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Friendly PR advice to MJ: Open up

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

‘Oh, no, now here comes some trouble,” Michael Jordan said laughing as I approached him in the hallway Tuesday night just outside the United Center’s visitors locker room. “The answer is ‘no’, Lacy Banks. You know I don’t give any interviews.

“If I don’t give them to anybody else why should I give one to you? Hey, that reminds me. You still owe me some money from our poker games. In our last game, I let you keep some money so that you could get your car out of the [O’Hare] parking garage to go home.”

Hey, at least I usually paid Jordan. But he always welched on me when we played tonk. I don’t ever remember MJ paying when he owed me. Instead, he’d roll his debt over to the next game.

Moreover, no other writer has covered more of his games, seen more Spectravision with him, played more card games and brought him more orange juice and oatmeal cookies than I have. So, I guess he owes me nothing.

“How are you doing, Michael?” I asked and smiled as Jordan, still laughing, looked at Bulls ticket manager Joe O’Neil and placed his hands on my shoulder.

“Hey, don’t even try that,” Jordan said. “I told you, no interviews. No interviews.”

And that was all I got out of 27 phone calls with Charlotte publicist B.J. Evans over the last nine months, trying to get an interview with MJ.

At least the former Bulls Hall of Fame guard came to the game between the Bulls and his Charlotte Bobcats. He came with former Bears Hall of Fame defensive lineman Richard Dent and former Bulls teammate Cliff Levingston.

Heck, he even sat on his team’s extended bench beside Scottie Pippen, his former Bulls Hall of Fame teammate. He wore a black cap, a short-sleeved black sweater over a long-sleeved gray shirt and blank pants. And when the JumboTron showed him and Pippen with 2:55 left in the first quarter, the fans went nuts cheering for almost a minute. During the game, Jordan was very animated, frowning at bad plays and making hand motions urging his players to shoot the ball.

But as for any pregame or postgame interviews with reporters, I was the only one to get something.

When Jordan was leading the Bulls to six championships, he was media-friendly. You could always get an interview with him. He knew that the more exposure he got, the more it helped the many products he was endorsing.

But since ending his playing career with the Wizards, he has been media-mean in terms of granting interviews.

It’s his right to talk to whomever he wants to whenever he wants to. But when the media promoting the NBA product is rejected by the man revered as the best player to play basketball, and the greatest salesman and cash cow for the Bulls in particular and the league in general, it’s bad public relations.

Sure, his Nike Air Jordan gym shoes are grandfathered into selling well. Same for the Hanes underwear he’s now hawking. But I was always wearing Fruit of the Loom anyway, and continue to do so. Think of how much better promoted the league and the game would be if Jordan were more visible and vocal.

It certainly could help his Bobcats, whose average home attendance of 15,963 ranks 20th in the 30-team league.

As a player, he distinguished himself as the game’s greatest player ever when he won six championship rings, two Olympic gold medals, 10 NBA scoring crowns, five NBA MVPs, six Finals MVPs, Defensive Player of the Year, two Slam-Dunk championships and a slew of All-Pro and All-Defensive honors. Nobody else in history has been so productive. And now he was a recluse to the public.

With the Bobcats, it’s a different story. New coach Paul Silas says Jordan is one of the best owners he could work for. After being criticized for not being involved while in the Wizards’ front office, he has evolved into a strong hands-on owner.

“He comes to just about all our practices,” Silas said. “He works out with us. He shares his knowledge with our players, and he sits on the bench with us during games.

“Sometimes, he’ll even give players some advice during the game or make suggestions to me. But he lets me coach, and his sitting with us is a positive influence for our players to play hard all the time, like he did.”

But Jordan’s presence can be rather imposing.

“It’s nice to have him at our practices and on our bench because he was the best to ever play the game,” All-Star forward Gerald Wallace said. “But it also makes you a little nervous because he’s the boss, and he knows when you do wrong.”

On the whole, I was happy to see Jordan, who once was one of my closest friends. And I wish him well.

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