While growing up on Chicago's South Side, SI reporter Marty Burns made regular pilgrimages with his father, Marty Sr., to Chicago Stadium to watch their basketball idol, Michael Jordan. One evening in the winter of 1989, the younger Burns was selected to compete in a three-point shooting contest during a timeout in a Bulls- Dallas Mavericks game, and despite being inappropriately attired in a wool sweater and loafers, Burns hit nothing but net. The capacity crowd roared, music blared, the exultant Burns peeked over his shoulder at Jordan and...and... Jordan was tying his shoes, totally unaware of the clutch trey. "For some reason I expected Jordan to rush right over in the middle of the game and give me a high five," Burns remembers. "I had to settle for a handshake from one of the Luvabulls cheerleaders" and a telephone as a prize.
It turns out that Jordan is one of a scant few Chicago sports icons whom Burns has never met, since he has worked for da Bears, da White Sox, da Cubs and da Blackhawks in the ticket office, and for da Tribune in the newsroom. Since moving to New York to join SI in 1994, Burns, 29, has made Chicago his Second City, writing stories for us on a new nine-hole golf course near the Loop, a kayak race that began on the Chicago lakefront and an account of Northwestern's upset of Notre Dame earlier this fall. (Burns had a particular insight into that contest, given that he earned his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and his graduate degree from Northwestern.) "Marty is a living, breathing encyclopedia of Chicago sports," says SI senior writer Alexander Wolff, "but his true love is basketball. When we play pickup games together I swear he's running Phil Jackson's triangle offense."
It seems fitting that one of Burns's roles at SI has been pursuing the elusive Jordan. Burns's first trip was a fruitless pursuit of Jordan as he left the White Sox and prepared to return to the Bulls last March. Burns also contributed his impressions of Jordan's 55-point game last season against the Knicks for Wolff's story in this issue, which begins on page 108. Burns was supposed to cover that game, but he mistakenly wasn't given a credential to enter Madison Square Garden and was forced to watch Jordan's big night on television.
At least when Burns returned home that night he was greeted affectionately by his roommate, a frenetic mutt given to him by his family a few years ago to help shake the doldrums of a Bulls playoff defeat. "When I first met the dog he jumped two feet in the air and had his tongue hanging out," Burns says. "I knew instantly what his name would be."
Happily, these days Burns never has to look beyond his own apartment to find Jordan.