On-the-ball candidates should follow his game

ROGER SIMON

March 13, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

CHICAGO -- Richie Daley, the mayor of Chicago, is chewing on an unlit cigar and searching for just the right name.

"People are looking for a different kind of president," he says, "and I don't know if that person exists. They are looking for someone extraordinary, inspirational. They are looking for a . . . for a . . ."

My head is bent over my notebook, and I wait for the name.

"For a . . . for a . . ."

For a Franklin Roosevelt? A John Kennedy? A Harry Truman?

Mayor Daley takes the cigar out of his mouth. "They are looking," he says, "for a Michael Jordan."

*

Chicago Stadium is located in a surface-of-the-moon neighborhood on the city's west side. Children peer out from the windows of the housing projects and stare at the steady stream of cars carrying the fans.

The Chicago Bulls have sold out their last 222 home games. Michael Jordan has something to do with that.

Michael Jordan plays basketball. And Michelangelo painted ceilings.

Michael Jordan plays basketball with power and passion and an almost celestial grace. He is a man of great wealth, serious intelligence, gentle kindnesses and fierce loyalties. Underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts he always wears his University of North Carolina shorts.

And when he takes the floor with the Bulls before every home game, they turn out all the lights in the stadium. The people fall silent. And they wait.

The music begins and the darkness is pierced by the megawatt beams of rotating spotlights. Throbbing bass notes pulse through the air with increasing volume until you can feel them through the soles of your feet.

As the name of each of the Bulls' starting five is announced, there is applause, but the crowd remains seated.

Only in anticipation of the fifth name do the people come to their feet with a guttural roar that blocks out the heavily amplified voice of the public address announcer.

No matter how loud the system is turned up, no matter how loud the announcer yells, you never hear the name of Michael Jordan as he takes the floor.

The fans are proud of that. You never hear his name. All you hear is their love.

And how does this make Michael Jordan feel?

"It gives him goose bumps," Bob Greene, the Chicago Tribune columnist, who is completing a book on Jordan to be titled "Hang Time," tellsme before the game. "And some nights he comes out onto the floor with actual tears in his eyes. It isn't because that game is special or the yelling is louder on that night. Some nights it just gets to him. And the tears fill his eyes."

There is not a man running for president today who does not know that feeling. Yes, they are running for a serious office and they want to do serious things. And, yes, they are looking for votes. But they are also looking for love.

And if you wonder why the losing candidates do not drop out sooner than they do, it is because the need for love is the most powerful, the most narcotic need there is.

Sitting next to me this night (the Bulls will beat the Boston Celtics 119-85 with Jordan scoring 32 points) are Steve Bernard, 44, and Karen Kass, 43.

They have season tickets, costing $4,000 a pair, which entitle them to see Michael Jordan at least 42 times per year.

"Last year, on the way to the Bulls first playoff game, we were injured in a car accident," Karen says. "But we went to the game. After, we went to the hospital."

Just another pair of goofy, mindless fans? Consider that Karen is a psychologist. Steve is in food manufacturing and they are both voting for Jerry Brown in the Illinois primary on Tuesday for serious, thoughtful reasons.

And they both will do anything to get to Chicago Stadium at least 42 times per year. Steve pauses for a moment and tells me why.

"I consider it a privilege to watch Michael Jordan play," he says. "A privilege."

*

Richie Daley walks me to the door of his office, and I ask him how he stands the pressure of being a mayor in modern-day America.

"Michael Jordan once said something," Daley says. "He said he never goes out to play a super game. He just goes out to play a game. And if it turns out super, that's just fine."

It seems to have turned out just fine so far.

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