My name is Sarah Spain, and I'm obsessed with Michael Jordan. Consider this my (very long, not at all anonymous) PostSecret …
Ever since I was about 8 years old, I've wanted to Be Like Mike. Anyone who spends any significant amount of time with me (days, hours -- sometimes, just minutes) will quickly learn I'm absolutely crazy for Michael Jordan. Crazy for the basketball player, the pitchman, the competitor, the dreamboat -- even the baseball player.
I've admired and enjoyed watching plenty of athletes, but MJ is the only pro I've ever seen as more than a tremendously talented athlete. He inspired me as a basketball player, driving me to spend hours after practice trying to duplicate his baseline spin moves and fadeaway jumpers. He's also the main reason I began watching sports, rather than just playing them. I was taping and watching Bulls games for years on my VCR before I ever really got into the Bears, Cubs or any other sports teams. And, last but certainly not least, MJ was my first real celebrity crush, one that I'll have forever.
I've admired and enjoyed watching plenty of athletes, but MJ is the only pro I've ever seen as more than a tremendously talented athlete. He inspired me as a basketball player, driving me to spend hours after practice trying to duplicate his baseline spin moves and fadeaway jumpers. He's also the main reason I began watching sports, rather than just playing them.
Let's just say when it comes to Michael Jordan, who will turn 50 this weekend, I put the fanatic in fan. Indulge me for a moment, in a little trip down memory lane…
As a youth, I devised a plan to trick or treat at Jordan's home in the Chicago suburbs and fake an illness so he'd have to bring me inside. I never mustered up the courage to pull that one off; instead, we'd just ride bikes past his house trying to get a peek through the big front gates, emblazoned with the numbers 2-3.
Once in junior high, I went to a Bulls game with a friend and her father. Afterward, we went to Michael Jordan's restaurant. He was dining in a private back room, shades drawn. I dawdled outside the door, chatting with his bodyguard to no avail, and then went down to the valet and touched his car and his keys, just hoping a little of his magic might wear off. We begged our tired, older chaperone to let us stay until closing, and I was steps away from MJ, trembling, as he hustled out the front door to his Porsche and sped off.
When Jordan retired for the first time, in October 1993, my eighth-grade social studies teacher wheeled a television into class so we could watch. Jordan said goodbye to basketball and I watched in grave, reverential silence that was usually reserved for a trip to the principal's office or a grounding from Mom and Dad. I was crushed.
When Jordan returned in March 1995 with those two famous words -- "I'm back" -- the city of Chicago rejoiced. I saved the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times from his return, along with the newspapers from every playoff series, championship and parade. They're all tucked away in a box, along with every major Jordan retrospective or magazine. (Unfortunately, the cheesy championship T-shirts with each of the team's players in cartoon form didn't survive.)
In high school and college I listened to "Be Like Mike" on my Walkman before every basketball game and track meet. I still tear up every time I hear that song, even though I know it was a jingle penned for a Gatorade commercial. Above the desk in my bedroom was the famous "Wings" poster, and on the back of my closet door a poster from MJ's famous "Failure" commercial, with those lines that still inspire…
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
I once sat two rows off the United Center floor for a Bulls-76ers game; the tickets were for my 16th birthday. With No. 23 painted on my cheek in eye-black, I harassed a smack-talking Jerry "I could beat MJ in one-on-one" Stackhouse so thoroughly and obnoxiously that his teammate, Allen Iverson, called me the b-word and flipped me the bird. I was thrilled.
I wore MJ tees underneath my hoops jersey for every game and over my track singlet for every pre-meet warm-up -- right up until my last meet my senior year at Cornell. My favorite T-shirt featured MJ's face on the front with the words "Why drive?" and on the back Jordan's legs, in the famous "Jumpman" split, above the words "When you can fly." I wore it over and over until the underarms were yellow and stained (thanks puberty!), and then I cut the sleeves off so I could wear it for a few more years.
For seven years, I carried around a bottle of Michael's Secret Stuff candy to every competition and ate a scoop before the opening whistle or the start of my first event. It was a blue, powdery substance that tasted like chalk, but I had to have it. At every meet, I made "MJ" out of tape to mark the start of my approach for the long, triple and high jumps. When I received my bib number before each meet, I immediately had to figure out how the numbers could be added or subtracted to equal "23."
I met Jordan for the first time when I was home from college one winter break, and he appeared at my gym in downtown Chicago to play pickup hoops. I watched, growing green with envy, thinking of all the days I'd been on that sign-up sheet for a game, and it hadn't been the day. When he was about to leave, I shook his hand and spoke to him briefly but tried not to keep him long, remembering what I'd read about his desire for privacy in David Halberstam's "Playing for Keeps." For years, I regretted not having a camera in my gym bag, in case of miracles like that one.
The next year, I drove six hours, all alone, from Ithaca, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., so I could sit alone in the nosebleeds at the Verizon Center and see Jordan play one final time. He had a terrible game, barely reaching double digits, but I was glad I went; his playing days were numbered.
After years of near meetings and failed stalking attempts, I found myself in the same room with His Airness once again in 2009, this time with a camera. He was tucked away in a small VIP area at a Super Bowl charity event and politely declined my request for a photo, as he hoped to avoid drawing the attention of other partygoers. In the years since our last meeting, I'd apparently lost my ability to respect his privacy, so I told him I simply refused to take no for an answer.
I reminded him of our meeting at the gym and told him about biking past his house as kids. Still no. I explained that everyone I'd ever met knew how much I loved him and would ridicule me if I didn't get the photo. A smile, a chuckle, but no. I told him that when his divorce was announced my mom emailed me to say, "You've still got a chance!" (Yeah, "no shame" was my middle name. True story, though.)
Eventually, MJ couldn't resist my charms and/or feared a restraining order might take too long to acquire. His good friend Charles Oakley took the photo, his finger a blur in the bottom left corner of the image. I thanked my hero profusely, walked away and started crying like one of those hysterical fainting people at Michael Jackson concerts.
A year later, MJ remembered me from Tampa (presumably as the crazy girl), but couldn't figure out why I was at his son Marcus' graduation party. Fair question. I did not know his son and I was 10 years older than the rest of the attendees, high school seniors packed into the Park West for a private Drake and Lil' Wayne concert.
I explained that a co-worker was close with Marcus and his mother Juanita, so she invited me to tag along to the party. It was loud, so he leaned in close to hear me as I talked. I almost fainted. It's been a few years now, but I'm almost certain he smelled like Michael Jordan cologne and victory. We chatted briefly; he did not summon any security and I got picture No. 2, in which I appear Photoshopped -- but very happy -- over Michael's left shoulder.
There was no crying at the graduation party, and I kept it together at the grand opening for his Michael Jordan's Steak House in 2011. Granted, I did try to walk over to his table and chat, but when I was flatly rejected by a big ol' bouncer dude, I accepted the denial. Progress, people.
Yes, it seems I might be getting a handle on this obsession.
Of course, I'll never really be cured. Home alone, I'll still put on the 18-hour Jordan marathon I taped on six VHS tapes, labeled "DO NOT RECORD OVER -- MICHAEL." Or I'll blow through the box set of "Above & Beyond," "Air Time" and "Come Fly With Me," then throw in "Michael Jordan's Playground" as a finale. I'll watch my DVD of the Michael Jordan IMAX movie on a regular TV, even though that makes absolutely no sense.
I'll still tell every kid I see under the age of 20 to watch a marathon of Jordan games before saying one word about the greatness of Kobe and LeBron. I'll still get into arguments with people about how Jordan's Hall of Fame speech wasn't petty or ungrateful; it was honest. It was a mapping of the moments, big and small, that fed his fire and pushed him to be the greatest. It was an acknowledgement that his desire to win was always his greatest gift, more so even than his ability to fly.
I'll still get nostalgic and watch my favorite Jordan commercial over and over again, tearing up for reasons I don't even really understand. It's called "Frozen Moment,"a Nike masterpiece that debuted in 1997.
The new-age music, the stop-and-go movements and sections of slow motion, the camera flashes, all of it perfectly captures what it felt like to see Jordan play. The world around you spun on, but you were lost in the moment, a frozen moment. For so many people, myself included, there will never be another time like MJ's time. We were the lucky ones. We saw the greatest of all time, a master at his craft.
He turned the court into his canvas, his every move a brushstroke, every dunk and shot and smile and shrug a part of the finest masterpiece in all of sport.
Thank you for that, Michael. Thank you for everything. Happy birthday.
Stalk ya later.