ESPN 30 for 30: Jordan Rides the Bus (2010)

Directed by Ron Shelton

Baseball is the most wonderful game ever invented and there is more joy, for me personally, to be had from  the game than any other sport. It has been widely accepted, though not universally so, that the hardest feat in sports is to hit a baseball. I tend to agree, though I know there are some who think “squaring” up a round ball on a round bat is not so hard. To play any sport at a professional level is an amazing accomplishment. To win championships and MVPs is downright incredible. Michael Jordan is considered the best basketball player ever to play by most people in the world. He won 6 championships in his career and 5 MVP awards. But at the peak of his career, Jordan retired from basketball to try his hand at baseball.

In 1993, James Jordan, father to Michael Jordan, was murdered in North Carolina. After winning his third championship in a row, Michael Jordan decided to retire to follow his childhood dream of becoming a baseball player. As a child his father shared this dream, and in a way his attempt to join the sport was spurred on by a void left when his father died. Certainly there were other mediating factors, and it was not am impossible feat considering the two-sport success of athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. As Jordan entered spring training with the Chicago White Sox, however, as a laughing stock, with reporters claiming it was a publicity stunt for the White Sox and a pipe dream for Jordan.

This has to be one of the most unique sports stories included in the series for the pure and simple fact that it took the greatest player in his sport and supplanted him into a foreign land, the land of a different sport where he was just another deadbeat trying to make it to the majors. Director Ron Shelton seems to focus a lot on the fact that Jordan went from first class, cream of the crop treatment in the NBA to having to ride the bus in stay in motel rooms just like the next guy in minor league baseball. Too much is made of it because he still had his money from endorsements and basketball. In fact Bulls/White Sox owener Jerry Reinsdorf still honored his basketball contract in 1994, the year Jordan played baseball. I doubt Jordan was really in tough times with the money he had playing a game he loved and chasing the dream of his father. If anything, the media was the rough part.

But for such a great story, Shelton really does seem to have a lack of focus. There are certain sequences which seem completely unnecessary to telling the story. The best example that comes to mind is the Birmingham Baron’s realtor and her story about Jordan’s Porsche and the “basketball goal” he requested, playing with the neighborhood kids. Having Phil Jackson and Terry Francona there to give their professional opinions however was a nice touch, especially with Francona, Jordan’s manager in the minors. Jordan hit .205 that year, with only 3 home runs. But it must be remembered that this was AA ball and Jordan hadn’t played baseball in 10 years. Honestly I find his accomplishments, which include 30 stolen bases, to be impressive. He even raised his average 50 points when he played in the Arizona Fall League against the leagues top prospects. I dare you to go out there and even hit .100.

In the end, the experiment will be deemed a failure for having lasted just one year and netting him a slim .205 average, but as his manager and other coaches mention, if it weren’t for the players strike of 1994 and the appeal of winning more championships in the NBA, Jordan very well have made it to the major leagues. He had an incredible drive and work ethic and showed vast improvement over the duration of the season. His teammates found him to be a great teammate, never shying away from giving everyone else the credit they deserved. Ron Shelton, who also played minor league baseball, may not give the story its due time and detail to truly do it justice, but the Jordan era of minor league baseball will remain one of the more interesting episodes of the 90s in sports. I wonder how much those Michael Jordan baseball cards my brothers and I have are worth?

**1/2 – Average

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