Amid video-game-promoting assertions of his own individual primacy and his unfamiliarity with twerking, Hall of Famer and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan related a story earlier this week about having gone head-to-head with a brash young thing named O.J. Mayo at his annual Flight School camp. The meeting came back when the Milwaukee Bucks guard was still a heavily hyped high-school student sorting through scholarship offers from big-name programs; he'd eventually choose USC, spend one year in L.A. and enter the draft, going third overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves before being swapped for No. 5 pick Kevin Love in an eight-player deal.
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Here's Jordan's memory of the showdown:
"In front of my camp, he starts this thing: 'You can't guard me, you can't do this,'" Jordan said. "I've got my campers here, so obviously I can't really go where I want to go because of my camp, so I stop the camp, send the kids to bed, and we go back to playing and he starts this whole thing that, 'You can't guard me, you can't do this,' and finally I said, 'Look, you may be the best high school player, but I'm the best player in the world. From this point on, it’s a lesson.' And from that point on, it was a lesson.
"He never won a game. I posted him up. I did everything. If I could ever show you that film ... If you could ever ask him, ask him about the thing that happened at my camp."
Since the Bucks had just opened training camp, media members soon obliged M.J.'s request, leading to O.J. sharing his side of the story:
Well, I happened to be the only high school player there. It was mainly freshmen in college. And so [Jordan] came on the court and he guarded me, so I was like, "Man, he must think I'm ... not the strong link over here." I got it going a little bit, and obviously, it's any ballplayer's dream to play against Mike — I couldn't tell you how many times I did his move after the finals the next day in the rec center and stuff. I got a few buckets, and I think the campers knew I was the only high school kid, so they got rowdy a little bit and we got a little bit of jawing.
I think we played two games — I think we split one and one. It was a team game. And then he said, "OK, now let me handle my business," and he looked me in my face [...] He said, "I need all the campers and everybody to leave. Let's clear the gym." I said, "Oh, man."
We continued playing pickup and, you know, Mike was Mike. You know, he was jawing a little bit, and he was really getting into me defensively. He was backing me down and saying, "You better scream for Mama. Ma-ma. Ma-ma." Hit the famous fadeaway on me, and then I said, "OK, OK, you got it going." He said, "Hey, young fella, let me tell you something." He said, "You may be the best high school player in the world, but I'm the greatest ever. Don't you ever disrespect the great like that."
At the end of the day, people ask, "Why would you talk smack to the GOAT? Why would you talk smack to Mike?" At the end of the day, it's still basketball. You know, you definitely respect everything Mike's done for the game, but when you're a young buck and you get a chance to go at the top, I kind of had the mentality that I had everything to gain and nothing to lose. And, you know, Mike did what he had to do.
If, as Mayo tells Bucks broadcaster Jim Paschke, the game took place before Mayo entered his junior year of high school, which would have been the summer of 2006, pegging him at 18 years old. That'd put Jordan — who, as you might have heard, turned 50 back in February — at 43. But testimonials can only tell us so much about the kind of work Jordan was putting in at 43 — what did the "lesson" actually look like?
Well, now we know, thanks to Larry Brown Sports, which shared video of M.J. and O.J. squaring off late Wednesday night:
A tipster who was at the camp emailed LBS to confirm the story.
“When I read the story and saw the MJ interview on your site, I quickly realized I had witnessed and recorded MJ’s story. It was surprising how accurate MJ’s memory was too,” our tipster said.
The video above is recorded from the night Jordan schooled Mayo at his basketball camp at UCSB. Our tipster believes the year was 2006 (Mayo graduated high school in ’07). Our tipster says other players on the court that day included future NBAers Jerryd Bayless, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Jared Dudley, Coby Karl and Julian Wright.
In the video, the first clip is from a game Jordan played in front of the whole camp. After that clip comes four highlights from the game where Jordan taught Mayo the lesson. You can see Jordan beat Mayo in every way possible in the game.
Including — as you see at just after the 1:10 mark — "the famous fadeaway." Just plain mean, and just (about) as clean as it was back in the prime Mike was so fondly recalling as he conjured up prospective one-on-one opponents to promote "NBA 2K14."
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Assuming that 2006 timeline is correct, Jordan was three years removed from his last NBA action with the Washington Wizards when he worked Mayo over. It's been a full decade now, but that hasn't stopped rumblings about the ever-competitive Jordan actually making good on the threat of coming back at 50 that he made during his infamous Hall of Fame induction speech, even if only for one game.
While such a limited return engagement is, of course, incredibly unlikely for a wide variety of reasons — chief among them being that Jordan is, y'know, FIFTY YEARS OLD — it would obviously be a spectacle unlike just about anything the NBA's seen in the recent past, and Jordan's choice of opponents (the Miami Heat, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? the Los Angeles Lakers, after Kobe Bryant's return?) would be fascinating. And though it'd never happen in a million years, it's kind of fun to envision Jordan choosing to suit up one more time to take on the Bucks, just to give an in-his-prime version of Mayo one more shot. (Preferably, of course, that fadeaway.)