The recently concluded Michael Jordan Flight School, held on the campus of the University of California-Santa Barbara, has had some eventful moments during its 17 year run. One of the most incredible occurred just a few days ago during Michael’s free throw lecture. He’ll briefly discuss how to shoot a free throw, why it’s so important and the issue of making the pressure shot.
He’ll ask for a volunteer to come up and, in front of the entire camp - about 800 campers, the staff and the parents who choose to attend (after all, it’s they and not the kids who have actually seen MJ in action) - shoot one free throw. Make it and the camper wins a free pair of shoes. Sometimes, it’s shoes for him (or her during the second coed session) and two of the successful shooter’s friends. It’s amazing to see campers years apart in age, who have never even met the kid who just made the shot, waving frantically when it’s time to “pick two of your best friends.”
Michael quickly ramps up the reward package by saying, “Make this one and you and your whole team (of 12 kids) get free shoes.” Often, he’ll pick parents from the crowd (the balcony of UCSB’s Events Center). Due to its location, there have been many “celebrity” kids attend the camp over the years. Naturally, the children of basketball stars have been part of the camp. The children of Gary Payton, Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin and Alonzo Mourning to name just a few. And, of curse, Michael’s three. From outside the world of basketball, the camp has had the sons of Will Smith, Kyle Massey (Corey on That’s So Raven) Keyshawn Johnson and Master P, aka Lil’ Romeo.
This year was no exception. One of the youngsters was Terrell Owens’ boy. When MJ spotted TO, he asked him if he had a son in camp. TO said yes and Michael, who still enjoys “challenging” people, had him come out. TO obliged and as he walked toward the fee throw line, Michael had him point to his son. TO waved at his son who was in the Pac-12 conference (11-year-olds) which was seated on the floor diagonally across the court from the basket MJ was using for the demonstration.
He then told the former UT-Chattanooga hoopster (and a pretty good one) that he was to shoot one free throw. If he made it, the entire Pac-12 (actually only eight camp teams) would receive free shoes. As someone who knows how to captivate a crowd, Michael looked up to the adults spoke into the microphone, “How many people think TO is going to make it?” After a minute, he followed up with, “Probably a better chance of an airball.”
Just as TO was ready to release the shot, Michael yelled into the mic, “FOR THE WHOLE PAC-12!” To his credit, TO was true. Right down the middle. Swish. He turned to the Pac-12 and held up his arms in victory. Every kid in the league - 96 of them - took off to “thank” their benefactor. It looked exactly like a college game that was won on a shot at the buzzer with the students storming the court. Only through a microscope.
Of course, none of them could reach up to high five TO so guys were hugging him. And when 96 people are on the run, and they hug you, even little ones, sooner or later you’re going down. Before long there was a 97 person dogpile with the Seattle Seahawks’ latest acquisition on the bottom. Due to the spontaneity, it was a truly amazing sight.
Later on, because my league (I’m one of eight “commissioners”), was playing on the main two courts, I found myself seated next the Pac-12’s favorite free throw shooter. “TO,” I said to him, “did they get you to sign that waiver?” Having never met me, he had a curious look on his face. I continued, “You know, so you won’t sue the camp, claiming you got injured in that massive pile up.”
He smiled and said he had no plans on taking legal actions. I told him, “We appreciate that because the guy who owns this camp has a lot of money.” He just flashed one of those famous smiles.
Arthur Frank Burns once said:
“Spontaneity has its time and its place. “