(From Matthew Glick, TODAY Producer)
Talk about an opportunity. As we do everyday, Matt Lauer and I were going over story ideas in his office after the show when something caught my eye. It was an article buried in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about an 18-year-old walk-on freshman to the University of Illinois basketball team. But it wasn't just any student entering his freshman year at one of the top 10 public universities in the country -- it was Michael Jordan's son. You have to understand, for a guy like me who grew up in Chicago and watched with wide-eyes as arguably the best ball player of all time lead his team to six championships, Michael Jordan is not just celebrated in the windy city, the man is revered.
Going after a story like this one, we all knew was going to be tough. Michael rarely agrees to interviews. In fact, it had been more than two years since the man last sat down for an interview. And the father of three, who just last year divorced his wife, is known to be very guarded, protective of his kids, and keeps his privacy. There were a lot of hoops to jump through but at the end of the day (and with much coaxing) we got the exclusive sit-down interview with MJ and his son Jeff (right).
We seized on the opportunity to put together a "like father, like son" profile piece heading into the basketball season. This interview was a perfect fit for Matt and our show. It's something any parent, sports fan or son or daughter who ever aspired to walk in the footsteps of their dad or mom can relate to. The footsteps in this instance are enormous.
We conducted the interview on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign where Matt, fellow producer Gretchen Eisele, and I spent the day with Michael, Jeff, and Coach Bruce Weber. Security was tight, and it was important for us to keep the interview under wraps so we could get Michael on and off campus. One of the most striking observations to me seeing MJ up-close and interacting with our crew, the students, and Illinois coaching staff was that the recognition and celebrity of Michael Jordan is no less today than it was 10 years ago and how seemingly down to earth his eldest son is having grown up amidst all the fame and fanfare.
Matt Lauer, Matt Glick, Jeff Jordan, Michael Jordan
I asked Matt about his thoughts on the interview with Michael and Jeff, which you will read here and no where else:
Q. What were your impressions of MJ?
MATT: I have met him many times. I have actually spent a fair amount of time with him, interviewed him a couple of times in the past, played some golf around him in the past. We played in the same tournaments. Look, he is a guy and it's hard not to be impressed with Michael Jordan. I mean he walks into a room and all eyes in the room turn toward him. You know, in some ways, the energy in the room goes to him. It's the same thing that he does, when he walks into a room, that he used to do when he walked on a basketball court. There is something about him that is magnetic and dynamic. It's always fun to be around someone or get to interview someone who is the very best in their chosen field and profession. It's like Tiger Woods and golf. You talk basketball, you talk to Michael Jordan. So he is the icon.
Q. What are your memories of watching Michael Jordan play during the Bulls reign?
MATT: My memories were heartbreaking because I was a huge Knicks fan. And so every time Michael Jordan would come to the Garden it seemed that something about that place, something about the stage, something about New York City, something about the Knicks, brought him to his absolute best every single time. I can't tell you how many times he absolutely ruined my night. I watched him in awe just like everyone else. I have never seen anyone like him before and I'm not sure I have ever seen anyone dominate the game like him since. I had a great love-hate relationship with him.
Q. How much of Michael did you see in his son Jeff as you sat across from the two of them during the interview?
MATT: I think the most glaring thing you see in him, and it's not his physical appearance, is a competitive nature. Both of them are clearly extremely competitive people. Michael's competitiveness has been well documented in a lot of areas, not only on the court, but other places as well. And when you start to get them to talk about something as simple as playing a one-on-one game with each other and you can see that this isn't a typical father son relationship, where the father kind of takes it easy on the kid and boosts him along and boosts his ego. As a matter of fact, Michael is flat out in saying that he wants to beat his son every time they play and he kind of bristled at the revelation that Jeff made that on one occasion Jeff actually beat him. You could see it was something that did not please Michael one bit. I think the most glaring similarity between the two is this intense quest for competition at the highest level.
Q. Did you feel that a bond between father and son was evident?
MATT: Yeah, I think there is clearly a bond. I think there were a lot of times in Jeff's younger years where Michael was not there as much as he could have been because he was traveling with the Bulls and obviously was a superstar on the world stage. But I think they have spent a lot more time with each other as of late even though there has been a divorce in that family. But clearly there was a real warmth between them. It was hard to not see that.