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He Can Always Pitch Hot Dogs

(Headline: “Michael Jordan Turns Down City of Hope Victor Awards Although Charity Agrees to Send Film Crew to Tape Wherever He Is.”)

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Every year or so, I have this dream. It’s recurring. . . .

It is this: Newspapers and magazines and periodicals suddenly turn away from sports. They stop giving pages and pages of free advertising to the games people play (for money).

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It has its effect. Suddenly, even television finds its audience’s appetite for sports programming declining without the ancillary free promotion. Attendance is way down, salaries are being reviewed.

After a year or so of this, I get this phone call. “Hello?” this voice says. “This is Michael Jordan. How are you?”

“Excuse me,” I say. “Who’d you say this was again?”

“Jordan,” he says. “The basketball player.”

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“Oh,” I say. “That Jordan. How’s it going?”

“Well, I thought we could get together,” he says. “Sit down and have a talk.”

“But, Michael,” I tell him. “A few years ago I tried 117 times to set something up. You were too busy.”

“Well,” Michael says. “Sometimes, things get in the way. After all, I had to turn down an invitation to the White House once. I had a golf game.”

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“Oh, I know,” I soothed him. “You’re Michael Jordan, and he’s not.”

“Well, times change,” Michael agrees. “You know, we had 11 people at the game last night. And it was a playoff game.”

“Uh, er, excuse me, Michael,” I say. “What’s a playoff game?”

“It’s for the whole ball of wax! The championship! Chicago used to go nuts!”

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“Oh, yeah!” I tell him. “Used to call it the World Series, right?”

“No, that was baseball,” explains Michael.

“Oh, of course,” I tell him. “Whatever became of that?”

“Darned if I know,” Michael admits. “Here one day, gone the next. No idea what happened.”

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“Well, Michael, it’s beginning to come back to me now. Yes, I remember now. One team had a payroll of $100 million one year. Came to $4 million a man. Truck drivers used to spend about $90 a night to take their families to the ballpark to support these millionaires. But when they couldn’t read about them anymore, they didn’t know they were there. They started going to Disneyland and the beach instead.”

“What about the networks?”

“They started to lose their shirts on sports. Who’s going to turn on a ballgame when they haven’t seen a box score in years? They don’t even know that Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. hit 80 home runs last year.”

“What about cable?”

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“Went completely to porno. Ratings were better. Sold more beer than baseball and football combined.”

“Wait a minute! What about newspapers? Guys used to say ‘All I read in the papers are the sports pages!’ ”

“Yeah, Michael. Think about that. You guys didn’t need to advertise. GM had to advertise, not the NBA. Why do you think you guys were making $30 million a year? You didn’t have to spend any on any advertising budget. The only industry that got the gratis advertising you guys did was Hollywood. And they had to come up with some musical chairs romancing to get their names in the columns. Michael, you think the dunk shot is that intrinsically interesting or dramatic? I got a clue for you, that’s a created taste. I knew a writer once could make a bunt seem like the fall of France.”

“How can we get back to those days?” Michael wants to know.

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“Well, first, when a charity that takes care of little kids with cancer and diabetes and leukemia wants a few minutes of your time, give it to them.”

“But there were such demands on my time!” he protests.

“Michael, do you know how many demands there were on Bob Hope’s time? I can remember his doing three benefits a night. Night after night. A couple of minutes on tape between the 17th and 18th holes would have been a day off for him. It’s not exactly like pushing a boulder uphill with your nose, Michael.”

“Well, what would you have me do?”

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“Get in your jet and fly out for the charity next time. You do have your jet, don’t you?”

“Not any more. I fly coach, now. I never realized how cramped you guys had it back there.”

“Life’s a drag, Michael.”

“Well, how about if I had sent an autographed picture? Would they have wanted that?”

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“Not now, Michael. When you say Jordan nowadays, they think you mean the river.”

Oh, well, as I say, it was only a dream. . . .


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