I met a former NBL point guard, who, for the sake of anonymity, I will call Dave. Dave told me how he remembers the day he approached Shane Heal (one of Australia’s greatest ever basketball guards), before a game, and told him that there was no way that Heal was going to drop 38 points on his head in the way that he had to other guards in recent matches. Shane and Dave had played against each other many times in their junior years and, in Dave’s memory of those early interactions, Heal was just not that good. The trash talking continued after the game, but now the insults were coming from Heal. He hadn’t scored 38 against Dave. He’d scored 44! Scorched him!
Some years later, Dave was on a business trip to New York… where he had that frightening experience of losing his credit card on just arriving. It was a weekend and, given that he wasn’t carrying much in the way of US dollars, he needed to get the American Express card replaced urgently. The customer service desk at his Manhattan hotel explained that, while American Express city offices were all closed on a Sunday, one of the other major city hotels had an Amex branch office where he could get a new card printed on a weekend. A quick taxi journey later and he was in the lobby of the swank pub asking the bloke in the posh uniform where the Amex office was. The bloke pointed to the elevator nearby and explained that the office was on the first floor.
The now-retired basketballer walked over to the lift and despite being embarrassed that he was only going to be taking the elevator one floor, given that he had no idea where the hotel stairs were (there were none visible in the lobby), he pressed the button to call for a lift. In the back of his mind, he hoped that no-one would be in the elevator coming up from the car park below who would be annoyed by his entering the elevator for a one floor ride.
An almost unhealthy obsession
When this former athlete was a young bloke there had been only one sports star that he had been interested in. In fact, he described his feelings about this super star as an obsession. An almost unhealthy obsession, he confessed. Like millions of other kids around the world, this kid had pictures of the famous bloke all over his bedroom wall. As a youngster, he copied the superstar’s mannerisms. He copied the star’s personal style. He tried to copy the star’s plays. He wore the star’s uniform and sneakers. From the time he was old enough to play basketball right up until this very moment when he stood outside an elevator in a posh New York hotel it had been his life’s dream to meet this athlete god… to share just a few moments with him… and to talk with him about their shared love for basketball.
Moments later, the door of the elevator slid open. There… standing smack dab in the middle of the elevator… was Michael Jordan, the object of his obsession. All 6’ 6 of him. Perfectly dressed. Perfectly proportioned. Perfectly serene. Perfectly poised. Perfectly toned. Perhaps the world’s most perfect human being. Just standing there in the lift, by himself, waiting for the former NBL guard to join him. The Aussie was stunned. Gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. He couldn’t move. He was frozen to the spot. His jaw fell slack. His eyeballs dilated. His face went red. His heart rate doubled. Maybe tripled. It’s Michael Jordan, his brain screamed. It’s fucking Michael Jordan! Michael, his Royal Airness, Jordan… standing right in front of him. Inches away! Seconds passed. Dave didn’t move. He just stared.
“You getting in?” asked the greatest player in NBA history.
Michael’s impatient tone shocked our retired basketballer out of his reverie and he, with his head bowed, shuffled into the elevator. He then reached out, and with a shudder of embarrassment, pressed the number 1 button on the elevator control panel. Dave hoped to hell that a soft sound coming from behind him wasn’t his fellow elevator passenger making a “tsk tsk” noise with his tongue. The doors silently slid closed, and the elevator smoothly began to ascend.
He would think that I was a wanker
Oh my god, Dave thought. I have exactly the time that this lift takes to get from the ground floor to the first floor to strike up a conversation with the greatest athlete that ever lived. I have him completely to myself. He can’t get away. My god! What am I going to say?
Maybe, “Hi Mike… you don’t know me, but I’ve been nominated ‘All Australian.’” Nah. He would never have even heard of ‘All Australian’. Or he would think that I was a wanker skiting about such a little thing.
Maybe, “I’ve played lots against Shane Heal… you know… Heal… the bloke who plays a bit with the Timberwolves… the bloke who trashed talked Charles Barkley.” Nah. That’s no good. Shane is a great player but my playing against Shane is not going to impress Mike.
Maybe, “I’ve played with some of Australia’s best players… you know… Andrew Gaze… Ricky Grace…” Nah. Great as those players are, Mike may not have even heard of them.
Dave was so paralysed by his inability to come up with a brilliant conversation starter to win over the great Michael Jordan that he barely noticed the elevator sliding to a halt and the doors silently slipping open.
Oh, fuck, he thought. What am I going to say?
Maybe, “Have you been defended by Shane? Man… he may be a little dude, but he plays basketball like a footballer. He’s so tough!” Nah. Mike doesn’t want to talk about people he has played against. Maybe I should just tell him that I like his suit?
“You getting out?” grumbled Mike.
Without saying a word, Dave shuffled into the American Express lobby, on the first floor, and listened to the elevator take his hero away from him for good.
At least he can tell his mates, his kids, and his grand children that he once met Mike Jordan… and that they had even had a little conversation. A conversation of exactly six words! All spoken by Mike!