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Interview with an Empire 

My Ten Minutes in Micahel Jordan's Spotlight

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Michael Jordan and I go way back. At least as far back as my first Wheaties box. So when my editor asked if I could spend a Sunday morning interviewing the man himself, I said I'm your girl.

Still, it wasn't exactly a big league assignment. I had not commandeered a morsel of Jordan's $40-million-a-year time to grill him about his batting average, the heartbreaking close of last season, nor the fact that my name is number 10,162 (really) on the waiting list for tickets. No, I had been summoned to talk children, charity, challenges. In other words, softball.

So I figured it was no big deal. But Michael Jordan is never no big deal.

True, I did spend an unseemly amount of time considering shoes. Would the high-tops say relaxed, casual, sporty? Or would they imply some disrespect during my audience? Finally, thinking practicality, I opted for heels. I mean, the guy is tall.

I showed up on time, picked up my sticky photo of Number 23 labeled "media," and reported for duty. I had assumed it would be me and Michael, one on one, for 20 unadulterated minutes. But when I got to the assigned room, I realized that my fantasy represented a security risk, a profit drain. There was a competing reporter. And her film crew. And another film crew to capture me capturing Michael. There was a set of PR personnel assigned to check up on me, and another to consider the interests of the Michael Jordan Foundation, Michael Jordan's Restaurant, and Michael Jordan himself. It reminded me of surgery.

That's when it occurred to me to write my questions down. As I sat scribbling in my notebook, crew members (in high-tops, all) started telling stories. Or story. Everyone had a version of the same one. It went like this: Once, a producer asked Him for His autograph, and He walked. Or like this: Once, a reporter brought her kids along, and He walked. There was a variation, which went like this: Once we did a huge shoot for a very big company that was paying Him millions of dollars. He showed up two minutes before we had to wrap, did one take, and walked.

I don't know if these tall tales were meant to unnerve me. But they more or less had that effect. Our interview was set for 8:30. Michael was scheduled to address a crowd of children edging toward the brink of hysteria at 9. At 8:35 I crossed off a question; it seemed extraneous. At 8:40 I edited out another. And another at 8:45, and 8:50. At 8:55 the competing reporter and I engaged in a minor turf battle over who would go first. At 8:56 Michael sauntered in.

He looks just like Michael Jordan. Like on the cereal boxes. Billboards. TV. But he's got--honest to God--a 1,000-watt aura. Absolutely glows.

The other reporter shimmied her short skirt and long legs into the interviewer's seat. There was small talk involving cousins, mutual acquaintances. She posed three questions. Did her react shots. Left.

Then it was my turn. But it was already 9. A PR technician intervened, reshuffled the morning's events, and carved an additional sliver out of MJ's day. I was granted ten minutes. "Don't tell her that," Michael complained. "But it's for a good cause," I cajoled. "I'm just messing with you," Michael admitted.

I was on. Knee to knee with Michael Jordan. I consulted my notebook, searching for questions left intact. "How do you motivate young people?" I asked in a whisper. Michael listened, squinting. "The first thing I try and do is get them relaxed," he said. "Because when I'm around them they seem to be a little bit more tense than need be." I nodded. "Yeah, that's because of either my reputation or some of the things I've done in the past," Michael felt obliged to explain. "But my first initial attitude is to relax them and make them view themselves as people, which they are."

Making every effort to view myself as a person, I plowed through the rest of the questions on my list. I thanked him limply. "No problem," he said, frowning his charming frown.

Later, the children showered him with book reports and homemade cookies, adulation and fear. One suffered through the humiliation of a faulty flash, straining futilely to capture the real Michael Jordan on film. "It would have worked if you'd been wearing the right shoes," Michael chided the boy shaking in his Reeboks.

It's an event, watching Michael Jordan stroll through a hotel lobby on a Sunday morning. As he crossed the room, the music stretched and slowed. Brunch guests abandoned their omelets, employees abandoned their stations. In silence, the whole room rose to its feet, followed Michael and his entourage outside, and stood dumbstruck as he removed his suit jacket, bent into his car, and pulled away, MJ 2345 fading into the distance.

"That was Michael Jordan," I heard someone breathe.

"I know that was Michael Jordan," said a woman still clutching her fork. "Obviously, that was Michael Jordan."

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