Michael Jordan turns 50 Sunday. At 50 we think about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re headed. We don’t get a choice.
The birthday is the reason MJ and I sit at Hawthorne’s New York Pizza on 7th Street late one afternoon this week. MJ picks the place. He sits across the booth sipping water. I drink non-water.
How do you pronounce your name?
“Back home it’s mik-al jor-DAHN,” Michal Jordan says, the syllables almost musical. “Here they usually say MICK-el your-DAHN or something like that.”
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Michal Jordan played for the Charlotte Checkers the past two seasons, and this one until Thursday, when he was called up by the Carolina Hurricanes.
See? You talk to me and good things happen, Michael.
When I tried to set up an interview with Michael, I was told his people already had steered him to NBA Entertainment.
Michal, who does talk, is a defenseman from Zlin, Czech Republic.
His birthday is July 17, he’s 22, and he’s been playing hockey professionally in the U.S. since he was 17. With him this day is his 4-year-old son, Michal Jordan Jr. The younger Michal drinks pineapple juice, plays Fruit Ninja on his iPad and talks and talks. He moves seamlessly from Czech, the language the family speaks at home (Michal’s fiancée, Lucia, also is from the Czech Republic) to English, which Michal Jr. speaks in preschool.
Back to the father: When did people start to expect you to be 6-6 and bald?
“It started the first time I got to the States,” says Michal. “When I sign with the Hurricanes and move to Charlotte it’s just been crazy. I hear it the most in hotels when we’re checking in, and airports. I give them my passport and they look at my name, and look at me, and have a quick laugh.”
Michal, 6-1, is a good athlete and enjoys playing basketball.
Can you dunk?
“No, no way,” says Michal.
Yes, you can. You have to.
“My vertical jump is so bad, no, I can’t leave the floor that high,” he says.
When your parents named you in July of 1990 Michael was the NBA scoring champion. Did they know about him?
“They had no clue about basketball or Michael Jordan whatsoever,” Michal says. “Broadcasting wasn’t the same and the Internet wasn’t the same.”
But Michal had a clue when he named his son.
The family debated it. But passing along the father's name is a Czech tradition. And you can’t run from a name you like.
Although the Checkers and Bobcats share Time Warner Cable Arena, Michal and Michael have yet to meet. They shared a moment, though.
The Checkers played Grand Rapids in Charlotte on Jan. 17. Michael watched with Chris Chelios, who starred for the Chicago Blackhawks when Michael starred for the Chicago Bulls.
“I scored a goal and it shows my name on the Jumbotron,” says Michal. “And Michael actually stands and starts fist-bumping. And after I saw that I was laughing so hard I couldn’t believe it.”
They shared a moment and a goal.
In 2011 Michal asked to wear No. 23, Michael’s number. Michal’s favorite player is former Czech star, and NHL veteran, Karel Rachunek. Rachunek, who wore 23 when he played for the Czech teams, was playing professionally in Russia in 2011 when the team plane crashed. Nobody survived.
The Charlotte coaches explained that Michael wore No. 23. Michal didn’t want to look like a clown, trying to capitalize on the famous basketball player’s name. So he stuck with No. 29.
What would you say to Michael if you talked to him Sunday?
“Let me see,” says Michal. “Just wish him a happy birthday. I kind of wish I would see him on the court in real life and not through the TV. He was such an amazing player. It’s even hard to describe it. For sure so many kids started playing basketball just because of him.”
Michal Jr. has moved from the iPad to a notebook, and draws a picture of falling snow.
I ask if he knows who Michael Jordan is.
“I don’t know who,” he says.
He's the guy on your black Jordan Brand cap.