April 7. Cleveland game. I arrived at 5:15 p.m. As I walked to the court I noticed from a distance that there was only one Bull player on the floor taking practice shots. You guessed it.
Now I was scared...and delighted...and afraid to step on the floor.
It took me about 30 seconds to get over that. Michael Jordan was shooting at my basket, the west hoop that He would grow to hate for the rest of the season. I never met His gaze, nor He mine. To the best of my knowledge He did not know about the Shot or its charitable beneficiary, the facility named after His late father. He was shooting—and making—rainbows from the three-point line.
After my routine of shooting from 22 feet and then 36, I went to half-court, faced away from Him and put up a dozen shots. Eight hit the rim; one swished. I turned to see if He had noticed. Supposedly He sees all, but this evening He wasn't looking, and He left the court without speaking to anyone.
Lisa Harris, the Bulls' manager of client services, then wandered by, saying, "We're all nervous, Gene." She didn't explain whether they were nervous about my embarrassing myself or about my making them pay off.
"Lisa," I said, "this one is for you." And I banked one in. She was thunderstruck. "That's like a tree falling in a forest when no one's there," said the Bulls' longtime announcer, Johnny (Red) Kerr, also a witness. "Let's see you do it with a crowd." Thanks, Red.
Now, for sure, I would try. Nine days to go.
And then it was game day. Flowers arrived from Coach Graham. "Be like Mike and sink one," read his card. Later that morning I explained to my daughters about the crowd booing nonsports figures and asked if they wanted to sit close to the court or farther away. "Close," they said. I guess they like pressure too.
I also invited my 87-year-old mother to attend her first Bull game. She was ready, having just had double knee-replacement surgery. (Bill Cartwright, call her doctor.) By sheer coincidence, Ebert—my other significant other—was attending the game too, with a bunch of his relatives and friends. He would be seen booing me and turning his thumb down. Hey, Roger, meet Red Kerr.
At noon, 4½ hours before tip-off, I followed Payton's advice and went to the East Bank Club to practice with my regulation ball. Observing me shoot was basketball attendant Robert Coe. I hit the rim only once during my first set of three shots. "You're nervous, and your fingers are too close together on your shooting hand," Coe said. "Spread them far apart." I swished the next shot. Thanks, Robert.