Some of us were lucky enough to witness Michael Jordan’s greatness up close. We were in the prime of life when everybody wanted to “Be Like Mike.”

Jordan was the ultimate, rare icon. He resonated with everybody. That’s why he became known not just as a one-name wonder, but an initialized wonder.

As the great former coach Del Harris once said: “When he came into the league, he was Michael Jordan. Then he was just Michael. A few years later, he was M.J. If he’d have kept going, he might have just been M.”

Watching “The Last Dance” has been riveting. The 10-part series will end on Sunday night and while many of the stories have been told before, it’s been must-see viewing over the last few Sundays. And it has been received very well. Sponsors have seen spikes in their branding efforts.

And it’s been valuable entertainment during the health crisis.

Everybody who covered the NBA through the ‘80s and ‘90s has memories of Michael.

One of my fondest came while in Houston in the early ‘90s and the opportunity presented itself to interview Jordan when the Rockets visited Chicago.

His sons, Jeffrey and Marcus, were still in diapers, or close to it. But at the time, Jordan had just come into a new universe as a role model. The Gatorade commercials claiming that everybody wanted to “Be Like Mike” were in full gear. You couldn’t turn on a sporting event on television without seeing one.

So after most of the reporters scattered, I asked Jordan that, as a role model for millions, how much different it is being a role model for two toddlers who knew him not as Michael or M.J., but as dad.

I don’t remember his exact answer, but the gist was that it was totally different. This was real life, not a made-to-sell-products slogan dreamed up by an ad man.

He said something to the effect that the two kids were the most important parts of his life now and that priorities changed, sort of.

But only to the extent that he wanted to win as a parent – the same way he wanted to win as a basketball player.

His drive and lack of compassion for any opponent was legendary.

One of the most memorable scenes of The Last Dance was when, in the 1986 playoffs, Jordan wheeled on the baseline past a frozen-legged Rick Carlisle. The announcer said: “Carlisle just wants his mommy.”

The future Maverick coach was just one of hundreds of would-be defenders who got burned by Jordan. And by the way, Carlisle’s achievements teams in his post-playing career have been massive compared to Jordan’s. So things have a way of leveling out.

As a competitor on the court, however, there were none better than His Airness.

Even when Jordan was at Washington, playing out the final seasons of his career, he had that remarkable drive that intimidated so many people for nearly two decades.

Evidence? It came on Feb. 23, 2003. The Mavericks were at Washington and while the Wizards were hanging around .500, the Mavericks were 43-12 and one of the NBA’s top young teams.

That was the day that the Mavericks were tied at 90 against Jordan and he got the ball 18 feet from the basket with 2.6 seconds to play. It was his game to win or lose – as it was so many times in his career.

He missed that shot and the Mavericks won in overtime.

It wasn’t the end of an era. That happened years before when he retired (for the second time) after his sixth championship.

But when he came back, it still was scary for opponents. When Jordan went up for that shot, it was like Larry Bird or Magic Johnson before him or Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki after him. When they let it fly for the win, you just held your breath and hoped for a miss.

It was back in Jordan’s first retirement – or sabbatical, if you prefer, for his baseball dalliance – when the Houston Rockets won two Jordan-less titles. Skeptics still say that if Jordan hadn’t left the game, the Rockets never would have had their rings.

When Jordan returned near the end of the 1994-95 season, the Bulls couldn’t get out of the Eastern Conference to play the Rockets, who wound up sweeping Orlando for their second consecutive title.

The Rockets didn’t care who they beat. They just reveled in winning two championships to interrupt the Bulls’ dynasty.

And, sooner or later, all dynasties crumble. For the Bulls it happened quickly.

Contract disputes happen. Players move on. It happened to the Mavericks after winning the 2011 title.

It didn’t happen to the Bulls in the summer of 1997, when they had won their fifth title in seven years even though coach Phil Jackson was at the end of his contract and Scottie Pippen had one year left on his severely-undervalued contract.

Jordan also was in his last year of a contract. He was earning $33-million in 1997-98. Pippen earned under $3-million, ranking 122nd in the NBA in salary among players. He was making less than half of what Jackson earned on his final, one-year deal, according to The Last Dance’s early episodes.

So we knew 1997-98 would be Jackson’s last season as coach of the Bulls. That was announced by management before the season. If we took him at his word, we knew Jordan would be gone, too, since he had said he couldn’t see himself playing for another coach.

And when it ended with that sixth championship, it cemented Jordan as arguably the best player ever.

Wilt Chamberlain before him. LeBron James after him. Maybe another one or two that merit consideration for GOAT-ness.

But one thing was certain. There would never be another Air Jordan.


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