Posted on November 20, 2012 at 10:01 PM
After he became majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, Michael Jordan said he wanted to win basketball games and become part of the community in which he lives and works.
The Bobcats, 5-4 going into Wednesday’s game against Toronto at Time Warner Cable Arena, are not yet good. But they’re considerably better than they were. Last season, good was an unfathomable destination. There are nights this season when you can almost see it.
You don’t have to work as hard to visualize the team’s impact on Charlotte. By 8 a.m. Tuesday more than 1,000 people waited in line outside the arena for a Thanksgiving dinner. Doors would open at 9.
The initiative is part of Cats Care. Second Harvest Food Bank, an organization with which the team works, relied on several of its partners, among them Crisis Assistance Ministry, to identify families with low incomes and limited resources. Each received a meal that would accommodate four.
“It’s humbling,” said Rod Higgins, president of basketball operations. “They might not have what you and I think of as Thanksgiving.”
One woman told Higgins, “My heart is beating so fast.”
Her heart was beating fast because she met Rod Higgins?
“Right,” says Higgins.
She had just talked to Jordan.
Three tables were set up inside the arena. On the first were turkeys. On the second were blue bags filled with cans or boxes of mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, rice, green beans and tomato soup. Next to the bags were boxes of sweet potato pie and, at the end, bags of rolls. On the third table were two-liter bottles of lemonade.
Joining Jordan and Higgins were president and COO Fred Whitfield, general manager Rich Cho, players Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and DeSagana Diop, coach Mike Dunlap and assistant coaches Brian Winters and Stephen Silas.
Everybody was upbeat. Conversations were often interesting.
One man offered Dunlap advice about his substitution patterns. On a day such as this, everybody received.
Jordan was the star, of course. He stood behind the second table, near the left corner. When the line reached him it slowed as if a highway patrolman with a radar gun was posted in the freeway median.
Wearing a long-sleeved, white Bobcats shirt and a dark cap, Jordan talked, smiled, laughed, and with long fingers handed out bags.
As people reached him, some became nervous. Others behaved like old friends. A few looked a second or third time and still were skeptical. Prove you are who we think you are.
Cell phones clicked and flashed repeatedly as Jordan posed with men, women and kids. I had set the over-under on babies handed to him at three. Jordan passed that a full 15 minutes before the session ended. At least four people brought home a picture of Jordan with their infant.
Jordan looked as if he was having a good time. When you make people happy, when you give them something they appreciate, how do you not feel it?
What’s Thanksgiving for him?
Family, food and football, Jordan said. He emphasized family and the gift of time with them.
On Thursday, life slows down no matter how famous you are.
If you’re fortunate, the food will remind you of every great Thanksgiving you’ve ever had.
The people I spent time with Tuesday, in line and behind the tables, appeared fortunate.