Growing up in Somers Point, N.J., the busiest week of the summer was the annual LPGA tournament at the Sands Country Club, owned by Sands Hotel and Casino in nearby Atlantic City. In the days leading up to the tournament, there would be celebrity golf events with members of the Philadelphia Flyers, Hall of Fame baseball players and other celebrities the casino paid to play golf, interact with the guests and gamble.
What made the summer of 1985 different was that Michael Jordan was among the celebrities!
In my neighborhood, everyone's favorite basketball player was Julius Erving of The Philadelphia 76ers. Jumping in a spinning circle while saying "Doctor J!" and throwing a dream towards the backboard was part of growing up. I and a growing number of other kids, instead of saying "Doctor J!" were now saying "Air Jordan!"
My younger brother Ian, then age 8, and I spent most of our time riding bikes all over Somers Point. We knew the golf course well. We were smart enough to stay off the course during the summer, but in the winter we would ride the fairways, circle the greens and bunkers and race through the tunnels under Route 9.
I had a perfect little notebook for autographs. I found the best two pens in the house and rallied Ian out the door. As we were leaving, our friend Ronny pulled up on his bike. He had never heard of Michael Jordan. He was only interested in hanging out. I didn't think Ronny was capable of comprehending the magnitude of this mission. But we let him tag along.
The plan was to stay as incognito as possible and circle the golf course until we found Jordan. We would shadow Jordan's golf cart and when the appropriate moment arrived, I'd say hello and present Jordan with the notebook and pen.
The first place we went was to the clubhouse. "Hey, Mr. Donaldson!" Ronny yelled across the parking lot. "We came to meet Air Jordan!"
"Hey Ronny!" I had never seen Coach Donaldson in such a good mood. I sensed it was because from now on, he would be able to tell everyone about the time he talked basketball with Michael Jordan.
"Well, you boys missed the autograph session," said Mr. Donaldson. "Michael, Wayne, they're out golfing now."
Oh, right. Wayne Gretzky was here, too. There weren't many hockey fans in our seashore town except for our neighbors, the Welshes. They always said that Gretzky wasn't the fastest or strongest guy, but he knew where the puck was going to be and made the right move at the right time. The Great Gretzky always knew what was going to happen before anyone else. I didn't understand.
Ronny and Ian did their best to keep up with me as we raced around to different areas of the golf course. We passed a woman in high heels emptying things out of her car: four stacks of paper cups, two large packages of napkins, four bags of ice, two cases of RC Cola.
"Hey Ronny!" she said.
"Hi, Mrs. DeRichie," said Ronny.
"Walk with me over to the refreshment stand. I have a note for your Mom."
Ronny could be a little annoying. He was talkative and agreeable to a fault among kids. Adults loved him. Ronny quickly let out we were hoping to get Jordan's autograph.
"You don't want to bother them while they're playing," said Mrs. DeRichie. "It's hot today. You boys come and wait under this tree."
We left our bikes by the road and helped Mrs. DeRichie carry the ice, soda and paper cups across the golf course towards an area with a bar, picnic tables and coolers filled with beer, soda and water. My instincts have always been to chase things down instead of waiting around for them to come to me, but Mrs. DeRichie was right. This beverage station was adjacent to multiple tees and greens. Every golfer on the course would be here sooner or later.
To be continued in Teague Alexy’s next column Aug. 21. Hey! If you waited three years between Star Wars episodes V and VI to find out what happened to Han Solo, you can wait a month to find out what happened to young Teague.