On his 50th birthday, memories of Michael Jordan are pouring in from everywhere. From teammates and opponents, to coaches and members of the media, individual recollections of the player regarded as the best in the history of the game's signature moments were shared with Comcast SportsNet Chicago -- which will feature a special on Jordan that airs at 10:30 Sunday night -- and CSNChicago.com, detailing their personal encounters with No. 23, the man who left an imprint on basketball, on and off the court, that will never be erased.
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The level of respect for Jordan is evident in how the most recent stage of his life is recounted. Since his second retirement from the Bulls after winning his sixth NBA championship in 1998, Jordan went on to become an executive for the Washington Wizards, a player for the team and then the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, his current position, all with mixed results.
However, when discussing that era with players, it's clear that despite Jordan not reaching the same level of respect that he did in Chicago, his impact was still strongly felt. For instance, Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamilton, who played both under and alongside Jordan as a young player, believes that Jordan was an integral part of his development as a player.
"It was a dream come true. One of my dreams was not only to make it to the NBA, but also to get an opportunity to play against him," Hamilton, who grew up idolizing Jordan in Coatesville, Pa., told CSNChicago.com recently. "I got an opportunity to play with him, so it was exciting. He meant a lot to my career, so just to get that experience at an early age was exciting for me."
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Hamilton, who was drafted by the Wizards in 1999 -- he was traded to Detroit -- is known as one of the game's preeminent mid-range shooters, one of Jordan's many specialties, and the competitiveness of the executive, who eventually became his teammate, laid the foundation to what's been a long, successful professional career.
"All day. All day. That was the fun part about it. Not only when he played, but even when he was president. He came down every now and then, and practiced with us, and you can't get anything better than that right there," he said. "[Jordan taught me] how to attack the game, how to attack practice. Mastering the medium-range game."
Hamilton, a long-time Jordan brand endorser, noted that Jordan -- who returned to the court in 2001-02, Hamilton's final season in Washington; he was traded to Detroit for Jerry Stackhouse, Jordan's fellow University of North Carolina product -- held him to an even higher standard just to wear his line of sneakers.
"He wouldn't let me wear it at first. He told me -- I'm not going to tell you what he told me -- but I pretty much had to work for it," he said. "I was with Nike and I asked him -- because I was young; it was my second year in the league -- and he told me I needed to do something, and I did it. But I've been wearing his sneaker for a long time and I pretty much had to earn it from him."
Hamilton began wearing the line after his third season in the league, when he averaged 20 points per game alongside Jordan, who averaged a team-leading 22.9 in his comeback.
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For players who have played for Jordan's home-state Bobcats, although the franchise hasn't seen much success, the owner's desire for excellence isn't any less diminished.
Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed, a graduate of the Kenwood Academy on the South Side, not only grew up watching Jordan play in old Chicago Stadium, but played for Charlotte from the 2007-08 season to the 2010-11 campaign, a span that included the Bobcats' only playoff team, back in 2010.
"It's great. When you first get there, you're getting a chance to hang around him, see him. It's a great feeling, being a kid from Chicago who grew up watching him play. But at some point, it's still a business and you've got to go out there, and you've got to perform and impress your boss," Mohammed told CSNChicago.com. "He's a good owner. He looks at the game a little bit different probably than other owners, being that he played it, so his expectations were probably a little higher for us than the average owner. But overall, he's a great owner, a guy you can talk to, a guy you can go in there and ask about the game and what you need to do. There's not too many owners you can go up to and say, 'Hey, how am I doing out there? What do you see? How can you help me out to play better?' You can't ask too many owners that one."
Of course, Mohammed also got a chance to see Jordan's competitive nature, even at an advanced age and with his role in the franchise, manifest itself occasionally.
"He came to practice here and there, but every now and then, he'd come in there with his gear on, ready to go," he said. "He practiced with us a couple of times, and sometimes after practice, he loved having little shooting games or shooting drills and getting in on that, just from his love of the game."
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Current Bobcats swingman Gerald Henderson Jr. is only 25 years old, so he was too young to truly remember Jordan's first Bulls stint, but because of his unique background -- his father, also named Gerald Henderson, is a former NBA player, who faced off with a young Jordan as a member of the Larry Bird-era Boston Celtics -- he did have an opportunity to see his team's owner in the latter stages of his playing career.
"My dad used to play against him. I was too young to really remember that, but him playing against Allen Iverson -- I'm from Philly -- every time they came to town, I was there," he told CSNChicago.com. "My dad used to do the postgame show for the Sixers, so I made sure to go with him every time they played and his last season, I think the Sixers played them twice. I was there. He's just one of those guys, you just want to watch him play every time."
These days, Henderson is one of the longest-tenured players on the young Bobcats -- teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a rookie, recently admitted that Jordan beat him in a game of one-on-one -- and explained that Jordan's influence as an owner reflects his insatiable desire to be the best.
"I probably know him better than most of the guys here just because I've been here longer, so I've talked with him more. His expectations are high just because of who he is. He looks at the game differently than most people and it's something he has his hands on. He wants us to be good, he wants his players to be good. It's not something that you think about every second, but it is there. You see him at games, you want to play well and not just because it's Michael Jordan sitting there, but you've got your owner sitting there, so every time you go out, just be impressive," he said. "Every time he's around, you just want to play well. It's just like any owner, though. You see him around, you want to perform. You've got to perform, but it's special to have him as an owner."
Even San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich, the current dean of NBA coaches and known as a grizzled type who isn't captivated by much, can relate to being awestruck by Jordan's presence.
"The first time I saw him was when I was a new assistant in the league, and came to play in Chicago, and I don’t think I noticed anything on the court except Michael," Popovich, a product of Northwest Indiana, said prior to the Spurs' recent game at the United Center. "I was just in awe just watching him play.
"I can remember sitting there next to [then-Spurs head coach and former Bobcats coach under Jordan's ownership] Larry [Brown] and watching him, and I know I didn’t even come close to doing any kind of job for Larry that night," he continued. "I just stared at Michael."
As one might expect, Jordan's opponents in the league have vivid recollections of his greatness. Current Bulls assistant coach and former NBA veteran Ed Pinckney can recall the many stages of Jordan's career, as he competed with and against Jordan as amateur players, against him in the league and even observed him as a member of the media.
"The first time I saw him play was in the McDonald's All-American game. We also played together at the Capital Classic [another high school all-star game] in Washington," Pinckney, who was in the same 1981 high-school class as Jordan, told CSNChicago.com "People already knew about Patrick Ewing and all the guys from the Northeast, so everyone was talking about him, like 'This dude is real good.'
"In practice, he was playing more defense than anything, not really scoring the ball that much. But when we got in that game, from the first tip, this dude was doing everything. Stealing the ball, dunking on people. I was like, 'This dude is ridiculous," he continued. "In college, we played them in the [1982 NCAA] tournament [won by Jordan's North Carolina team], the 'Elite Eight.' I can remember one time, in the latter stages of the game, he's on a fast break. Him and [former NBA player and Jordan's North Carolina teammate] Sam Perkins, me and [Pinckney's Villanova teammate] John Pinone. Pinone used to say, 'I don't give up layups. Nobody's dunking on me.' [North Carolina guard] Jimmy Black gives him [Jordan] the ball. Pinone grabbed him in mid-air, Mike spun out of his arms and almost made the shot.
"I still didn't see all this coming, though. I knew he was good, but I didn't see 'I want to be like Mike' coming and we played on the Pan-American Games team together, went through Olympic Trials."
As an NBA rival, Pinckney's career concluded with the Miami Heat in 1997, in the middle of the Bulls' second run of three consecutive titles.
"They had beat us three games in the conference finals, so I can remember [then-Heat head coach Pat] Riley getting wind that they had reserved a restaurant [in Miami to celebrate winning the series]," he said. "Riley said, 'We can't let them do that here and we've got to really come out and have a good game.
"We're up by a lot in the fourth quarter, so [Heat guard] Voshon Lenard decides that, 'I'm going to start talking trash.' That was the wrong thing to do. [Jordan] started going off on us and he was screaming at the top of his lungs, 'You [expletives] aren't going to win another game.' He maybe had 25 [points] in the fourth [quarter]. That epitomized him, how tenacious of a competitor he was. It's a complete blowout and he couldn't let it go. Instead of resting for the game in Chicago, he was just sort of letting us know that when it gets to Chicago, it's over, and it was," Pinckney went on to say. "We had all these turnovers in the first five minutes, our guards couldn't get the ball past halfcourt against him and Scottie [Pippen], and it was done. That is so typical of him and how he played."
Pinckney also saw some of the Jordan's final season, in Washington, as a broadcaster for the Heat.
"He's with Washington in his last year and making the rounds. They retired his number in Miami," Pinckney said. "I went into the locker room after the game and he said, 'I cannot believe how this has gone for me. I enjoy playing so much, but I just wish everyone else around me had the same passion. We came out in the same class. Look at these guys. We just lost and it's whatever. They care, but they don't care enough.' I walked out of there saying this is his last year."
But perhaps the best tales about Jordan come from his teammates. Randy Brown, now a member of the Bulls' front office, was Jordan's teammate for the team's second three-peat.
"I remember sneaking into games when I was in high school and at the end, when the ushers would let people all the way at the top come down, getting as close to the court as I could. Then, when I played against him, whether in Sacramento [Brown's first NBA team] or in the summer leagues back in Chicago, I always played hard against him, tough defense and even fouled him hard sometimes. He said I was crazy," the Chicago native, who attended Collins High School on the West Side, not far from old Chicago Stadium, told CSNChicago.com. "When I became a free agent, I was really close to signing with the Pacers, but when I saw him in the summer, he told me, 'You want to pass up winning championships just so you can have a bigger role?' That's when I decided to come back home. If the best player in the world wants me on his team, that's good enough for me.
"His impact on Chicago was so great and from his sneakers to everything else that he did, everyone wanted to be like him. Even as his teammates, we all wanted to carry ourselves like him and that was reflected in how we did interviews with the media, how we dressed," Brown continued. "But probably the thing that stands out the most to me wasn't even a game.
"It was 'Turkey Trot,' which was our Thanksgiving Day practice. Ask any of my teammates about it and they'll tell you. It was probably the greatest practice performance I've ever seen. He probably scored 100 points that day and it seemed like he didn't miss a shot. These were NBA players and everyone just had their mouths open. Then, we just had to start laughing about it. It was Michael."