Michael Jordan wishes he was in your sneakers Star also dreams of losing everything

ROGER SIMON

November 29, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

At night, when he is asleep, Michael Jordan dreams. And th dreams are not always sweet ones. Sometimes they are nightmares.

You would think Michael Jordan would have no nightmares in his life. He is the best and the most famous basketball player in the world. And he is rewarded for this with an income that is truly staggering.

But some nights he dreams about becoming an alcoholic and losing it all. He dreams that all the wealth, all the fame, all the adoration will be gone.

Here is Jordan talking to columnist Bob Greene in Greene's new book, "Hang Time":

"What would I do?" Jordan is saying. "I'm an alcoholic in the dream, and because of it all the things I've worked so hard for will be taken away. I wake up numb after those dreams. In the dreams I'm making bad mistakes, and I'm not perfect, but I don't know what to do about it because I might lose everything."

Greene asks him if he ever has any good dreams, and Jordan says he sometimes dreams that he's a baseball player. But not a home run hitter and not a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. Just a batter making contact with the ball or a pitcher protecting his team's lead.

"And the crowd is on my side, because they don't know much about me," Jordan says. "But they hope I'll do okay."

And I think I learned more about Michael Jordan from that one passage than I have from a hundred sports stories.

To Greene, Jordan is a cultural phenomenon, an icon, whose human side Greene wishes to discover and reveal. And so Greene spent two years with Jordan during the Chicago Bulls' two championship seasons.

"Basically the guy works a night shift and he can barely go outside in the daytime," Greene told me. "He goes anywhere and JTC crowds form around him. People reach out to touch him. To me, the real parallels to Jordan are Babe Ruth in 1927 and Elvis in 1956. A couple of times a century individuals are elevated to such a level of public desire."

But Greene's book is not just another saga of a superstar. What elevates it is Jordan himself, who, unlike a number of famous people, is a man of real introspection.

Greene asked him if playing basketball each night with all those eyes on him and with all those people expecting him to be spectacular makes each game a tense experience for him.

"But he said that those two or three hours on the court are the only time in his life when he experiences peace," Greene said. "It is the only time he is untouchable. It is like there are invisible walls around the court. There are nine other players and three referees and nobody can touch him. 'I'm meditating out there when I am playing,' Jordan said. 'I'm thinking and meditating. It is the most peaceful part of my day.' "

I have known Greene for about 20 years -- we both started out on the same newspaper together -- but I have to admit there are some things Greene told me that I found hard to believe.

"When Jordan walks into a room, a number of people will cry," Greene said.

C'mon, I said. He just walks into a room and people burst out crying? I don't believe it.

"If he goes into a crowd, somebody will be crying," Greene said. "Somebody will burst into tears just at the sight of him."

That, however, is not the interesting part. The interesting part, and what makes Greene's book so fascinating, is how Jordan reacts to it.

One day Greene asked Jordan whom he envies.

"And he told me that sometimes he will look up into the stands and see a man and his son in the crowd just staring at him," Greene said.

"The man and the son are not aware he sees them. But Jordan says he wishes he were that man. 'I feel the eyes burning into me,' he said, 'and I know that I'd like to be a regular guy in the crowd looking at someone else.' "

It is sometimes possible to get a ticket to see Michael Jordan play. And if you do and you see him work his wonder on the court, you might start to envy him. You might envy him for his skill or for his fame or for his wealth. But try to keep this in mind:

He is down there looking up and envying you.

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