The Best Time I Thought I Saw Michael Jordan

by Tamar Fox

After I graduated college I spent six months waiting tables and substituting at a day school in suburban Chicago. I bought myself a fancy gym membership, and became one of those people who schedules her day around a workout. Mostly I went to the branch near my parents house, but occasionally I went to others depending on what time I was teaching.

One day I went to the suburban branch of my gym and positioned myself in the back of the weight room to begin my circuit. Standing in front of me with his back to me was a tall, muscular black man. He was bald, had one ear pierced, and was working with a tiny personal trainer (I’m 4’11” and she was no taller than me).

Oh. My. God. I thought. That’s Michael Jordan. I’m working out at the same gym as Michael Jordan.
I’ve never been a huge basketball fan, but growing up in Chicago in the ’90s, Michael Jordan was at least as important as God. When he announced his retirement, our gym class was canceled so we could watch the press conference. Life-sized posters of him in flight were all over my grammar school. Though of course I’d never met him, he felt like a relative, or a friend of my parents — very familiar.

Almost as soon as I had my realization I was horrified at myself. How could I possibly be so racist? There was a tall black man working out at a suburban gym so I just assumed it was Michael Jordan? I was so embarrassed. I immediately began internally scolding myself for being such a racist and was in the middle of a nice long silent rant when the guy turned around and … it was Michael Jordan. He grunted at me (we were the only two people using weights) and returned to his trainer.

So maybe I’m a racist and maybe I’m just really good at recognizing people from behind.

Tamar Fox likes PG Wodehouse, polka dots, and whiskey. She sees a surprising number of celebrities at the gym.

Photo by Vadim Ponomarenko, via Shutterstock.