I’ve never before met Michael Jordan, but, rest-assured, if I ever did meet my childhood hero, he’d probably be the one person who I got starstruck in front of, wrestling over thoughts and looking as if I forgot to speak the English language.
Turns out that was what happened to Charlotte Hornets big man Cody Zeller during the NBA Draft in 2013, too, because, after being selected No. 4 overall by MJ’s team, he had a forgettable first encounter with the GOAT, per The Players’ Tribune.
Right after I shook hands with David Stern, I was handed a phone. Standard procedure for the draftee to talk to the front office of their new team. The Charlotte PR guy told me three people would come on the line, first Rod Higgins (the president of basketball operations), then Rich Cho (the general manager) and finally Michael Jordan (uh, no intro needed). Suddenly I got really nervous and excited – I was going to get a chance to talk to Michael himself. Remember, I didn’t know Charlotte would take me, so I hadn’t considered the Michael Jordan conversation until that moment. And I’m only 21. This is Michael Jordan.
The next thought was: can we speed through everyone so I can talk to MJ?
So I talked to Rod Higgins for about a minute. I don’t remember much, I just remember being a little short with him. I wasn’t being rude, but I was just trying to get to #23. “Thanks for the opportunity, I look forward to playing for such a great organization,” etc. Rod said, “Alright, I’m going to pass on the phone. Congrats and welcome to the team.” Next on the phone was Rich, the GM. Rich was the one that I had talked with the most in the organization up to that point, so I recognized his voice. But again, I just said some pleasantries and raced through it – because MJ was next. “Thank you for the opportunity. I look forward to playing for the Bobcats,” etc. Let’s get on with it. I was imagining what I’d say to Michael. I’d tell him he was the best ever. I’d tell him how I watched him my whole life. I’d tell him how I admired his business skills. For the 14-year-old Cody Zeller, it was all a dream.
Then he said “Alright, I’m going to pass the phone on to Rich…”
I froze. That meant it was Michael Jordan on the line. He had gone out of order. I scrambled to say, “Thank you Mr. Jordan” — or maybe I just said, “OK.” I have no idea. I had just rambled on for a minute to the best basketball player ever and I didn’t even know it was him.
You can just sort of visualize all of this going down, as Zeller, in his mind, had just slowly sunken the ship—and blown his first opportunity at talking with Jordan.
The good news? The first impression hasn’t completely turned off His Airness, as Zeller is still on the team and is a contributing piece to the young roster. So that’s good news after his total airball of a first convo.