In celebration of Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday this Sunday, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com senior writer Wright Thompson chronicles Jordan’s journey as he reaches the milestone birthday.
The feature appears both on ESPN.com and in The Mag, occupying 10 pages in the publication’s upcoming “Analytics Issue” on newsstands Friday, Feb. 22.
Front Row asked Thompson to reflect on his experience with Jordan.
How did you arrange for the access and how much time did you spend with him?
I started writing letters and talking about the idea to his people; they were intrigued in the beginning, and over a period of months, some comfort developed and I think they decided to say yes. They weren’t shy at all, and didn’t act like they minded someone seeing what Michael was like up close. It was loose and natural from the beginning.
What surprised you most about MJ? Had you spent any time with him previously?
I’d never met him. I was most surprised at his own level of self-awareness, and his willingness to speak candidly about a range of things.
Is there one particular editor that you work with regularly? What is the editing process like for you?
I work with [ESPN.com Enterprise senior editor] Jay Lovinger, who edits all my stories, including this one. Jay and I have worked together for a long time now, and I like the process more than I like the finished stories, to be frank. I’m answering these questions in the Residence Inn in Bristol, [Conn.], and I’m going in a little bit to New York to spend the day with him and just talk about future stories, about ideas we’re shaping. On the day this story runs, we’re already well into whatever comes next. I like that about the relationship.
Additional highlights of ESPN’s commemoration of Jordan’s 50th birthday:
• NBA Commissioner David Stern joins ESPN reporter Jeremy Schapp to reflect on the career and accomplishments of Jordan on ESPN Radio’s The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap tonight at 10 p.m. ET.
• ESPN Classic will celebrate the occasion with four days and 70 hours of Jordan-centric programming including the best 23 games of his career. ESPN Classic will also air original programming and the award-winning 30 for 30 series.
• Additionally, both SportsNation and UNITE will have unique Jordan-themed segments today at 4 p.m. ET and midnight, respectively.
The birthday celebration concludes on Sunday, Feb. 17, when the Top 50 Jordan highlights run on SportsCenter with the final Top 10 determined by fan voting on ESPN.com.