all know by now, was often. He was a regular customer until Bigsby & Carruthers signed him to a contract. My brother also wanted to him to shop exclusively at his store, but just like that he was gone to the highest bidder. There would many more high bidders in the years to come.

This was Michael before Madison Avenue embraced him. This was Michael before his earnings started to resemble the federal deficit. He was still a kid learning his own persona.

It was also that summer I convinced National Public Radio to let me write a story as I followed Michael on a photo shoot. Imagine the hoops of fire I would have to go through trying to do that story just a few years later. Michael still didn't have an entourage. There were just a few people involved in the shoot. I actually clipped a microphone to his shirt for an hour. Imagine; my hour with Michael Jordan. But I have never been a star-gazer. I had a job to do and a few bucks to earn. I asked Michael some questions about his growing fame. He was gracious and professional.

He never changed.

There would be other stories I would write about Michael, but they would be in context to gang-bang interviews, press conferences, awards ceremonies and. of course, myriad playoff games that produced six NBA titles.

In the nearly 36 years I've been in the media, I've never met a superstar more impressive, more approachable, more giving of his time than Michael. I must admit, though, a 1980 interview with Dr. J (the gifted Julius Irving) on the incredibly slim chances of kids making the NBA left me inspired and a bit in awe. And while former White sox slugger Jim Thome isn't in the same class of superstar Michael is (then again, very few are), he too, was incredibly gracious and a very willing participant with the media.

I stuck my mic in Michael's face on hundreds of occasions, mostly after games, and at times, the interview sessions would last up to 20 minutes. That was the first wave of reporters. Others needed their time and he gladly gave it.

I was a freelance journalist looking to make my next buck. Michael made me lots of them. He was a meal ticket and then some. It didn't take much to sell my clients on a Bulls game - just about any Bulls game. And the playoffs were a bonanza. It was all about Michael and everyone wanted a piece.

But money was only a part of it. Just having a seat at the press table to watch this magnificent athlete and performer was a privilege.

How lucky can you get in a career?

How lucky we all were to experience his greatness.

The Hall of Fame is Michael Jordan's rightful home.

It just isn't big enough.

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George Ofman, an original member of The Score and a veteran of NPR, has covered more than 3,500 sporting events over the course of his career. Comments welcome.

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