I looked back at B.J. and the girls. Guess which one—and only one—was laughing.
"B.J., I made 2 of 7 yesterday at the East Bank Club," I told him.
"Dad," said my eight-year-old daughter, "that was yesterday."
"Yeah, Dad, that was yesterday," said Armstrong, still laughing. "Now try to make one in front of 24,000 people." He left for the dressing room.
Now I was scared...and humiliated.
At dinner before the game I spotted Bull owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who, were I to succeed in my mission, would donate the money in my name to the James Jordan Boys & Girls Club, soon to be built on Chicago's West Side. "You've had guys pull out of deals before," I said pathetically, sucking up with a reference to Horace Grant's controversial departure for Orlando after the '93-94 season.
"Hey, whatever you want to do," Reinsdorf replied. "Don't feel like you have to embarrass yourself."
At the game that night I was still reeling from what had happened during my practice session. I may be many things, but I've never been a choke artist. I thrive under pressure. Ten years earlier, when David Letterman had asked Roger Ebert and me to shoot free throws to settle a difference of opinion about a movie, I threw up bricks during rehearsal but hit 2 of 3 on camera. Ebert did just the opposite, striking out on the telecast. I love pressure.
Before tip-off I confessed my failure to Tom Dore, the affable Bull broadcaster. "I know what went wrong," he volunteered. "The NBA ball is heavier than what you've been practicing with."
The following morning, 14 days before the Shot, I spent $64.94 on a regulation NBA leather ball. Yes, it was heavier, but I compensated with a more vigorous thrust on my one-handed push. That day at the club I hit often enough to ask the Bulls for one more practice session on their court.