By Karl Batungbacal
There’s nothing more precious in a boy’s life than bonding with his father. It begins with something as mundane as building a Lego set together then as they grow older, so do their interests.
Other than being my closest friend, I owe much of who I am today thanks to my dad.
We did everything together from watching NBA games in the morning to staying up late to beat him in countless Tekken sessions. I even remember us watching Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit close out Wrestlemania 20 while eating four packets worth of pancit canton and sleeping in the living room on our trusty banig. He introduced me to most of the hobbies that I love doing which include listening to music, playing video games, and watching sports. Most importantly, he taught me to appreciate the game of basketball. He made me realize that there’s more to the game than just contributing to the box score; that in order to succeed, one must play his role well and I took that to heart.
Michael Jordan was no different.
The photo of him crying as he hugged his first championship with his father, James Jordan, by his side perfectly encapsulates a father’s love for his son. Sure, James wasn’t taking up that big of a space in the photo but you can still see him in there. That’s how fathers tend to be. They see to it that their children are doing whatever they can to fulfill their dreams. Most of the time, dads would feel a sense of shyness as they receive attention for the achievements of their children, which is why they would tend to shy away from the limelight.
That’s not the case for James Jordan though. He wholeheartedly accepted the role of being a father to a son who was slowly becoming one of the greatest basketball players ever. “He’s a voice of reason that always drove and challenged me,” Michael said when asked about his relationship with his father. For as much as his father wanted him to be a baseball player, Mike had an inclination towards basketball. While it wasn’t James’ first choice for Mike, he noticed that his son was excelling in it and he was supportive of him the whole way.
Hearing James Jordan say, “I couldn’t even begin to find the words to tell you how proud I am.” in an interview referring to MJ’s first championship run is a statement that all sons wish to hear from their fathers in some way, shape, or form. It’s a display of unwavering love and support that, when framed correctly, tugs at the heartstrings. But it was real life and you could just feel the love oozing from James as he spoke the words while his voice was cracking.
However, real-life isn’t always about sunshines and rainbows. The reality is that all good things come to an end, some of it ending in tragedy.
That’s what MJ had to face in 1993, a couple of months removed from celebrating his 3rd consecutive championship. Mike lost his father to a shooting incident.
As a son, there’s nothing more painful than losing your closest friend and adviser but when you factor in how you lost him, that makes it even worse. Tim Hallam, the Chicago Bulls Senior Director of Public & Media Relations, framed their relationship in the best way, “if you knew Michael, you pretty much knew James because they were always together.” Even MJ’s signature sticking out of his tongue was Micheal imitating James’ mannerism when the older Jordan was absorbed in his work.
Prior to the incident though, people didn’t know that MJ was already contemplating retirement, citing a lack of competition and mountains to climb. Remember, he had already won his third championship which puts him on the same pedestal as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. What puts him ahead of both legends, however, is that he achieved a three-peat, a feat that Magic and Larry came close to but never reached. His father was also instrumental in the decision to retire as James Jordan was fully supportive of what his son wanted to do next. It was also universally believed that James’ passing was the last straw which pushed Michael to retire.
On October 6, 1993, MJ’s retirement came to fruition and that wasn’t the only bombshell he would drop.
By the first quarter of 1994, His Airness had gone on to pursue his baseball dream and was signed to the Chicago White Sox’s minor league team, the Birmingham Barons. People were shocked that he would even try and do such a thing because it made no sense for the greatest basketball player of all time to waste his time chasing a baseball pipedream. The media ridiculed him mercilessly when he started to show signs of ineptitude. With regards to the Sports Illustrated incident where he was on the cover missing a pitch by a wide margin, it only served to cut ties with the magazine and add more fuel to the fire of making the baseball thing work out. “They came out to critique me without understanding what my passion was at the time,” MJ said about the whole situation.
However, a few people close to the situation such as Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, and his immediate family knew what baseball meant to Mike and his father. To the public, it was stupid but it meant the world to him because he could finally live out the dream that his father had for him.
The decision to retire from basketball and play baseball became MJ’s way of honoring his father’s memory and their childhood dreams. There was nary a hint of regret while he was narrating the story during the episode so you know that he meant it.
What’s funny is that MJ still had the skills to play baseball at age 31, a game he had not played seriously since he was 17. Reinsdorf and other personnel of the Birmingham Barons lamented that he could have reached the major leagues had he continued down that road. So amazing was he at baseball that he amassed a total of 88 hits with a .202 a streak of 13 straight games with 88 hits and three home runs, the first happening on July 30, a day before his father’s birthday.
The greatness of Michael Jordan has so many layers to it that we tend to forget that his drive to succeed all started with how he was raised. Imitating his father, sticking out his tongue while working and making it his own, shows that the bond between a father and son is different. Possibly the most important lesson that James taught His Airness was to make the best out of a bad situation and boy, did MJ make the best out of it when the hard times came.
While James Jordan missed out on the future milestones of his son, he was able to make the most out of the time they had together, and more often than not, that’s all a child could ever ask for.