A Parent’s Love of the Game 

By Rabbi Jamie Gordon 

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It was a meeting in which we were both in the same place for the same reason.  We were on equal footing, so to speak. The venue was a small gymnasium in a high-class, quaint suburb of Chicago. The reason why Michael Jordan and I were there was to watch our daughters, both junior high students, play basketball. That day, I saw MJ in a totally new light, which earned him even greater respect in my eyes.  

For years, it was rumored that Michael Jordan, on occasion, would show up at games when his sons and daughter played against the Jewish parochial school that my children attended. As a superstar who cherished his privacy, it was known to all that Jordan followed a certain protocol as a sports parent. His modus operandi included arriving late and leaving early. This, of course, sent the message to those in attendance that Mr. Jordan did not want to draw any attention away from his children. Like the other proud parents, MJ was there strictly to show support for his child.    

I also have a tendency of running late (and sometimes leaving early), but clearly for other reasons. That evening happened to be one of those times. Arriving about five minutes after tipoff, before I could enter the gym, I was greeted by my father, a proud grandfather of one of the players on the visiting team, who told me excitedly in simple, clear Hebrew:  Mikhael po! – “Michael is here!” I did not immediately comprehend about which “Michael” my dad was referring until I entered the gym and sat in the seat which my parents saved for me in the second row of the bleachers. Sitting directly in front of me was the legend. But today he was just one of the dads.    

Squeezed into the tight space in the bleachers, I was so close to the greatest hoopster in the history of basketball that I could almost see my reflection in MJ’s cleanly shaven bald head. Although it was tempting to ask him for an autograph or engage him in simple “fan’s conversation,” I respected Mr. Jordan’s privacy and vowed that any exchanges that I would have would be strictly in my capacity as a father of one of the players.    

My daughter, Rita, who wore jersey #33 and was our team’s point guard, knew who Jasmine’s father was, but treated him like any other parent. When she needed to inbound the ball, Rita simply stood in front of Mr. Jordan, pretending that he was just another anonymous parent in the stands, who had to move his feet so that she could stand out-of-bounds and pass the ball to a teammate.  When Jasmine Jordan, went to the free-throw line and missed a shot, instead of showing disappointment or dismay, her dad had a big smile on his face laughing with (NOT at) his daughter who appeared, that day, not to be playing at the top of her game. 

Towards the end of the game, I finally broke my silence and said to Michael Jordan, “Your daughter and her team played a good game.” Without missing a beat, Mr. Jordan responded, “So long as they have fun.” Rita, who happened to play her best game at the junior high level that day, received the ultimate compliment when the legendary Michael Jordan told her “Great game, 33!”  

Although Rita’s basketball career continued for nearly an additional decade, as she played varsity high school and NCAA Division III ball, the greatest compliment that she ever received from any coach, fan or parent, was when she was in eighth grade. It came from the world’s all-time greatest basketball player.  

Michael Jordan is known for many things, including his passion for the game of basketball and his fiercely competitive spirit. When it comes to being a sports parent, Mr. Jordan showed me that he was on par with the best of dads. The great Michael Jordan realized that, at that level of youth sports, being competitive meant encouraging your child to enjoy the game for the sake of the joy of the game itself.  

Divided into 30 easy-to-read chapters, PRAY BALL 2!! explores such topics as: (1) My  Four Levels of Sportsmanship; (2) Enforcing Sportsmanship; (3) The Causes of and How to Prevent Bad Sportsmanship; and (4) Sportsmanship Awards and Inspirational Quotes. 

Sports figures used to illustrate (positive) aspects of sportsmanship (more than 150), include: Michael Jordan, Bill Walton, Coach John Wooden, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, sisters Serena and Venus Williams, and collegiate softball players Sara Tucholsky and Mallory Holtman. Included in the book are stories from all levels of competition, from youth sports to top-tiered professional competition. Figures in Jewish history cited in this book (more than 150) include: Biblical heroes Abraham and Sara, King David and Jonathan; Talmudic figures Rabbi Akiva, his students and his wife Rachel; Sages Hillel and Shammai , and Nachum Ish Gamzu ; and such heroes from modern Jewish history as Anne Frank, Professor Nechama Leibowitz and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Not afraid to take on controversial topics, the book examines the challenges that brain injuries bring to life after sports, and how sports is compromised by the use of illegal steroids and other PEDs.   

Written especially for sports fans and athletes (boys, girls, men & women) of all ages (12–120), in addition to being an attractive gift item, this book is intended to be used as a textbook/curriculum for youth sports programs in Jewish schools (physical education courses, team sports and intramural competitions), youth groups, summer camps and Jewish Community Centers (year-round and Maccabi competitions).  

The book includes a 16-page color photo insert of sports figures and figures in Jewish history.  The dust-jacket covers (front and back) are shot on the Chicago Bulls’ home court at the United Center. 

PRAY BALL 2!! can also be used as a fundraising gift item for Jewish organizations.  

Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the Team Spirit Institute (TSI), a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation/organization, and will be used to help fund the creation/implementation of supplemental educational materials and future books in these series.   

For further information please contact the author at:                                               [email protected] or visit: www.TeamSpiritInstitute.org.