Much excitement surrounds this week's upcoming episodes of The Last Dance, which will prominently feature Michael Jordan's stint in Double-A baseball with the Birmingham Barons. In one of those weird twists of fate that sports likes to throw at us every now and again, Jordan's manager during that time was Terry Francona, who would go on to win two World Series with the Boston Red Sox and become revered in New England as the man who helped break the Curse of the Bambino.
Francona went on Buster Olney's Baseball Tonight podcast to talk about his experience managing a global superstar in minor league baseball. One of the anecdotes shared, naturally, involved a pickup basketball game Francona played at his apartment complex with Jordan (starting at the 28:00 mark):
"The apartment complex I lived in, and it wasn't in a great area, it had a blacktop basketball courts and it had chain nets. Champ and Barney, they were sitting behind me and popping off about basketball. They were just messing around, but Michael's ears perked up. The next thing you know, we're at my apartment complex on the blacktop shooting hoops. And you know, word of mouth doesn't take very long. The next thing you know there's guys from the neighborhood that have come in and we're playing five-on-five and I'm scared to death. I'm thinking I'm going to lose my job. I'm what, 33 years old, I got four kids, and I'm going to lose my job. It should've been televised. Watching what he did... It amazed me when you put a basketball in his hands, how strong he looked. And then when you put a bat in his hand how normal he looked. It was amazing to me. "- Terry Francona
Olney then prompted Francona to explain the time he set a screen for His Airness on the blacktop. Or, more accurately, tried to.
"[Jordan] was getting irritated at a guy who was trying to push him around a little bit. He pointed to the guy and goes, 'Hey, I'm going right there.' And I'm like, 'Oh, no.' I went over to set a pick, and he picked the ball up, put it under the crook of his arm, and he goes, 'Get outta here.' So I waddle away kind of embarrassed. He took one step, and I remember thinking, 'Ah, no, this is not going to end well.' The rim was bent, he came crashing down, he had slammed the ball through the chain-link net and knocked the guy down. He was standing over him and said 'Don't ever talk to me in my house.' And I'm like, 'Game's over! That's it. Time to go home.' We had seen enough. I'm glad I saw it, but I also wanted to keep my job."- Terry Francona
That all sounds about right. Fortunately for Francona, he did not lose his job and Jordan did not get injured in the process of the pickup game.
Sunday should bring even more tales of Jordan's time slumming it as a minor leaguer. Should be good content.