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Will the real Michael Jordan please stand up?
From prank calls to the wrong drug prescription, having the world's most famous name in the 1990s brought a lot of baggage.
“When I ran for (Cook County) circuit judge in ’84, I led the ticket. A lot of people probably pushed my name even though they knew it wasn’t him, just to say they voted for him. … It helped in the primary too. The other candidates — there were two who filed for the same vacancy and they withdrew. They didn’t want to face me. They could tell my name had magic.”
— Hon. Michael S. Jordan, retired Illinois judge, Feb. 3, 2023, on the impact of his famous name
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Long before Michael B. Jordan took flight on HBO and the silver screen, Canadian carpenter Michael E. Jordan was getting prank phone calls from Bulls fans. Michael Keith Jordan of Charlotte was too, until he added his wife’s name to his entry in the phone book.
In Illinois, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael S. Jordan performed marriages for couples who just wanted to say they were married by Michael Jordan. As he told me today, Judge Jordan, now retired, even believes that his famous name helped him at the ballot box when running for circuit judge way back in November of 1984, the start of MJ’s rookie year.
As you might imagine, Penn basketball player Michael Jordan had the biggest challenge. Who wants to be on the court with that name if you’re not him?
“Opposing crowds give me a hard time,” said the other basketball-playing Michael Jordan in June of 1998. “My friends don’t. They understand it’s just a coincidence.”
In the 1990s, Michael Jeffrey Jordan was arguably the most famous person on Earth. And anyone who shared his name was along for the ride. As today is Michael Jordan day (2/3/23), I figured we could look back at some of the other MJs of the 1990s and see how they handled sharing their name with the man himself.
I even spoke with Judge Michael S. Jordan, now retired, who recalled fondly the era of the weirdest name mixups possible — including one at a Jewel-Osco when he almost got MJ’s prescription.
Michael Keith Jordan and Michael Keith Jordan II of Charlotte
Even in January 1990, back when Michael Jordan was still “A great scorer, but can he win?” having the name “Michael Jordan” came with baggage. Especially in MJ’s home state of North Carolina.
“Buddy, the way I see it, I have rights to the name,” 36-year-old Michael Keith Jordan of Charlotte told columnist Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer.
“People are always trying to play me (in basketball),” he added. “They just want to say, ‘I took him.’”
Many of the “other” Michael Jordans have talked about people reaching out, either as a real mistake or just to say they talked to Michael Jordan. As a Charlotte resident in 1990, Michael Keith Jordan likely got it as bad as anyone.
“I used to get a call a week from people looking for Michael Jordan the basketball player. So I had the listing changed to Michael & Cathy (his wife), and the calls have slowed down a little. The last one I got was two-and-a-half weeks ago.”
Michael Keith Jordan wasn’t the only Michael Jordan in Charlotte in 1990. There was Michael T. Jordan, who followed Michael Keith in the phone book. (“He doesn’t play basketball,” Michael T.’s wife Norma told Sorensen.)
And then there was Michael Keith Jordan’s eight-year-old son, Michael Keith Jordan II.
“I like having the same name as the real Michael Jordan,” said the younger Michael Keith.
Tales from a Cook County judge with that name: election victories, wedding fake-outs and a near prescription drug mishap
When the Honorable Judge Michael S. Jordan began his 25-year career on the Cook County bench, his name was just another name. After all, Judge Jordan became a Cook County associate judge in 1974, back when our MJ was falling in love with David Thompson and the NCAA champion NC State Wolfpack.
But life was moving fast for both Michael Jordans in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After MJ hit his first famous game-winning shot in 1982 to lead North Carolina over Georgetown in the NCAA championship game, Associate Judge Michael S. Jordan started to realize his name was no longer his own.
“He was famous in ’83 as a top (college) star,” the retired Judge Jordan told me today when I reached him by phone. “I started getting comments on my name — I went to a board meeting at the synagogue and the executive director said, ‘You had a great game last night.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
He would soon enough. In the summer of 1984, Judge Jordan began planning a run to fill a vacancy as a Cook County circuit court judge,1 while NCAA Player of the Year Michael Jordan began planning his professional career, making himself eligible for the 1984 NBA draft and prepping for the 1984 summer Olympics.
Of course Judge Jordan’s hometown Bulls drafted Jordan 3rd overall, and by the time of Judge Jordan’s election on Nov. 6, 1984, MJ was five games into his masterful rookie year. Judge Jordan had already served 10 and a half years as an associate judge, and was highly rated by many bar associates, he told me. So he doesn’t want to say that his newly famous name got him elected.
“When I ran for circuit judge in ’84, I led the ticket,” Judge Jordan told me. “A lot of people probably pushed my name even though they knew it wasn’t him, just to say they voted for him.”
“It helped in the primary too. The other candidates — there were two who filed for the same vacancy and they withdrew. They didn’t want to face me. They could tell my name had magic. You know, I had good ratings too. I was highly recommended by almost every bar association. So who knows if it was my name or my ratings? (Laughs.)”
Judge Jordan subsequently won his retention challenges in 1990 and 1996, serving until his retirement from the bench in 1999, after which he moved into mediation and arbitration. MJ also retired in 1999, meaning Judge Jordan served as a Cook County Circuit Court judge concurrently with MJ’s Bulls career: 1984 to 1999, more or less.
One man who understood what Judge Jordan was going through actually appeared in Jordan’s courtroom in the 90s: Orland Park attorney James Kirk.
“It was pretty hilarious,” Kirk told the Southtown Star in February 1996, quickly pointing out that his middle initial was not T. and he was not a “Star Trek” fan.
Judge Jordan did not remember that instance, but he did offer up three more stories about sharing a name with the world’s most famous person.
1. The drug prescription near-mishap
Judge Jordan recalled one instance in which his wife went to the Jewel-Osco at Willow and Pfingten roads, not far from the Jordan residence on Essex Drive in Northbrook. She asked for the prescription for “Michael Jordan” and received a drug that she did not believe was for her husband. She asked if it was the right Michael Jordan. “On Essex?” the clerk asked.
By coincidence, Judge Jordan had grown up on South Essex Avenue in Chicago. It seemed impossible that this pharmacy would have that address from the days before computers.
Instead, it was for MJ.
“That was an overlap that could have been dangerous if I took his drugs,” Judge Jordan says now.
2. The Bulls game fake-out
Howard Pizer is Senior Executive Vice President of the White Sox and EVP/CEO of the United Center Joint Venture. He also is an old high school friend of Judge Michael S. Jordan. In the 1990s, Pizer arranged for Bulls tickets for Judge Jordan’s wife’s birthday, with a “happy birthday” message to her on the jumbotron.
“When the name ‘Jordan’ flashed on the screen, it was an uproar,” Judge Jordan said. “People were screaming thinking it was a family member.”
3. The marriage fake-outs
Like many judges, Judge Jordan conducted weddings. Unlike many judges, he was often chosen for the thrill of his coincidental name. Judge Jordan:
“A lot of people who would come to me to marry them … or who came to me for mediations or arbitrations, would say they were happy they were using me to tell friends ‘Guess who we are with.’ They had me go into the ballroom and said ‘Just stand on the mark until music plays, and then move to the front.’ And then I would hear on the loudspeaker, ‘And now our special guest, Michael Jordan.’ And again, an uproar.”
“So yes,” he adds upon finishing his stories, “his name has effected me.”
“Meet Michael Jordan”: 5 other MJs from the Tribune, June 1998
With the Bulls dynasty winding down in the Last Dance days, the Tribune tracked down five other Michael Jordans from around North America to check in on how they were feeling about being “Michael Jordan.” Here they are:
As for our Michael Jordan? You might enjoy this thread.
Have a great weekend, everyone!