Millionaire Corner's Kent McDill, author of "If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box of the Chicago Bills Dynasty," shares his Michael Jordan stories.
When sportswriter (and Millionaire Corner writer) Kent McDill covered the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era, family, friends and strangers invariably had one request: “Tell me about Michael Jordan.”
In his new book, If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box of the Chicago Bulls Dynasty, McDill shares his Jordan stories as he recalls his years as Chicago Bulls beat writer for the Daily Herald, the largest suburban Chicago newspaper chain. In part two of our interview, McDill recalls the iconic figure, hero, fierce competitor
Q: In your book, you write that your introduction to Michael Jordan in your new capacity as beat writer was under dicey circumstances.
KM: The person who covered the Bulls prior to my joining the Daily Herald was not someone who traveled with the team. He had written the fact that Michael and his then girlfriend, Juanita (later his wife), had had a son out of wedlock. Michael’s people were very concerned with his public image and they didn’t want that story to get out there. I had a relationship with Michael, but it was very superficial. He did know who I was, so I went up to him and told him I was taking on the Daily Herald coverage and I wanted to be sure he and I were okay even though the Herald broke this story. I think Michael was a little bit relieved because he’d been hiding the birth of his son at that point. Soon thereafter he married Junita and everything went back to normal. But that was the first conversation I had to have with him, and I went out of my way and cleared the air.
Q: On the one hand there is the excitement of covering the game’s greatest player, but on the other hand, is there a point where he’s just Michael?
KM: Eventually I got to where he was just this regular guy because I was with him all the time. What was interesting always was seeing how other people reacted to him, because seeing him and meeting him was such a thrill. I tell a story in the book about sitting with Michael as the team waited to catch a flight out of Cleveland. This was in the days when the team was still flying commercial. There was an African-American man, his wife and their small son and they were staring at him. The father gave his son a pen and a piece of paper and sent him to get Michael’s autograph. The boy, who couldn’t have been cuter, approached slowly and asked in an awestruck whisper, “Are you Michael?” Jordan replied, ‘Yes, I’m Michael Jordan.’” The boy said, ‘Wow.’” He was so excited he forgot to get the autograph and his father had to send him back.
Q: What about your own children? You write in the book that you never asked for Jordan’s autograph or any memorabilia. At the very least you might have been able to pay for their college education.
KM: I was raised in a different era of journalism where there was a clear demarcation between reporter and subject. We were not supposed to be friends. We were just supposed to be colleagues of sorts. And the rules state on your press pass that you are not allowed to get autographs. It seemed to me that asking for an autograph, especially if I was going to benefit from it personally, was crossing the line. On more than one occasion I had someone ask me if I could get something signed by Michael for a charitable purpose. I directed them to go through the proper channels. What my kids do have, though, is their own Wheaties box from when the Bulls won the 1992 championship. I wrote the description of the team on the back, and my name is on it. So that’s something (laughs).
Q: Michael’s competitive nature is legendary. What insights did you gain from observing him in these situations off the court?
KM: Again, this is back when the teams flew commercial. We would land and we would go to get our luggage and Michael Jordan, like everybody else, had to stand around the conveyer belt and wait for his luggage to come out. Whether the team won or lost, he would gamble $100 with his teammates as to whose luggage would come out first. When he won, he would be as excited as I would be if say, I won $1 million. It meant so much to him. Then, of course, I found out that he had made arrangements with the baggage carriers so that his bag would be the first to come out. He was clearly not above cheating much in the same way that he took advantage of every opportunity he had on the court.
Q: So there was no such thing as a friendly game with Michael?
KM: No, and if you beat him at a game of cards, all you could do was say, ‘I beat him at a game of cards,’ because you weren’t going to get your money. What he would do instead was if he owed $100 he would say, ‘Let’s keep playing,’ and he would keep playing until he won his money back.
During the Michael Jordan era, who was the most unsung Chicago Bull, the most surprising, and the most misunderstood?. Kent McDill shares more stories in part 3 of our interview.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.