Michael Jordan played his last game in Detroit last night and someone emailed me and said they couldn’t find this on the site….I’m reposting it for them today……It’s not so much the story of Jordan, but of the things boys and men share…about my friend Morgan…….enjoy……vinman
Goodbye, Good Riddance Michael Jordan!!!!
(And please do not return)
Jordan Endures a Difficult Goodbye (washingtonpost.com) This was one ending in Michael Jordan’s storied career that did not end happily.
In his last game in Chicago, a game precluded by hype, interjected with hoopla and overrun with emotion, Jordan struggled and his Washington Wizards lost, 104-97, before a sold-out United Center crowd of 23,215 that opened the game clapping for Jordan and ended cheering for the home team.
“The loss is not fun,” Jordan, 39, said. “It wasn’t a good ending.”
Jordan, who plans to retire for a third and final time after this season, got a brief and final ovation when he checked out with 8.1 seconds remaining. But it paled in comparison to the cheers the crowd mustered for the Bulls, who, on his night, stepped out of his far-reaching shadow.………..
By Vincent J. Kern
The Vinman of Verbosity
Pinckney, Michigan — While residing in sunny California, “Little” Morgan Pesko was one of my best friends for about five years, but Michael Jordan was his hero.
I rented the guest house of Morgan’s parents wonderful historic home in La Mesa, California in the early 90s and he and his family became mine. Both homes were built in 1912 and had magnificent views of mountains east of San Diego and the sunset in the west. We were on top of a hill and could see 360-degrees and for miles on a clear day, which was often. Charlie Chaplan stayed in the my guest house when he visited the original owners and 75 years later there was still magic on that hill. Some nights, the misty orange lights from the mansions across the way on Mt. Helix sparkled like Christmas trees. Some days, the vantage point made one feel at the center of the city, the sound of the freeway and the sun and view creating a magical, warm buzz of life.
But nothing is more magical and warm than watching and being part of a young boy’s growth. From the day I moved in, I knew Morgan and I would form a close bond. Morgan’s dad was a Naval Executive Officer and travelled a lot, so he needed some grown up adult male conversation and approval from time to time. His brother was about eight years older, so Morgan was mostly in the way for Davin who was finding out about girls.
That left me, and I was honored to oblige Morgan in friendship, being a single guy with no kids. I, too had a gap in my life so far from home, friends and family and the Peskos often reached out to me in most generous ways. But I remembered how fortunate I was to have friends on my block when I was a kid, older guys to guide me and a dad who loved me enough to drive me all over the state for my sports and wanted to give something back.
He was the quintessential California Kid, but the cold-weather hockey and football that were part of my midwestern youth were replaced for him with skateboarding and year-round basketball on the small court by his garage. When I first met him, Morgan and his friends mostly stayed on the estate and played the kind of running around games boys do. When Morgan’s friends weren’t around he would often come by my open door and say hello, curious about the guy who lived in the house on his property. Sometimes we’d chat, mostly he wanted to show me his new Hot Wheels cars or his latest cool toy.
Day after day, I would see Morgan develop his interests in sunny California. From Hot Wheels to bicycles and skateboarding, these guys were passionate about their play time. They built ramps at the end of the driveway on a hill that led to a road that went downhill. The ramps propelled them high into the air and down into the cul-de-sac — FAST. Down, up into the sky and back uphill and down again they would go, along into their formative years. They found roller skates and skateboard jumping just as thrilling and flew through the air with elbow and knee pads.
Then, Morgan and his friends gravitated to the basketball court as well.
Among his young buddies, Morgan was the best. None of the other kids had his coordination, speed, intensity or natural talent and it was obvious he was hooked on basketball. But his older brother only toyed with Morgan on the few times he would stop and play. It was kind of sad to see Morgan be “the man” among his peers, then chide Davin into a two-on-two game only to have him stuff the little guy into his small space as only older brother can do. So, I began playing a little one-on-one with Morgan and played to his level just enough to help him play harder and improve. At first I let him win, but it became evident he was going to play me until he could beat me — then he’d show his brother who was the best.
It wasn’t long before he became hooked on Michael Jordan, too. Jordan was in his prime and Morgan and I had regular conversations about him because Morgan would come to my door in his Bull’s 24 jersey and tell me how many points MJ scored last night. I remember one morning Morgan pounded on my door at about 7:15 to hip me to the fact that Jordan has set a record of 64 points in one game!!!!!! “Vince, WAKE UP!!!!,” he shouted after sneaking around my door that was visible to him mom, to below my bedroom window. He was well-mannered, never used the word dude, and his mother taught him it was impolite to impose on me and she kept her eye on him.
So on it went…..MJ into basketball history with thousands of little boys and teens in tow wearing Bulls’ jerseys and wanting to “be like Mike” on the court. Morgan practiced and practiced his moves and even mastered the infamous tongue-hanging looks and “you can’t touch this” smiles that Jordan threw off on the court. Soon Morgan was playing me like a bull as he developed. Game after game, he improved, and soon he was in an organized league being coached. Even his brother, now in his later high school years stopped and watched Morgan’s talent as he played into the evenings underneath a flood light on the drive. Our games became more of a workout for me and soon, I really had to play well to beat the little guy who was still over 20 years my junior. And Davin began having to take his little brother’s lipping off at him because he could now back it up on the court.
We watched Jordan win his third NBA Championship with the Bulls in 1993 and I tried to explain the news about MJ’s dad being murdered in the off-season to Morgan. On we played….a 33-year old guy in whatever shirt he could find that still fit and a 10 year-old boy in a Michael Jordan jersey who was starting to play “just like Mike.”
Early in October that year, a strange thing happened. The greatest basketball player who had ever lived announced he was retiring, and not so strangely a little boy’s heart was broken. One morning, as I awoke to another brilliant sunrise to the east, I looked out to see the fire-red backdrop above the mountains and noticed Morgan’s silhouette in the tree down the hill a bit by the fence in my yard. He often went there for some quiet time and had a little blind set up so he could sit comfortably with his friends.
Having nothing else to do that morning, I walked outside to enjoy the warm Santa Anna winds in the morning before they became too hot to bear. I ambled down to see what Morgan was up to and noticed he had his basketball in his hand and his MJ jersey on.
“Early morning game?” I asked looking up.
He didn’t answer and just kept staring off into the red haze getting brighter over the mountains. He was obviously sad and depressed about something.
“You ok?” I asked, knowing my adult status would force him to talk since he was a kid of good manners.
“Not really,” he said. “MJ is retiring.”
We talked a bit and I thought he’d come down when I offered to shoot hoops. He didn’t. “I’m staying up here all day,” he said, “I’m gonna let Mike know he can’t do this to me.”
“How you gonna do that?” I asked.
“I’m just gonna send him signals through the sky and he’ll know he can’t go now — he’s too good to go now.”
I could tell he wanted to be alone so I left for a bike ride in the mountains, expecting him to be on on the court a few hours later when I returned. He wasn’t. Morgan sat in that tree all day, through the 95 degree heat in the afternoon until sunset. I checked on him a couple of times to be sure he was safe. He had water and a sandwich, but he eventually fell asleep and his brother came out and got him down and I didn’t see Morgan for a few days.
With the river of time, we all floated downstream with our lives.
MJ played baseball for the Chicago White Sox for awhile before he missed stardom and being number one so much he had to come back to the NBA. Davin got a car, a girlfriend and a job and I watched him become a young man. I got married in ’94 and managed to rid myself of the night hours that allowed me to hoop it with Morgan during the day a lot during the summer. And Morgan became an X-Games athlete locally renowned for his boarding and skateboard tricks off rails and you name it. He got older and pre-teen and seemed to forget about MJ on the outside.
But one day, before Sheila and I were to move out of the house on our way back to the midwest, Morgan knocked on my door. He was wearing a newer Bulls jersey and wanted to know if I would play him one more game before we left. He had that look on his face like he did in the tree that one day, only he was smiling, too. I hadn’t played in awhile and I tried — really tried — to beat him one last time but I couldn’t. Morgan smoked me 15-4 and didn’t need to have a rematch for the first time.
Walking back to my house he said he wanted to say goodbye in case he wasn’t around when we left. He told me he was going to miss me and that he felt like it was the day MJ retired all over again. We shook hands, then hugged and I told him, “ we are in the BFL and always would be.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“’s our own special league, like the NBA — only it’s the Best Friends League,” I said.
“And no one can ever retire.”
Morgan smiled and I will never forget him in that time. The quintessential California kid, well-mannered, polite, determined, curious, energetic, and mischievous. A friend who never knew how much those basketball games kept me moving forward in my own life, knowing there was someone who counted on me to be there for him from time to time.
I often wonder what he’s up to these days. We kept in touch via his mother for a couple of years….Morgan was doing this, he was in this Xtreme game or that and I tried to catch him on TV, but never did.
He must be about 20 or 21 now……better check in with him in the BFL. Maybe Google can allow me to catch up with him and catch up with him I will because we made a promise.
And this time again, I hope Michael Jordan really stays gone.
Every time he retires and comes back out of his own selfish need to be a star, and inability to move on with his life, it reminds me of the perfect innocence and wonder of an admiring young boy who never wanted him to go in the first place.
And then, I miss my friend Morgan even more.
(c) Copyright — All Rights Reserved — Vincent J. Kern 2003