The Michael Jordan vs. Bryon Russell Challenge

The Michael Jordan vs. Bryon Russell Challenge

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Michael Jordan, Bryon Russell, Basketball Challenge
Michael Jordan vs. Bryon Russell Challenge Photo: Shutterstock
Interesting the way things happen in life. Months ago, Utah Flash (The NBA minor league team I help coach) owner Brandt Andersen made a public challenge for both Bryon Russell and Michael Jordan to come to Orem Utah to play in a symbolic one-on-one game commemorating past times. :) Brandt himself pledged a check for $100,000 to the winner’s favorite charity. I caught wind of the challenge even though I had become a Clipper (I was traded from the Timberwolves to the LA). But, in early October, after a series of events, I ended up being waived by the Clippers then joining Brad Jones–the Utah Flash Head Coach–as one of his assistant coaches. So, I personally lived through this Michael Jordan thing and I was there at the game where the stunt double went out on the court at halftime as Michael Jordan. I want to weigh in on this because I was here for it and because some media outlets are doing a poor job of representing the entirety of the situation.

First of all, I was in a Utah Flash meeting in October right there in Provo Utah, when someone from the basketball side asked the question, “Is Michael going to come for the home opener?” The answer I heard was interesting. The message Brandt Andersen and the Flash had received from MJ’s representation several weeks earlier was that if Michael did choose to come he would let the Flash know the day before, or the day of the event. Is the greatest player of all time entitled to some flexibility? OF COURSE! The possibility of his coming for the game, even to Provo Utah seemed to be there. So, now, there is context to what Brandt says in his blog below:

“I knew I would not know if MJ was going to attend until a few hours before game time. I never received the call indicating he would not attend.”

Even though I was born and raised in Danville California, I do have family ties to the Provo area, and I have spent some summers in Utah. I have heard mixed reactions from different people. Some people were upset that Michael was not at the game. But many many other people had a great night and thought the entire production was in good fun.But for ESPN to include the word “HOAX” in the headline of their story about the situation as a whole is misguided. Yes, there was a Michael Jordan lookalike in the tunnel at halftime and I thought to myself, “This guy is too short…MJ is 6’6″ and this guy is barely 6’0″.” But Brandt’s challenge was real, his willingness to write the check to charity was real, and everyone’s hope of MJ’s attendance was real.

Never once did Brandt Andersen, say that Michael Jordan was coming to the game. Could the situation have been handled differently? Hindsight is always 20-20 and of course things could have been done in a different way. But when I was playing for the Timberwolves, the game operations staff had a fake Jack Nicholson get kicked out of our home game against the Lakers. That was fun for the fans and everyone loved it! The biggest problem in this situation was that people started thinking Michael was coming for sure instead of looking it as a possibility. People started buying tickets believing Michael’s presence was a certainty. The 6’0″ bald guy, lookalike coming out at halftime did rub some people the wrong way, but others loved it and laughed and had fun. How did Brandt handle those that were upset? He came out on his blog within hours and offered full refunds for everybody who asked. In another telling move that shows transparency, Brandt’s staff even allowed every single negative comment in reaction posted on his blog.

The sports world needs more owners like Mark Cuban, Dr. Jerry Buss, and Brandt Andersen. When I first signed my deal to coach with the Utah Flash I received an email from an old friend from UCLA who now teaches in Utah. His email said,

“We have gone to a lot of Flash games, we think there is a great family environment there.”

My friend is right. Utah Flash games continue to be a wholesome fun experience for families, singles, and basketball fans……not to mention we are 5-1. So I will see you guys at the Flash Arena sometime! And again, in the media it would be nice to have the entire story told and not just a few newspaper selling fragments.

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