Fall ball like walking on Air for 3 O's


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Curtis Goodwin was going to dunk. Dunk over Michael Jordan. Dunk over everyone.

He raced down the lane after a missed shot.

He leaped into the air.

He . . .

"Missed it," the 5-foot-11 Goodwin lamented. "Off the rim."

What happened next is in dispute.

According to Goodwin's friend, Damon Buford, Jordan snapped: "You're too out of control, kid. Go sit on the sidelines."

Buford wasn't there, mind you.

"But I heard," Buford said, laughing. "I heard it that night."

It was just another Sunday in the Arizona Fall League, just another pickup game with that light-hitting outfielder who drove all the fancy cars.

Three Orioles prospects -- Goodwin, Greg Zaun and Alex Ochoa -- were teammates of Jordan's with the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Oh, the stories they can tell.

"The first time we went out on the court there, it was hard to believe," Zaun recalled yesterday. "You'd watch the guy on TV, then all of a sudden, you're sitting there going, 'I'm on the same court with Michael Jordan.' "

Great fun.

Until Zaun's team beat Jordan's in full-court four-on-four.

"The first game, he was lolly-gagging. He wasn't really doing much," Zaun said. "But when we beat them, he got mad."

How mad?

Well, in the next game, the 5-foot-10 Zaun had an open layup -- or so he thought.

"He came out of nowhere and swatted it into the stands where the wives were sitting -- a big-time swat," Zaun said.

Jordan being Jordan, he didn't leave it at just that.

"Go tell your grandkids about that one," he said.

Someone find Zaun a lawyer, and Goodwin and Ochoa, too.

Not because Jordan dissed them.

No, because they deserve a share of the proceeds from Jordan's return, along with all the others His Airness dunked on in Arizona.

Indeed, the day he returned to the NBA, Jordan said the pickup games against the minor-leaguers rekindled his desire to play basketball.

That surprised Goodwin.

"He never talked about going back," he said.

But in retrospect, it's obvious Jordan was getting frisky. He was the one who organized the games. And his trash-talking was in midseason form.

"Go get a Gatorade," he'd tell the losing team, mixing a commercial pitch with an insult.

Heck, Jordan would even warn his baseball friends to wear Nike basketball shoes, not Reeboks.

What did Goodwin do?

"I came in Nikes," Goodwin said. "I wasn't stupid."

What happened to the guys in Reeboks?

"They got dunked on. They'd lose. He'd pick on them."

The games took place in the late afternoon, at a gymnasium near the San Francisco Giants' training facility in Scottsdale, after the day's baseball was over.

"You could always tell he loved it," Zaun said. "He loved being out there. It was his idea to go play.

"He'd send off his assistant, George, tell him to load up the cooler with sodas and beers. We'd close up the gym and go out and play.

"He just did it because he wanted to play basketball. He knew no one on the team would say no."

Say no?

Once the word got out, players from other teams in Arizona began showing up at the gym as well.

It became such a big deal, Ochoa's mother brought a video camera while visiting from Miami.

"A lot of people came with them," Goodwin said. "I wish I had one."

Did Jordan ever dunk over Goodwin?

"Never," Goodwin said. "I let him have it. I was like, 'Here, show me, stick your tongue out, do all them dunks, I ain't going to mess with you.' "

Naturally, Jordan obliged.

He was his usual fiercely competitive self.

"You play a game of tiddlywinks with Michael Jordan, and he's out to beat you," Zaun said. "One day, we were playing dominoes, and I was beating him. He got up and walked off, because he didn't want to lose. His excuse was, 'I got to go.' But he didn't want to lose at anything."

Goodwin marveled at how Jordan had the energy to get up in the morning to play golf even after a night game.

Zaun loved how Jordan would tell the players to meet him at a pool hall, and Charles Barkley would show up.

It was something new every day.

Occasionally, they even played basketball outdoors.

"One day, we went up to this park in North Scottsdale," Zaun said. "We all showed up, probably 15 guys from our team.

"Michael showed up at the court with two boxes of brand new Air Jordans in his hands. A couple of guys didn't have basketball shoes. He just gave them out.

"When we started playing, hardly anyone was there. But by the time the game was finished, people were lined up around the court."

Oh, the stories they can tell.

"Once, I was running to guard someone and Jordan set a pick on me and knocked me to the floor," Zaun said. "He said, 'Welcome to the big leagues, kid -- that's how you set a pick.' "

Jordan, of course, wasn't going to the big leagues.

Even back then, his mind was on something else.

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