I had never been much of a Michael Jordan fan. It was 1996, and up until that point, while I'd always appreciated what he did on the court, he had killed my teams too many times in the clutch. It was hard to enjoy his work due to the fact that, as a fan, it constantly came at my expense.
So when a friend called me in 1996 to ask for a Jordan-related favor, I sort of rolled my eyes. At that point in my advertising career, I was creating commercials for the Los Angeles Clippers. This friend thought it might be possible, through my affiliation with the Clips, to arrange a meeting for this kid he'd heard about who lived for Jordan.
As I was told, this little boy was very ill, so I made the call to the team. They explained that Jordan was too in demand, too impossibly over-committed. To Jordan's credit, he arranged several dinners and events a year to make sure he got to as many kids as possible, but on game days while on the road, he was off limits (totally understood).
Weeks went by, and a day before the Clippers-Bulls game, I got a call. The day before, the Bulls had come to L.A. early to catch a Lakers game. While there, someone who'd heard of this request mentioned to Jordan the kid I'd described. And he said, "Set it up before the game so we can meet." And all of a sudden, we were on.
I called the parents of the child. I was to escort them to the arena for the meeting, but first, they asked if I could come over a few hours early the day of the game to meet their son, Bijan. He was wary of strangers, and for me to be a part of the evening, he needed a comfort level. So I went.
This lovely child, who I believe was about 11, was stricken with a grave disorder that had left him severely physically handicapped. But his mind was spectacular. Creative, intuitive, funny, aware of the reality of his situation—and a Michael Jordan freak. The afternoon hours I spent that day with him and his mom were incredible.
But then it was time to go to the game.
Bijan's dad had hired a limo to take us all out to the Sports Arena for a designated meeting with our contact at five-thirty. Deliberately, we didn't tell Bijan about meeting Jordan—it was simply too unpredictable an event to risk breaking his heart. As far as Bijan knew, we simply had great seats for the game.
The Bulls at that time were as hot as it gets—a traveling NBA circus with Rodman, Pippen, Jordan and a few others—and the scene at the Sports Arena bore that out. In those days, the arena was a ghost town for many a game, let alone hours before tipoff. But at five o'clock when we got there, it was madness. Thousands of people outside waiting for the six-thirty door opening, vendors selling bootlegged Jordan shirts, Rodman wigs—you name it.
We entered a side door and went to the gate where we were to meet the Clippers PR person at five-thirty. Bijan, whom we pushed along in a stroller-type device, stared wide-eyed at the crazy scene taking place around him.
Five-thirty came, and no PR person. Five-forty. Fivefifty. Six. "Thank goodness we hadn't mentioned this to him," I thought. I placed a call on a walkie-talkie, but before I got an answer, she arrived—looking worried. "Come on," she rushed us, "he's all set." (The team bus had been delayed, evidently.)
A few things now. We have to tell him, or we think the shock might be too much. (He had grown very tired, too, and needed to be woken up.) So as we walked, I whispered to him, "Bijan, something big is about to happen—the best thing in the world—just get ready, you are not going to believe this, buddy." And I, not even caring before about Jordan, was starting to get nervous.
We were led to a screened-off area near the locker room, a private "room" created for this event. We waited a few moments, then the door opened, and there he was: Michael Jordan.
He was told I was the contact, so he came over to introduce himself and as he did so, he was looking at Bijan. I know he didn't expect a child this seriously ill because his expression changed—he shifted into some higher-level "hero" persona. He bent down to Bijan's level, and for about 15 minutes, he controlled the flow of every molecule in the room. He held Bijan. Whispered to him how he wanted him to come visit in Chicago to meet his own little boy. Asked him questions and told him that, that evening, when he called his son at home in Chicago, he couldn't wait to tell him all about his new pal, Bijan. With all this, Bijan seemed to come alive. It was hard for him to speak, but he gave it his all.
Pictures were taken, then Jordan pulled me aside and said very seriously, "Look, you get these pictures developed—get two 8 × 10s and send them to this address."
"Two?" I asked, to be sure.
"Two," he said, including Bijan now. "One that I can sign and send to Bijan. And one that I can keep in my office—where only the pictures of me and my best buddies are allowed to hang."
The 350-pound security guy nearby had tears streaming down his face. We were all choked up. We were witnessing a combination of greatness and compassion like we'd never seen before.
Jordan signed a ton of autographs for the kid, including the red "23" jersey Bijan wore. We all hugged Jordan goodbye, and I said, "Thank you." He got this surprised look on his face and said, "Hey, man, this is my job."
At our seats near the Bulls bench soon after, Jordan came over for one last high-five with Bijan. Now he was suited up. Clark Kent had become Superman. And he lit up the tough fighting Clippers for 42 points.
Bijan died two weeks later. I went to the funeral because after just one night, his family felt like my family. (Those were some of the warmest, toughest people I've ever met.) Bijan's mom brought me back to see him before they closed the casket. And there he lay, peaceful in his signed Jordan "23" jersey. He is laid to rest a stone's throw from my dad at a cemetery in Southern California. Whenever I visit my dad, I always go visit Bijan. His plaque is engraved with a beautiful poem (that he wrote), and the corners are embossed with the Bulls logo.
I wrote Jordan a note about that, and while I'm not sure if he ever got it, it doesn't matter. He breathed life into this boy's soul on a night when he needed it most. He made everything better for a little while simply by being kind and using his gift in the best way possible. Michael Jordan made me and those I was with that wondrous night believe in magic.