With no new live sports to speak of, owing to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like just about everyone is tuning in on Sunday nights to watch “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Perhaps counterintuitively, one person not caught up on every episode that’s aired thus far is one of Jordan’s former Bulls teammates, Mike Brown.
While Utah Jazz fans know and love the “Brown Bear” for the five seasons he spent in Salt Lake City as a backup big man, he actually spent the previous two years — the first two of his NBA career — with Bulls, back in 1986-87 and ’87-88.
He wasn’t willfully ignoring the series or anything, he told The Salt Lake Tribune — his plate had just been so full with other projects that he simply forgot when it was starting. His friends didn’t let that last long, however.
“After the first episode, I didn’t watch, but I got about eight texts. And guys is like, ‘Hey! I see you at practice! I see you at practice!’ They explained to me where I popped up in ‘The Last Dance.’ They said, ‘Jordan made an and-one and then he ran over to the sideline and gave you a high-five!’ People were telling me all about it,” Brown explained with a laugh. “So what I did, I taped [episodes] 3 and 4, and you know, since my daughter’s a hooper, and we got a bunch of time here with the quarantine, we’re gonna sit down and watch it.”
Knowing that episodes 5 and 6 were to air on Sunday night, he said he had resolved to bang out one or two of the prior editions sometime before then.
He acknowledged that when he finally caught Episode 1, it brought back “a lot of memories” of a young team trying to find its way in the league, and having a good time doing it — playing cards on the plane rides, going out to clubs, et cetera, et cetera.
“I remember just how close we were because we only had one guy married on the team at the time, and that was [John Paxson]. Everyone else was single. So we hung out a lot in Chicago, and then we hung out on the road,” Brown said. “Compared to when I went to the Jazz — we all got families, more family-oriented, so we did a lot of hanging out on the road and less at home.”
Asked what it was like being a teammate of Jordan, who was entering his third season in the NBA when Brown was a rookie third-round pick out of George Washington (following a year playing overseas), the big man explained that his history with the man who would go on to become arguably the greatest player in all of basketball spanned back well before they were together on the Bulls.
Brown and Jordan actually first met as high school juniors at the Five-Star Basketball camp in Pennsylvania, as two of the premier prep players on the East Coast.
“That was my first glimpse of him — and he came up there and showed out,” Brown said.
Even then, he added, in a camp loaded with top prospects from “New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Philly” among other places, it was apparent that Jordan was special, that he stood out over everyone.
Well, not quite everyone, as it turns out.
“He ends up being camp co-MVP — it was him and a 6-9 forward, John Flowers, that was actually Mr. Indiana,” Brown recalled.
Jordan would go on to win a National Championship at North Carolina, as well as five MVPs and six NBA Finals titles with the Bulls. Flowers, meanwhile, enrolled at Indiana, transferred to UNLV and became a sixth-round pick of the Sacramento Kings in 1986, but never played a game in the NBA.
As Brown was named the camp’s “Best Rebounder,” he got to attend an awards ceremony with Jordan and the other honorees, and they formed a fast friendship. Their experience together at that camp and subsequent prep all-star games helped Brown get in good with one of the NBA’s burgeoning superstars once he joined the Bulls.
“We were tight,” Brown said. “… Now I'm on the Bulls, and we’re laughing about Five-Star. We had a little kind of extra stuff than the other guys, because we go back to that time as 16-year-olds.”
Even if their respective trajectories had changed in the intervening years. Brown played 62 games as a rookie and 46 in his second year, averaging 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.0 minutes as a Bull. And Jordan … well, he was Michael Jordan.
I just felt bad for him because he really couldn’t go anywhere he wanted to — because people just went crazy when they saw him. He would have to go to the supermarket 15 minutes before it closed and make a deal with management that he could shop longer than the store hours, because he couldn’t just go in like a normal guy.”
Still, Brown said, even as the guard was in the process of becoming a cultural supernova, he wasn’t in the habit of big-timing his teammates. If anything, Brown said, seeing Jordan develop into such an icon was difficult to watch not because of how it changed Jordan, but because of all it changed for Jordan.
“Jordan was a good guy, down to earth. I just felt bad for him because he really couldn't go anywhere he wanted to — because people just went crazy when they saw him,” Brown said. “He would have to go to the supermarket 15 minutes before it closed and make a deal with management that he could shop longer than the store hours, because he couldn't just go in like a normal guy.
“I’ve only seen two people like that, and that was Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson,” Brown added. “I went by his house and people are just sitting outside of his gate, waiting to see if the gate is going to open and the car is going to drive by. I had never seen nothing like it. With Jordan, if he crossed the street, he could actually cause a car accident, because people would be like, ‘Oh my goodness, Michael Jordan!’ and lose sight of the road.”
While Brown enjoys his tangential association with one of the most recognized athletes in all of sports, the real benefit of catching up on “The Last Dance,” though, is that it makes him reflect upon one of the best times in his life.
“It was great memories, being young and finally having my dream come true to play in the NBA and to do it with those guys,” Brown said.