Lucas: Michael & The Museum
By Adam Lucas, GoHeels.com
I was 14 years old when my father angered Michael Jordan.
We were at a charity event in Greenville, N.C., for Jordan's foundation. Most of the event was focused on golf, but because my father and I are most proficient on the golf courses that include windmills or a clown's mouth, we skipped that part of the event. We attended the dinner, which included me having to wear a suit (not much fun, and something I have more or less successfully avoided since then) and an auction of various unique Jordan-related memorabilia items (much more fun).
Now, if you'll remember, neither my father nor I play golf at all. But one of the auction items was the set of clubs Jordan had used in that day's round of golf. We'd heard that he played very well, and he therefore had absolutely no intention of letting anyone other than himself own those clubs.
I don't recall exactly who hatched the idea, but somehow we decided that we should bid against the legendary player for his clubs. At that point, 20 years ago, he was less an icon and more a relatively normal-albeit very famous-former Carolina basketball player. My dad had seen virtually every one of Jordan's home games for the Tar Heels in Carmichael Auditorium. We remembered when he was known as "Mike" instead of Michael.
Bidding for the clubs started in the hundreds and soon moved over $1,000. As you'll recall, we had no intention of buying the clubs. In fact, my dad plays golf lefthanded, so even if he won the righthanded clubs, he couldn't do anything with them. And both my father and I are significantly shorter than Jordan's six-foot-six.
Somehow, this story made much more sense at the time than it does in the retelling. Now, the summary reads a little like this: we, the non-golfers, were bidding to pay more money than we could afford to pay for golf clubs that we could not use. Later that evening, when I looked at my mother as we tried to explain our genius strategy to her, was when I learned the meaning of "incredulous."
We were bidding the absolute minimum allowed by the auctioneer, which was usually an increase of either $50 or $100. Jordan was bidding in Jordan-sized amounts, usually as much as $500. As we puttered the bids along, he eventually became interested in who had the temerity (in our minds, we think of him as being impressed with our courage; in his mind, he was wondering who the two idiots were) to bid against him for his own golf clubs. Finally, when the bidding neared $2,000, he had enough.
He leaned back in his seat in the hotel ballroom. He straightened his shoulders in the electric blue sports coat he was wearing, and his genteel charity dinner expression changed to one more similar to what you saw from him on the basketball court. He held up his right hand, stretched out all five impossibly long fingers, and said, "Five."
Another $500? This guy was ridiculous. Didn't he know the minimum raise was just $100? Bidding five hundred more dollars was throwing money away.
Then he elaborated.
"Five thousand dollars," he said.
He won the golf clubs. We earned a story that we're still relaying to friends, and on each retelling we get a little more swashbuckling and good-looking, and he gets a little more impressed with our swagger.
Fifteen years later, we were at the gates of his home in Illinois. No, we hadn't gone to collect our golf clubs. I was part of the team charged to create the Carolina Basketball Museum, the University-sponsored collection of artifacts and exhibits illustrating the history of the nation's best program. Until that point, the Carolina memorabilia exhibits had been meager. Now, the school was going to build an entire museum devoted to the program.
Steve Kirschner, Carolina's associate athletics director for communications, had been in regular contact with Jordan's assistant. It was eventually decided that if we would come to Jordan's home, we could collect a few items to display.
Go to the house of the person who was, by that time, one of the most famous athletes in the history of the world, and bring home some of his most cherished possessions? There was no shortage of volunteers for that trip. Somehow, I earned an invitation for my dad and me, and that's how we ended up driving through Highland Park, wondering how we'd figure out which home belonged to Jordan.
You expected his house to be situated high on a hill, or surrounded by a moat. Instead, it was around the corner from a McDonald's. It was a nice neighborhood, sure, but it just didn't feel quite as royal as we expected. There was no doubt it was his, however: the giant "23" on the metal gates gave it away.
Five minutes later, we were standing in Michael Jordan's foyer. Giant mahogany cases ringed his trophy room, and several trophies were wrapped in newspaper and bubble wrap. "Those are the ones for you," his assistant said.
She pointed to three boxes and told us we could look through them. We did, of course, because every extra minute we spent was one extra minute that we were in Michael Jordan's house.
His donations remain one of the most generous individual contributions that any player has made to the Carolina Basketball Museum, which is now one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Orange County.
But he didn't give up those golf clubs.