Terry Francona was Michael Jordan’s manager during his time as a baseball player, and he has a fantastic story about a pickup basketball game with MJ.
Once upon a time, Terry Francona was a 33-year old minor league manager in the Chicago White Sox organization for the Double-A Birmingham Barons. The year was 1994, and Francona managed an outfielder by the name of Michael Jordan.
As Jordan described it in his new much-hyped documentary The Last Dance, he took an 18-month “vacation” away from basketball. There are highly speculated-about other reasons for the hiatus, but the death of Jordan’s father pushed him to pursue a childhood dream to be a baseball player. The pursuit didn’t last long, as Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls in April of 1995 and won three more NBA titles from 1996-1998.
Things have also worked out well for Francona, who has gone on to be one of baseball’s most successful managers of the last 15-20 years.
On the occasion of The Last Dance‘s release Francona has told an awesome story from Jordan’s season riding the buses in the minors. During a four-hour ride back to Birmingham, he and some coaches were arguing about who was the better basketball player. It was decided the matter would be settled on the court outside Francona’s apartment.
Naturally, Jordan would play in the pickup game.
"I’m really nervous about this. I’m 33 years old, a Double-A manager, and I’d like to keep going and maybe become the Triple-A manager at some point and not get fired. … There was a guy who was kind of big and strong and he was kind of getting physical with Michael. I remember being a little uncomfortable because this was not going in a good direction."
"Finally, Michael had enough. He got to about the top of the key and … he pointed to the guy and said, ‘I’m going right there.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh, this is not gonna be good.’ So I went over to set a pick … and he looked at me and said, ‘Get outta here.’ … He took one dribble, left the ground … and the next thing you know, the rim is bent, he slammed the ball through the chain net. He was standing over the guy who he knocked down. And he said, ‘Don’t ever talk to me in my house.’"
Francona added that Jordan suffered a dislocated pinky from a hard pass during the game, but “I kind of quietly put it back where it was supposed to be.”
Even playing a pickup game during his excursion as a minor league baseball player, Jordan couldn’t curb his hardcore competitive nature. Which comes as a surprise to exactly no one.