Be Like Mike
I had never been much of a Michael
Jordan fan. This was 1997 and up until that point, while
I’d always appreciated what he did on the court, he
had killed my teams too many times in the clutch. It was
hard to "enjoy" his work due to the fact that
as a fan, it had constantly come at my expense.
So when a friend called me in 1997
to ask for a Jordan-related favor, I sort of rolled my eyes.
See, at that point in my advertising career I was working
on the Clippers account (tied with one other for the favorite
account in my career.) This friend thought it might be possible,
through my affiliation with the Clips, to maybe arrange
a meeting with this kid he’d heard about who lived
As I was told, this little boy was
pretty ill, so I made the call to the team. They explained
that for Jordan, no special arrangements could be made.
He was too in demand, too impossibly over-committed. To
Jordan’s credit, he arranged several dinners and events
a year to make sure he got to as many kids as possible.
But on game days while on the road, he was off limits. (Totally
So that was that. Or so I thought.
A couple of weeks went by and then,
a day before the Clippers/Bulls game, I got a call from
someone at the Clippers. Seems that the day before (an off
day for the Bulls) they’d come to L.A. early to catch
a Lakers game. While there, someone who’s heard of
this request from the Clips mentioned to Jordan the kid
I’d described. And he said, "Set it up before
the game so we can meet." And so, we were supposedly
My job was to call the parents of the
child, which I did. I was to escort them to the arena for
the meeting, but first, they asked if I could come over
a few hours early the day of the game to meet their son,
Bijan. He was wary of strangers, and for me to a part of
the evening, he needed a comfort level. So I went.
This lovely child, who I believe was
about eleven, was extremely challenged with a grave disorder
that left him severely physically handicapped. But his mind
was spectacular. Creative, intuitive, funny, aware of the
reality of his situation... and a Michael Jordan freak.
The afternoon hours I spent that day with he and mom were
But then it was time to go to the game.
Bijan’s dad had hired a limo
to take us all out to the Sports Arena for a designated
meeting with our contact at 5:30. Deliberately, we didn’t
tell Bijan about meeting Jordan—it was simply too
unpredictable an event to risk breaking his heart with.
As far as he knew, we simply had great seats for the game,
which seemed fine with him.
The Bulls at that time as you might
remember were as hot as it gets—a virtual traveling
NBA circus with Rodman, Pippen, MJ and a few others—and
the scene at the Sports Arena bore that out. In those days,
the arena was a ghost town for many a game, let alone hours
before tip-off. But at 5 o’clock or so when we got
there, it was madness. Thousands of people outside waiting
for the 6:30 door opening, vendors who had never been there
selling bootlegged Jordan shirts, Rodman wigs—you
We were let in through a side door
and made our way to the gate where we were to meet the Clippers
PR person at 5:30. Bijan, who we pushed along in a stroller-type
device, simply stared wide-eyed at the crazy scene taking
place around him.
5:30 came, and no PR person. 5:40.
5:50. 6:00. Thank goodness we hadn’t mentioned this
to him, I thought—because clearly, plans had changed.
I went and placed a call on a walkie-talkie but before got
an answer, she arrived—looking worried. "Come
on," she rushed us, he’s all set." (The
team bus had been delayed, evidently.)
A few things now. We have to tell him,
or we think the shock might be too much. (He had grown very
tired too and need to be woken up.) So as we walked I whispered
to him, "Bijan, something big is about to happen—the
best thing in the world—just get ready—you are
not going to believe this, buddy." And me, not even
caring before about Jordan, was starting to get nervous.
We are led to a screened off area near
the locker room; a private "room" created for
this. We’re told to wait a few moments and within
a minute the door opens, and there he is. The man. MJ. In
a black suit. He’s told I’m sort of the contact
and he comes over to introduce himself—as he does
so, he is looking at Bijan. And I know he did expect a child
this seriously ill. Because his expression changes. And
he seems to shift into some higher level "hero"
persona. He bends down to Bijan’ level and for about
10 or 15 minutes RUNS THE FRIGGIN SHOW. He holds Bijan.
Whispers to him how he wants him to come visit in Chicago
to meet his own little boy. Asks him lots of questions and
tells him that evening, when he calls his son at home in
Chicago, he can’t wait to tell him all about his new
pal, Bijan. With this, Bijan seems to come alive. It’
hard for him to speak, but he gives it his all.
Some pictures are taken, and then Jordan
pulls me aside and says (very seriously) "Look, you
get these pictures developed—get two 8 x 10 and send
them to this address (which he scrawls out.) I say "Two?"
to be sure. He says, including Bijan now, "Two. One
that I can sign and send to Bijan. And one that I can keep
in my office—where only the pictures of me and best
buddies are allowed to hang."
He has become God-like.
The 350+ pound security guy nearby
has tears streaming down his face. We are all choked up.
Because we are witnessing a combination of greatness and
compassion like we’ve never seen before.
Jordan signs a ton of autographs for
the kid, including the red "23" jersey Bijan wears.
We all hug Jordan goodbye and I say "Thank you".
He gets this surprised look on his face and says, "Hey
man, this is my job." Good job then, MJ.
At our seats near the Bulls bench soon
after, MJ comes over for one last high-five with Bijan.
Though now he’s suited up. Clark Kent has become Superman.
And he lights the tough-fighting Clippers up for 42 and
the Bulls take it.
But what a night we had.
Bijan died two weeks later. I went
to the funeral because from one night, his family felt like
my family. (These were some of the warmest, toughest people
I’ve ever met.) Bijan’s mom brought me back
to see him before they closed the casket. And there he lay,
peaceful in his signed Jordan "23" jersey.
Ironically, he is laid to rest a stone's
throw from my dad at a cemetery in Southern California.
Whenever I visit my dad, we always go visit Bijan. His plaque
in engraved with a beautiful poem (that he wrote) and the
corners are embossed with the Bulls logo.
I wrote Jordan a note about that, and
while I’m not sure if he ever got it, it almost doesn’t
matter. He breathed life into this boy’s soul on a
night when he needed it most. He made everything better
for a little while simply by being kind and using his gift
in the best way possible. Michael Jordan made me (and those
I was with that wondrous night) believe in magic. I can’t
imagine what it felt like for that little angel. Bijan.