"They would have hurt Michael bad." When fans attacked MJ in San Antonio, Nov. 1995
A wild fight scene at Dick's Last Resort, courtesy of Rick Telander
“Especially in crowds, or in the arenas when you’re out there on the court, you’re not well protected. Same thing when you’re going into the tunnel. What’s to keep some nut from coming after you?”
— Michael Jordan, May 1993, reacting to the on-court stabbing of Monica Seles
“In the midst of all this I see the guy … and he’s big enough, and he’s coming forward, and I know he wants to hit Michael. He’s coming, saying, ‘Fuck Michael Jordan! You ain’t shit!’”
— Chicago police officer and MJ security guard Bob Scarpetti
It’s crazy how many Bulls dynasty stories float away.
This team was a circus. They were pop icons. They were a celebrity’s celebrities. The stories were everywhere. So many, so wild, that they get lost in the shuffle.
Like the time a brawl nearly broke out at a Dick’s Last Resort in San Antonio for James “Buddha” Edwards’s 40th birthday, when a San Antonio man attacked Michael Jordan.
My friend and mentor, the great Rick Telander, captured that tale in his ‘96 Bulls book In the Year of the Bull: Zen, Air, and the Pursuit of Sacred & Profane Hoops. Published in 1996, this book somehow has evaded me lo these 26 years. I knew it but I never read it.
Fittingly, Rick dedicates a full paragraph in his book to a list of other people’s Bulls books. Rare Air. Hang Time. The Jordan Rules. Transition Game. He lists Richard Esquinas’s Michael and Me, and even lists a book I never heard of: Airborne: The Triumph and Struggle of Michael Jordan, by Jesse Kornbluth.
“There were so many books out about Jordan,” Rick writes, “that I stopped trying to collect them.”
As of this writing, I’m on page 74 of Rick’s book. And I had to stop and write a newsletter now because on pages 71 to 73 are a madcap, frightening story about what life with the dynasty Bulls, specifically MJ, were like in public.
The day was Nov. 22, 1995, and the 8-1 Bulls were in San Antonio for the second game of their annual “circus trip.” While new Bulls star Dennis Rodman was out of action (calf injury) against his former team, the circus did not stop. Not with MJ, of course, and not with Rodman’s fellow ex-Piston / new-Bull James Edwards on the roster, celebrating his 40th birthday that day.
After the 103-94 Bulls win (MJ, 38 points; Edwards, 2 points), the team wanted to go out in San Antonio to celebrate Edwards’ birthday. This would be a problem for Jordan, explained off-duty Chicago police officer Bob Scarpetti.
“Michael can’t really get out and enjoy himself,” Scarpetti told Telander while scanning the crowd at the Spurs game, looking for crazy faces. “He’d like to. He’d like to just sit down and have a drink. But people will not leave him alone. Even in Vancouver, he just tried to shoot some pool one night and in seconds the place was asshole-to-belly button with people. It’s crazy.”
Scarpetti was one of the members of MJ’s security force. As Telander reported, Jordan paid them monthly, and then billed the Bulls for the expense. This group of off-duty and retired police officers (famously including Gus Lett, Clarence “C.T.” Travis and John Wozniak, AKA The Other Shrug Guy) knew how to protect Jordan, and their Spider-sense went off repeatedly during Edwards’s San Antonio birthday bash, thanks in large part to another of Rodman’s former teammates who came to Chicago: ex-Spurs forward Jack Haley.
Haley started his career with the Bulls in the ‘89 and ‘90 seasons, and after time with the Nets and Lakers, landed on the Spurs in 1994, along with new Spur Rodman. He and Rodman became friends, and that’s perhaps irrelevant to this story, other than to say that Haley had no problem with wild nights out. As the man with the most experience in San Antonio, Haley led the Edwards group, trying first to take them to the Hard Rock Cafe on the San Antonio Riverwalk.
This would have been fine, but Hard Rock management seated the Bulls in an elevated area.
“It was like a show,” Scarpetti said. “Very uncomfortable.”
Haley led them down the river walk to a bar called Fat Tuesdays, but Scarpetti did not like the vibe and told Haley they should leave. So Haley picked a third spot: Dick’s Last Resort. You might know the Dick’s in Chicago. From Rick’s description, the San Antonio one was the same. As Rick writes:
The Bulls entered Dick’s, and as soon as they did, insanity ruled. ‘We gotta go!’ Scarpetti yelled to fellow bodyguard Gus Lett. But it was too late; the group moved slowly forward, and the crowd closed behind it. Two burly bouncers helped them along, pushing patrons out of the way, but everyone wanted to see Michael. ‘People just wanted to touch him,’ Scarpetti says. ‘Feel him, grab him, make contact. Especially the women.’”
Scarpetti and Lett scanned the crowd at Dick’s, and Scarpetti noticed a woman “all googly-eyed … with a guy, and he looks bad.” Scarpetti continued:
“‘Let’s go,’ I’m saying to Gus. It’s real tense now; you can feel it. Michael can sense it. We’re on the second floor, and there’s two guys fighting on the third floor, and all of a sudden they come down the stairs headfirst, beating the hell out of each other. The two bouncers go to the fight, and now we’re getting pushed over the banister almost into the river.
“In the midst of all this I see the guy who was with the girl, and he’s big enough, and he’s coming forward, and I know he wants to hit Michael. He’s coming, saying, ‘Fuck Michael Jordan! You ain’t shit! He gets close enough, and he doesn’t even know I’m there, because I’m in plain clothes, and I grab his hand in a ‘come along,’ and bend his arm and say, ‘You better get the fuck out of here.’ He almost pissed his pants, because it shocked him.
“So then we literally pushed our way down the stairs, through people. We went to the street and grabbed some cabs and got out of there. I’m telling you, they would have hurt Michael bad.”
Later that season, during the Finals, Princess Diana visited Chicago and was the honored guest at a luncheon. Bob Scarpetti was assigned to protect Diana during the luncheon, and then protected Jordan that night.
“Michael’s a lot harder to guard,” Scarpetti said after, as reported by the Tribune’s Bob Greene. “People want to touch him — they’re always putting their hands on him when he walks by. … They’re not like that with the princess. Even when she walks close to them, they know not to touch her. They don’t even try to shake her hand. I don’t know why that is.”
Scarpetti’s double-duty meant that, at least according to a 1996 poll from Warner Bros. studio, he had in one day guarded two of the three most famous people on Earth: in order — Princess Di, Jordan, and the Pope.
The next summer, Jordan was in Las Vegas with Estee Portnoy when news broke of Princess Diana’s paparazzi-fueled death. Portnoy turned to Jordan and summed it up.
“You’re the most famous person on the planet now.”
That’s all from me today. I’m editing my Will Perdue interview and hope to publish that soon, along with an interview with Mark Schanowski. They’re long overdue but will be worth the wait. I hope everyone is staying healthy and happy!
And for goodness sake, read Rick’s book! I’ll share more as I read more. Thanks Rick!