It’s that time of the year – Michael Jordan Flight School (MJFS) @ the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s the 20th year of the camp and if anyone wants to know how powerful MJ and his “brand” are – all these many years later – consider that not one of the kids has ever seen Michael Jordan play! His last year in the NBA was 2003, meaning that even the oldest kids (17-18), were only 5-6 years old when he played. And that was for the Wizards, not the zenith of his career.
There will be approximately 800 youngsters at each session, the first one for boys only; the second co-ed – and for children from other countries, e.g. last year we had over 200 kids from China alone. The camp is split into eight leagues, with eight teams in each league (based mainly on age, but also ability). This is the first point of contention with which we have to deal. Parents want their boys and girls (mainly boys) to be in certain leagues – usually an older one because his (or her) advanced skill level – and let the league’s commissioner (I happen to be one of the eight commishes) know in no uncertain terms about their child’s prowess.
Since I worked with parents of players (or students) for 42 years, the issues can be resolved with a modicum of diplomacy. Not so shockingly, there is quite a chasm between the youngster’s actual skill level and the parent’s evaluation. Check-in is in the morning. Shortly after noon, followed by a quick orientation, leagues are formed, practice games played (with coaches doing the best they can to balance teams). Team selection is completed the first night of each session, in time for the second most treasured moment of camp – Picture Day. Michael takes a picture with every team (64), each coach (64) and commissioner (8). Also included in picture day are, the trainers, dorm people, food service people, equipment folks – and, somehow, MJ looks exactly the same in every one. Same smile, same sparkle in his eye. I have never seen him have to redo a picture in all the years I’ve been there. One of my colleagues and I marvel at how a guy can walk into a gym, wearing a t-shirt and jeans – and look like a million bucks.
Celebrity camps aren’t exactly a new phenomenon but MJFS is the standard. Jordan speaks to the campers a minimum of once a day, and often twice. He’ll give instructions on shooting one morning, free throws on another, run contests (in which winners receive shoes for themselves, their friends, occasionally for their whole team). Evenings are for competitions, sometimes MJ will select a camper as his partner. One highlight is the Q&A session at night which usually consist of the same ol’ questions, although very once in a while, he’ll have to field one from out of left field. (Somehow, during the day, he squeezes in 36 holes of golf.)
The greatest event for everybody concerned, with the exception of MJ, is the last morning when everyone connected with the camp gets an autograph from the G.O.A.T. We have calculated that on that final day, Michael signs upwards of one thousand autographs – with never a reported case of writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel. The cost for a session is in the neighborhood of $800 which, when the math is done, makes for . . . a whole lot of money. Since the camp’s inception, Michael Jordan has taken no money from it, i.e. his “share” is donated.
That is a major reason MJ is known by letters:
This blog will return Wednesday, August 12.