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|| News Item: Posted 2000-01-24

Leading Off: Hanging Out with Michael Jordan
By Robert Hanashiro

Photo by Robert Hanashiro

Photo by Robert Hanashiro
It wasn't the United Center or even the Bulls' suburban Chicago training facility. His opponents weren't Karl Malone or Reggie Miller or Shaquille O'Neal. His teammate wasn't Scottie or "The Worm" or even Juwan Howard. And there weren't thousands of cheering fans sitting in courtside luxury seats, sipping wine coolers and eating $15 sandwiches.

I get this assignment every year: spend a day on the set of one of the Super Sunday commercials being filmed in Los Angeles. One year it was Jason Alexander selling pretzels. Another time it was Muhammad Ali sitting on a studio set that looked like a pizza parlor.

This year it was different.

This year it was Wayne Gretzky. And John Elway.

And it was Michael Jordan.

He strolled on the stage 16 of Culver Studios, wearing a cashmere overcoat with a Cohiba jutting out of his smiling lips. Spotting Elway, he teased the former Bronco QB about his early morning call to the set and asked if he had too much wine the night before at dinner.

It was a day before word leaked out that Jordan would become part owner and in control of basketball operations of the woeful Washington Wizards and he looked like he hadn't a care in the world.

And for the next 20 minutes, Jordan talked about:

* The "Dream Team" ("Patrick (Ewing) and Larry (Bird) were the funniest guys. They went everywhere together and would sit in the back of our bus wearing t-shirts that said 'Harry' and 'Larry ' and laughing at everything. They were unreal."

* Filming "Space Jam" with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny ("I'll never do that again. It was too much work." And "We wanted Gheorghe Muresan (to play a part) but he was in Yugoslavia or somewhere and didn't have a phone! So we got the other guy, what's his name Shawn (Bradley). And he was pretty good. He was the only one of those guys who knew his lines."

* On whether he could still play in the NBA ("Hey, I've only got 9 fingers (referring to an injury he sustained in an accident with a cigar cutter) and I could still take most of those guys out there."

* His new movie, the IMAX format "Jordan to the Max" ("It's coming out in May. Everyone's gotta see it, it's going to be great!"

* Mugsy Bogues ("That little guy showed up to the set (of "Space Jam") and he couldn't walk! They had to film him from the waist up because he had to ride a cart and move his arms to make it look like he was walking.")

* And Patrick Ewing and the Knicks ("He's getting his game back now. They need him. He still has a lot of game left.")

After holding court with director Joe Pytka and Elway and several hangers-on, Jordan lit another Cohiba and took off for his dressing room.

Now I'm probably the last guy in this business that will stand there googoo-eyed and later call all my friends and yap about some celeb I had just photographed. (My motto is generally: "Been there, done that!") But witnessing that familiar fade away 20 footer, the swoop to the rim for the two-handed dunk and the constant trash talk was a joy.

Photo by Joe Gosen/Reno Gazette-Journal

Photo by Joe Gosen/Reno Gazette-Journal
Jordan was filming his part for a commercial promoting a new online sporting good venture, And during a break, Pytka, who was egging Jordan on for a game throughout the afternoon, yelled "How about some two-on-two?"

A nod by Jordan and the game was on.

Pytka, the 61-year-old director of "Space Jam" and countless award winning commercials is a hoop junkie. Jordan confided, "He doesn't go anywhere with out a hoop. You could be filming in the middle of the ocean and Joe will have a hoop set up somewhere."

Pytka yelled for a grip (or gaffer or best boy I always get those jobs mixed up) he usually plays with and commanded that some music be cranked up (a loud, bass and drum-heavy techno-rock riff that seemed to repeat every 20 seconds). Jordan was partnered with his 6-1 stand-in (who performed the same job in "Space Jam").

The play-by-play was captured on my two DCS520s and scrolling through the images on camera's LCD screens was like watching a bizarre ESPN highlight show staccato frames of Jordan driving, laughing, shooting jumpers and dunking.

Just as suddenly as it had begun the "game" ended when the assistant director yelled that a high-speed camera had been reloaded and the crew was ready to resume filming. For the record Jordan's line went something like this: 18 minutes, 26 points (including two slams dunks), 5 steals and enough trash talk to make Allen Iverson blush.

Michael: It was nice to see you play once more. But I don't think it'll be that easy trying to turn around the Wizards. Good luck. You'll need it.

Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

* * *

For our first issue of 2000 (hey the new millennium is REALLY next year!) we have a great Super Bowl preview from Ben Gray and David Tulis of the Atlanta Journal Constitution (which includes some *very* good news about the lighting in the Georgia Dome). AJC AME John Glenn announces the details for a sports shooters' Super Bowl bash at Daddy Dz (a GREAT BBQ joynt in Atlanta).

Rick Rickman has another installment of his regular column on the business of photography and we reprint a fabulous profile on 49ers and A's team photographer Michael Zagaris. And finally, if you're even THINKING of making the switch from film to digital, you have to read our piece by the Contra Costa Newspapers' Alan Greth on their recent conversion to all digital.

So sit back, adjust the contrast on your monitor, set the VCR to tape the "Soprano's" and enjoy Sports Shooter v.16.

(Robert Hanashiro)

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