”I’ll play you one-on-one for the shoes,” the kid says.
”All right, if you win, you get the Air Jordans,” agrees the 27-year-old Chicago Bulls star whose silhouette, when affixed to the Nike sneakers he endorses, confers instant status to kids on the playgrounds of America.
Seventeen-year-old Garland Spencer is an extra on the sports video Michael Jordan is supposed to be shooting, instead of shooting hoops. The kid races toward the basket as everyone else involved in the production — the director, the cast, the light, sound, and camera crews — stops and waits. Spencer shoots and misses.
”Live and die,” Jordan taunts him, scooping up the ball and sailing weightlessly toward the net for a slam.
Yet in the furious game that ensues, Jordan, the top scorer in the National Basketball Association for four years running, falls behind, and Spencer emerges victorious, 5-4.
”I beat him. He ain’t nothing. He ain’t nothing,” the kid says, strutting off the court with an enormous smile.
”I love doing that,” Jordan says later, obviously pleased to have made the kid’s day.
With a cast of dozens, an original soundtrack by the rap group Full Force, and a production and marketing budget of $2.5 million, Michael Jordan’s Playground is the most elaborate production yet in the field of sports videos. Jordan’s first cassette, Come Fly With Me — mainly a collection of spectacular game footage from his career — has sold 750,000 copies and was on Billboard magazine’s top 20 sports videos chart for more than a year and a half. CBS/Fox Video, which produced the tapes in a joint deal with Jordan and the NBA, expects Playground to do even better when it hits stores Feb. 11, the day after the NBA All-Star Game.
Known for his explosive physical abandon on the court, the 6-foot 6-inch Jordan is reserved and soft-spoken off it. On a Pasadena, Calif., basketball court that’s been dressed up in bright graffiti, Jordan explains that this tape is meant to inspire its young audience. Between shots of game footage, the video shows him encouraging a disillusioned teenager to pursue his dreams after being cut from a basketball team (as Jordan himself was in high school). ”It’s basically for kids who doubt a lot of things, maybe their personality or their athletic ability,” Jordan says in his velvet voice. ”I’m trying to teach them, from disappointment there’s always something to learn. One way or another, every kid can win.” Just ask Garland Spencer.