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Marcus Jordan was 16 years old when he first beat his dad at basketball.
He was a sophomore in high school. The game took place in the gym of his famous father's palatial Chicago house. Marcus, now 22, doesn't remember the score.
"I was so caught up in winning," he says, laughing. "It was a great feeling. I was really excited. It was like, 'I do know what I'm doing!' The time I spent practicing – it's kind of paying off."
What was Dad's reaction? He quickly moved to the top of the key, checked the ball and started a new game. The old man won.
They haven't played since.
"He walked away on top," Marcus says. "I hope I get another chance."
This story probably doesn't surprise a lot of fans. Michael Jordan is competitive to the point of being sinister. Remember his Hall of Fame speech in 2009? He devoted a curious amount of time to pouring salt on old wounds, baiting Bryon Russell and Jeff Van Gundy. When he addressed his family, Jordan said, "I wouldn't want to be you guys."
He had a point. Marcus Jordan grew up playing a sport his father owned, revolutionized and then lorded over. He had to share his father's name and time with the world. Asked for his favorite memories of his dad on Tuesday, Marcus mentioned being in the locker room after the Chicago Bulls won their fourth NBA title. He remembers all the media and the Champagne in his eyes. He was 6 years old.
Marcus' moment – beating the greatest player who ever lived when he was only 16 – was greeted by another game, a loss, and then the end of a budding father-son rivalry. Typical MJ.
While Michael famously got his late father an NBA championship trophy, which he clutched as he cried after winning it, Marcus has to figure out what to get the man who has literally everything. For his 50th birthday this weekend, Marcus is considering getting his dad a cigar torch.
"I want to get him something he'll use," Marcus says.
After the celebration, which will be at a Nike All-Star Game party in Houston, Marcus will be working on a business proposal for a clothing line he is calling Ordain. He wants his apparel to be edgy and comfortable, like Zara or H&M. He's going to present his plan to someone who has already revolutionized the fashion industry: Michael Jordan.
Yet a glimpse at Marcus Jordan is not a look at a bitter, put-upon young man. Marcus is excitable, personable, almost buoyant. His attitude today gives a hint of not only his life as Michael Jordan's son, but also a hint of a Michael Jordan that's more serene and compassionate than most of us imagine.
"Everyone thinks he's untouchable," says Tim Hardaway, Sr., another former guard who raised a basketball-playing son. "He's touchable."
Nobody knows that better than Marcus Jordan.
Marcus is out of basketball this season for the first time, after a solid but ultimately frustrating career as a guard at the University of Central Florida. Although he and older brother Jeffrey led their high school to their best-ever season, there was no NCAA championship for Marcus at UCF, no first-round NBA draft pick, no million-dollar contract. Marcus played well at UCF, averaging 13.7 points per game as a junior in 2011-12, and he led UCF to two of its biggest-ever wins, against Florida and Memphis, yet he didn't always have the best talent around him and didn't always have the best health.
Toward the end of what would be his final season, he found himself somewhat disaffected. His best friend, A.J. Rompza, had left the team, as did Jeffrey, who had come to play with Marcus in Orlando.
"My heart wasn't in it," Marcus says. "I didn't want to go through a year of not being fully committed."
So he walked away. He gave his scholarship back to UCF so another recruit could have it. He obviously doesn't have to work a day in his life, but he's still in business school at UCF, on course to graduate this August. He's focusing on hospitality management, which includes taking cooking classes. He's made steaks, soups. He's not at all afraid to work. "I love it," he says.
Before he left the game, Marcus had long talks with his dad about the decision. Although he learned from his father to "accomplish or fail trying," he says he felt only support throughout the process.
"He's always been there," Marcus says. "Anytime I needed [my parents] to fly down."
Even now, Marcus says he hasn't closed the door on playing again. He's spoken with his dad in the past year about entering the draft. "I haven't ruled it out," he says. "I'm still in shape. I wouldn't say my basketball career is completely over."
Throughout his own playing career, Marcus faced the inevitable comparisons to his father. "The constant scrutiny, always people watching," he says. But he handles it with aplomb.
Marcus deftly handled question after question about his dad (including for this story), walked around on campus getting the expectant looks, and found a way to balance the privilege of being Michael Jordan's son and the desire to be his own person. That began right away, as he wanted to wear his dad's Air Jordans on the court at UCF without interfering with his school's deal with adidas. Even Marcus' voice, gravelly and baritone, sounds so much like his dad's. He can have his own career but the comparison will always be there.
[Related: Slideshow: Air Jordans through the years]
Marcus says his dad has been helpful with that. When he's made the wrong kind of headlines, first by partying in a Las Vegas club at age 19, then by tweeting to a porn star, then last summer when he got into an altercation with two women outside an Omaha hotel during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, he says he was able to talk to his dad about the embarrassment. "He said he made mistakes, too," Marcus says. "Twitter wasn't around then. I just have to make an adjustment."
It's not that MJ was soft on his three kids. His own father had a military background, and that reflected in Michael as a parent.
"He was very similar," Marcus says of his grandfather, who was fatally shot when Marcus was very young. "Very stern. Focused and very determined. That's one of the things that got passed down to us." But when asked what kind of father he'd like to be, eventually, Marcus says, "Similar to how my dad is with me. Somebody you can always talk to."
The monster on the court is not the guy in the living room.
"I've never seen him not happy," Marcus says.
The two now have more in common than ever. For the first time, both are facing life without basketball. They each have time, talent and a lot of ideas. They also have a lot of pent-up competitiveness.
"I miss it," Marcus says. "I haven't been to any UCF games. I haven't watched them. It would kill me to watch."
Marcus gets some comfort in knowing his dad's the same way, also ready to lace 'em up again.
"It's funny watching him watch the Bobcats," Marcus says. "Seeing him talking to the TV."
So instead of basketball, the two watch a lot of old Western movies. They might put one on Sunday in Florida, where the family will go to celebrate the big day after the party in Houston.
Oh, and there will be one more activity. Marcus and his dad will face off again – in another sport.
"One time I'm gonna beat him," Marcus says, "on the golf course."
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