News & Politics » Year In Review

Mike and His Shadow

Does Bob Greene have to retire now too?



Something truly astounding happened in 1993: Bob Greene managed to double his output of columns about Michael Jordan and the Bulls, a feat akin to multiplying infinity.

Back in 1990, Greene discovered that when the Blackhawks are out of town, the Chicago Stadium hosts another sports team called "the Bulls," and that this team featured a particularly talented player called "Michael Jordan." Soon Tempo readers were saying to themselves, "Can't he write about anything else?"

Surprisingly, he did. Out of 174 columns that year, Greene wrote only six about Jordan and the Bulls, though disbelieving readers will insist it seemed more like 60. In '91, Jordan-Bulls columns totaled seven as Greene continued using his day job to get good Stadium seats and amass material for 1992's best-seller, at $22.50 per, Hang Time: Days and Dreams of Michael Jordan. The book in the can, Greene kept his '92 Jordan columns down to four. But this year Greene's Jordan-Bulls output escalated to an unprecedented 14 columns (we had to stop counting on December 20).

In an effort to understand that phenomenon, we've briefly summarized those 1993 columns and excerpted a typically fawning passage from each--quotes so embarrassing to read, they recall that sinking feeling normally associated with watching a Jerry Lewis movie.

The question now, of course, is how Greene will handle Jordan's retirement. He is surely the hardest-hit Chicagoan--Jerry Reinsdorf having cagily sold his season tickets just before Jordan's announcement. Will Greene let his obsession with Jordan die a natural death, or will he push it into an unholy, vampirish afterlife with a spate of retirement columns? Tune in again next year.

December 20: Bob makes sure we know he drives around with Michael in his Corvette by describing the raucous scene that occurs when the two of them stray onto neighborhood streets while looking for an expressway entrance ramp.

Fawning Quote: "And inside the car he continued the conversation, as if automatically blocking out the turmoil outside. As if having strangers call to him was the most natural thing in the world. Which, of course, in his world, it is. . . . You can retire from the Bulls; you can retire from the NBA. You cannot, he is learning, retire from being Michael Jordan."

November 8: Bob has an inspirational flash: Now that he's retired from basketball, Michael should be the next James Bond.

Fawning Quote: "Jordan . . . is unlikely to accept any [movie offers] because of one factor: No matter what role he played, the audience would look at the screen and see not the character, but Jordan. He's too big a star for any part."

October 17: Bob relates a conversation with a "friend" who wants to buy tapes of every single Bulls game Michael played--all 778 of them--and watch a game a night, every night, to cure his despair over Jordan's retirement. Could this "friend" wear a bad toupee and take up a press seat at Bulls games?

Fawning Quote: "But isn't it a rather pale substitute for life? Sitting inside your house every single night and watching old tapes of Jordan? 'It would be better than life,' he said."

October 13: Bob breaks the story that a doctor at Children's Memorial Hospital has named a new strain of salmonella after Michael.

Fawning Quote: "Michael Jordan has been the recipient of virtually countless honors . . . it would be hard to come up with a single tribute Jordan has not been paid."

October 10: Bob, having been cut from his high school basketball team, wallows vicariously in Michael's NBA success.

Fawning Quote: "All the memories in the Stadium; all the incandescent nights that Jordan provided for all of us. . . . He was so wealthy he never needed to make another penny; he was so famous he never needed to hear another cheer; he was so skilled he never needed to doubt his abilities for another second."

August 17: Bob writes a column about how everybody should leave Michael alone after his father's death. Presumably "everybody" means the press, which presumably includes newspaper columnists. Except Bob, of course.

Fawning Quote: "Whether [Michael] was helping people out by personal gestures, or merely providing the luminescent moments that, for a few hours on winter nights, enable people to forget about their own troubles and see something great, he was the one doing the helping."

August 15: Bob is astounded, for 732 words, that Michael loved and admired his recently deceased father.

Fawning Quote: "For a long time we have known that if you are Michael Jordan there are many wonderful things that will come into your life, and that inevitably there are some terrible things, too."

June 28: Bob scoops the competition when he reports that Nevada air-traffic controller Mike Wurst would like to offer Michael his three-bedroom home for a two-week vacation.

Fawning Quote: "Wurst's impulse to let Jordan stay in his house comes from the understanding that the one thing Jordan cannot give himself is a regular, mundane life."

June 23: Bob entreats Chicago sports fans not to care whether the Bulls win or lose during the '93-'94 season.

Fawning Quote: "The men who play for the Bulls deserve the reward of being allowed to have fun and be loose and play basketball as if it's a joy and as if the score of a random game during the regular season doesn't matter at all--which, at this point, it doesn't. . . . The time has come to let [the Bulls] entertain us, and the rest of the planet, with no sense of immediate pressure."

June 16: Bob gets a whole column out of Charles Barkley smiling at Michael and Scottie Pippen for approximately one second during a '93 championship game.

Fawning Quote: "Few of the rest of us can understand what it must be like to look in the mirror each morning and see not only your face looking back, but at the same time a carefully cultivated commercial property that on a given day has a given dollar value in the business centers of the world, rising and falling like the stock market based upon the affection the planet's population currently feels like granting you."

May 23: Bob relates B.J. Armstrong's thoughts on horseback riding and against all odds succeeds in bringing the subject around to Michael's famous shot in Cleveland.

Fawning Quotes: "Sometimes you ask yourself whether these men will really comprehend the specialness of what they are going through until years from now--until all of this is over, is all a memory, and they look back upon it with the same sense of wonder as the rest of us."

"It must be difficult for these men--champions of the world--to understand how much emotional investment so many strangers put in them."

"So many memories these men are giving to so many of us. How can we expect them to understand?"

May 2: Bob insists that whether they win a third championship or not, the Bulls will still be the coolest guys on earth.

Fawning Quotes: "The Bulls will continue to fill every seat in every arena regardless of whether they win the championship again; the presence of Jordan on the floor will assure that. He was filling arenas before the team won the title, and he will fill them again."

"Of all the people on the planet who step onto basketball courts, these men are the best team in the world."

April 18: Bob spends most of the column on Michael and George Koehler, his limousine driver, though the ostensible subject is the 71-foot basket that won Don Calhoun $1 million at the Stadium.

Fawning Quote: "Koehler gave [Jordan] a lift downtown, the two men became close friends, Koehler went to work for Jordan, and his life changed forever. He has gone places and seen things he never would have dared dream about."

April 14: Bob says he's writing about the changes Michael felt during the '93 season, but jumps to so many unrelated topics that it appears the column's real purpose is to let readers know that Bob knows Michael's hotel room number on the road.

Fawning Quote: "On the road, Jordan continues to spend most of his time alone in his room, the most famous athlete in the world choosing to protect his little remaining privacy behind locked doors. . . . The man out in the world is the product; the person by himself with a room-service tray for one is the human being trying even now to figure it all out."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.

Add a comment