Hoopy Ever after; Michael Jordan's Switch to Baseball Novice from Basketball Superstar Is the Subject of an Engrossing New Film

Article excerpt

MICHAEL Jordan's sporting life was all about flying high.

He made his name with gravity-flouting slam dunks and enjoyed sky-rocketing salaries, living at the top of his sport for more than a decade.

But it was only when the basketball superstar's life hit its lowest ebb that it really got interesting.

In 1993, the double Olympic "dream team" gold medallist and six-time NBA champion found his world falling apart when his beloved father, Jim Jordan, was shot dead in a car jacking attack in North Carolina.

The trauma affected Michael so badly that, at the very peak of his powers and fame, he retired from his game and made the most shocking announcement in the history of American sport.

Michael "Air" Jordan was giving up basketball to try to become a baseball player.

The impact of the story was huge - imagine if Cristiano Ronaldo quit Real Madrid to play rugby league or if Andy Murray wanted to star for Hibs.

The sporting world reeled at the seeming arrogance of the man who felt he could skip two decades of training, coaching and practice and parachute his way into a different sport, so conspiracy theories, including gambling accusations, sprung up.

But now, almost 17 years later, the story has been told thanks to a documentary film from the director who has made the most authentic sports feature films of the past 20 years.

Ron Shelton, an ex-minor league baseball player, made his name with sports comedy dramas Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump and Tin Cup.

Shelton, 65, has always been fascinated by the story of the switch and, when he was invited to make a movie for sports channel ESPN, he knew what subject to pick.

The result is Jordan Rides The Bus, which, in the space of 60 minutes, manages to dispel the conspiracy theories and look inside the troubled psyche of the sportsman, with the inside track from friends, reporters and team-mates.

Ron said he was delighted to get his teeth into the story and help present the truth to sports fans.

He added: "I decided I wanted to go back and look at it fresh, without any preconditions or bias.

"Michael doesn't like to do interviews but, when I wrote to him about the project, he gave me his blessing, which allowed me access to the NBA and his friends and team-mates. He is still so powerful today that if he says no, people won't talk.

"At the time, it was a huge story. It was also a huge shock and, like a lot of people, I thought it was the height of hubris and megalomania to think that he could become a baseball player.

"It was only after all these years and after examining it properly that I had a different appreciation of it and changed my view.

"To this day, every cab driver, butcher or man on the street still thinks that Michael Jordan left basketball because gambling forced him to leave.

"I thought that was part of it 15 years ago. But it's not true and I try to say it is nonsense in this movie."

As Ron's film explains, Jordan's baseball journey was sparked by his father's murder.

The loss of his dad made Jordan re-evaluate his life and he was inspired to live up to his father's ambition that his son become a baseballer.

Father and son had been huge baseball fans and, despite being converts to basketball, they would always joke and talk about swapping slam dunks for home runs.

And in October 1993 that's exactly what he decided to do. He retired from the Chicago Bulls side who had just won three titles in a row and signed for the Chicago White Sox - also owned by the Bulls' boss Jerry Reinsdorf.

The Sox farmed the then 31-year old-Jordan to one of their minor league sides, the Birmingham Barons, and when the season started in March 1994, all eyes were on the Alabama league side.

"Jordan is a celebrity superstar, but he is also a very complex guy," Ron confirmed. …