MJ And The Super Fans

MJ And The Super Fans
The image from days gone by now a statue at The United Center.

Winning isn’t easy. Winning championships is a dream and when it comes true, it is such an incredible experience.

If you’re a Bulls fan, it’s been 23 years, yes 23 years, since Michael Jordan played in that red number 23 uniform. Those were the Glory Days as it is most often referred and any Bulls fan who experienced that incredible run of 6 championships can recall special stories and memories they have from the most exciting sports era in Chicago.

In my case, I have a wealth of basketball memories, but I also have a few professional stories which made it even more exciting. Bringing the Saturday Night Live Super Fans into Chicago in June of 1992 for the championship celebration was pure fun.

It started the night before the celebration, bringing into town old Second City theater pal and creator of the Super Fans, Robert Smigel, along with Chris Farley and Bob Odenkirk. We started at the old Ditka’s Restaurant on Ontario where they performed a comedy bit with Jonathan Brandmeier for his television show. Then, we hustled over to WFLD-TV for a guest spot, and more comedy, with legendary Chicago sports reporter, Bruce Wolf.

Michael Jordan with Super Fans on SNL. He said he drank beer all day and was pretty blitzed by the time they shot the show.

The following day, it was off to the Petrillo Band Shell where I sat behind Bulls’ player Stacy King who was standing center-stage, leading the massive crowd in the song, Whoomp There It Is. This fired up the crowd which seemed to stretch as far back as the Prudential Building.

Then, the Super Fans provided the hysterics, performing a bit, dancing in their grass skirts and singing, “Da Bulls, Da Bulls…” The crowd went crazy, loving every second of it.

The next year, they came back, this time with George Wendt in place of Odenkirk, now famous for the show Better Call Saul. I remember this well, because as we sat in the white van afterwards, about 5 guys walking by spotted Wendt, who was famous for playing Norm on the sitcom Cheers at the time. They surrounded the van, shaking it and yelling out, “Norm, Norm!” When others saw this, more Norm fanatics ran to the van shaking it. It felt dangerous at that point, like they were going to tip the van over. With about 50 guys around the van shaking it, thank goodness the police came or who knows what that group would have done. I was amazed that George Wendt could elicit such a strong reaction.

The Bulls celebration in Grant Park during their second run of championships.

My favorite moment from the Glory Days however, came after the Bulls third Grant Park celebration, just before Michael left for Spring Training to start his baseball career.

My good friend and former Sun-Times associate, Mark Vancil, who had covered the Bulls in 1984 when Michael Jordan broke in as a rookie, wrote a book with Michael titled, Rare Air. HarperCollins, the publisher, hired me to assist with the publicity and I recommended a press conference at Jordan’s Restaurant on LaSalle Street to give all of the media a good opportunity to learn more about the book and why Michael and Mark wrote it.

It was a very cold day, February 17, 1994, Michael’s birthday. A throng of news reporters and anchors were lined up outside two hours ahead of time. I saw one of my other former associates from the Sun-Times, basketball columnist Lacy Banks, and pulled him out of the line and into the warm restaurant. Lacy was a good man, who I had worked with for a decade at the Sun-Times, so I was happy to provide such a small favor to him.

The press conference was supposed to begin at 5 p.m. but Michael was running late due to traffic on the Kennedy. I was hoping to go over a few notes with him prior to the conference but no such luck. I was waiting with Mark Vancil, photographer Walter Iooss and two HarperCollins executives on the first floor of the restaurant when, at about 5:30 p.m., we were informed that Michael had arrived and went up the back stairs to the press conference room set up on the second floor. The group went running up the stairs and I could hear a loud applause, which obviously meant Michael had entered the room. Yes, some of the media applauded him.

I was the first one through the door and saw Michael seated at the press conference table in front of a room packed with media sitting on black metal folding chairs. Some of the reporters were there to cover the event, while many others were there just to see Michael. I distinctly remember Anne Kavanagh, from WFLD-TV, sitting near the front, smiling from ear-to-ear, obviously excited to see Mr. Jordan. It was that kind of an atmosphere. Everyone was excited!

With no time to prepare Michael before-hand and find out how he wanted to handle the media requests I knew we would receive, I walked up to MJ and whispered in his ear, “Any one-on-one interviews afterwards?” Michael turned to me, and all of a sudden, the greatest basketball player in the world’s face was about an inch from mine. “Uh-uh,” he grunted, not wishing to do individual interviews. As I looked at this man, so close, I thought, “Hey look at that, Michael Jordan!”

Then I started the press conference and it went very well, Michael having a lot of fun with the media. There weren’t any tough questions, although WLUP Radio host Kevin Matthews sent one of his producers out to ask some silly question, which Michael quickly dismissed.

The questions were pretty much about his book and his life. I called for the last question, ended the conference and fended off one-on-one requests, while Michael made his way back down the stairs to his private room on the second floor.

Afterwards, we all sat with Michael and his wife Juanita, celebrating the book and his birthday, while sipping the best wine I have ever had to this day. The book broke into the top 10 of the New York Times Best-Seller List within two days after the press conference. But of course, we were working with the most popular athlete in the world. Regardless, it was a success, a great memory and a perk for working in the public relations industry and having a good friend who was pals with Michael Jordan.

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