After one of our tennis matches I told Graham about the birthday gift and asked him to watch me shoot at our sports club. I warmed up at the three-point line (22 feet) without great success, but then hit 5 of 7 from 36 feet, followed by 1 of 4 from half-court.
"Do you know how difficult it is to do what you just did?" Graham asked incredulously. To be honest, I was amazed too. As I said, I can shoot long-range, but that was about as well as I had ever done.
Now I was really excited.
My next coach was former Chicago Bear great Walter Payton. We met, purely by chance, in early March on a flight to Detroit. I told him about the Shot and the crowd and the Knicks and how I planned to channel my nervousness into anger at Pat Riley's storm troopers. I thought that would help get my mind off the challenge of the moment.
"Don't do it," said the man known as Sweetness. "I never focused on the opposing team or the crowd. In tough situations I always focused on my mechanics. Sometimes I tended to round off my cuts; so in those pressure moments, I'd just focus on squaring them off. My advice: Practice at the United Center on game day, focus on your mechanics, and then try to enjoy the experience."
Now I was really excited. And scared.
How could I avoid the Knicks? I would be shooting at their end of the court. And how could I practice at the United Center on game day?
Fortunately the Bulls gave me a practice opportunity on April 1, two weeks before showtime. I took along my two daughters, ages 8 and 11, who are rabid Bull fans just like their dad. When else would they get a chance to see their father on the same basketball court as You Know Who, who miraculously had just come out of retirement?
My practice session took place right after the Bulls' pregame shootaround, two hours before tip-off. As the players left for the locker room, I spotted then Bull guard B.J. Armstrong and told him about the Shot. Once he had stopped laughing at the sight of my skinny white legs in shorts, he sat with the girls while I took the floor.
My attitude was positive, because I had made 2 of 7 the day before at the sports club. I went to center court; the distance looked right. I promptly lofted three air balls.