Waiting for Jordan, part 2
In the summer of 1985 the author and his younger brother, Ian, and their friend, Ronny, infiltrated a celebrity golf tournament in New Jersey, seeking autographs from basketball great Michael Jordan. Part 1 appeared in the July 24 issue.
"Hey ya, Nancy," said Mrs. DeRichie. "This is Barbara's kid, Ronny and his little friends. They're gonna hang around a while. They won't be a bother."
Nancy babbled nervously about how we could not touch anything, how this place was not for kids, not to go near the bar and not to disturb the golfers. Soon Nancy switched to worrying about if the mayonnaise was cold enough and how the pretzels might go stale in this humidity.
I was careful to stay out of everyone's way, but I couldn't stop pacing. I was eager for Jordan to arrive. Mrs. DeRichie pointed out a few people I should ask for autographs. Some guy named Bob Feller, a nice old man named Warren Spahn, a Hall of Fame football player named Hugh McElhenny, a retired hockey guy named Phil Esposito. Our dad would know who these guys were.
"Can you get Gretzky's autograph for me?" Ronny asked me. "I'm over here with Dan Marino's brother!"
Ronny had befriended a wise-cracking adult who advertised himself as Dan Marino's brother. If this guy was Dan Marino's brother, I was a crocodile's cousin. But the man did sneak Ronny a cold soda and was including him in his gathering by the bar. Ronny had put us in a great position, and his casual conversations with the adults gave the impression we belonged.
If Jordan had arrived first, we wouldn't have waited around for Wayne Gretzky. But when his golf cart pulled up, I gave Ian my extra pen and we walked over to greet him.
"Can you sign three autographs for us?" I wasn't nervous talking to Gretzky. He didn't look the part of a world famous athlete. He was kinda tall. He had no muscles. He kinda looked like our neighbor, Joe Mackin.
"Three autographs for two people?" asked Gretzky with a smile.
"Yeah." Ian rolled his head towards Ronny. "Our friend probably won't have time for Jordan, either. He's too busy talking to some guy who says he's Dan Marino's brother."
With the exception of Nancy's babbling, everyone seemed at ease with The Great One's presence. He didn't talk loud or laugh loud. When he smiled I noticed he had more teeth than any hockey player I'd ever seen.
Gretzky signed our three autographs, chatted with the other adults and slammed down a roast beef sandwich with cool mayo. After a few minutes I forgot Gretzky was still hanging around. I was looking down the fairways for Jordan.
"Since you like basketball, you should get that gentleman's autograph." Mrs. DeRitchie pointed to the tallest man I had ever seen. "His name is Elgin Baylor." I had never heard of him, but took her advice and walked over with my pen and notebook.
"That is not yours!" Nervous Nancy yelled. I had no idea what would make Nancy disturb the peace she held so precious. Oh, boy. Ian had helped himself to one of the icy-cold sodas that were for the golfers.
"Dump it out and throw it away!" Nancy was really making a scene.
I quickly went over to stick up for my little brother. Ian was only eight and all those icy cold sodas looked really good on this hot day. She didn't have to berate him in front of Dan Marino's brother. I wanted to rescue Ian from Nancy's tirade, but couldn't get a word in. I could only await our fate. She was going to throw us out before Jordan arrived.
"I told him he could have it."
I turned around to see who said it. It sounded like ... I couldn't believe it. It was The Great One. Gretzky had spoken.
When I saw Nancy's jaw drop, I realized my mouth was also hanging open. Ian and I were the only ones who knew Gretzky did not actually tell Ian he could have the soda. Dang.
"I am soooo sorry!" spewed Nancy. "I just thought that ... it's just that the sodas are for the ... I am soooo sorry."
"No problem." Gretzky, eased into the golf cart passenger seat and glided away. "Thanks for the sandwich."
Wow! Neighbor Joe Mackin never had a smile like that.
"Oh, my goodness." Nancy now turned her attention to me. "You must be thirsty, too. Do you like RC Cola?"
We did end up meeting Jordan but nothing really happened, besides some small talk and an autograph. Meeting Jordan wasn't as exciting as the anticipation of meeting Jordan.
You don't see much RC Cola around these days. It always had a strange thing about it, a bit of an aspirin-like aftertaste. But an icy cold RC sure tasted good on that hot summer day in the shade of that big tree as Ian and I looked down the fairways and into the blue skies. Waiting for Air Jordan to come into view.