This is [not] the story of how I met Michael Jordan.

This is a story full of emotions, adventure, and friendship. It is also a story of one of the most publicly humiliating experiences of my life. I have thought many times over the years about sharing this with everyone, but a couple of things have always held me back. Maybe it’s one of those “you had to be there” stories, and it’s not as good of a story as I think it is. Maybe I am also hesitant to put this story out there for all to see and for the internet to save for all eternity. It’s probably because 15 days of quarantine has affected my decision making process, but I’ve decided that it’s finally time. At the very least, I hope I can keep you entertained for a few minutes today.

Our story begins during my final year of college, when I was 20 years old. Life was good, life was simple, and I found myself one day in a car with my friends spending an afternoon at a mall near our college in Kentucky. It was nearly Thanksgiving break, and we were spending time together before we all traveled back to our homes. As we were getting ready to head back to campus, we couldn’t help noticing a line of people amassing in the parking lot of the mall.

“What do you think they’re lining up for?” One of my friends asked (My friends in this story will remain nameless to protect the innocent-this story is my shame, and mine alone).

One of my biggest flaws as a person is that in a group of people I’m comfortable with, I can be emboldened to do things I wouldn’t normally do. And that’s how I found myself, buoyed by friendship and young arrogance, saying, “I’ll go ask them!”

I hopped happily out of the car and jogged closer to the line of people waiting patiently for what I assumed was an important reason. My initial quick glance registered that there were even a few police officers, who I assumed were there for crowd control whenever things got started.

“What are you guys waiting in line for?” I called to them. Most of the people ignored me, but one person near the front of the line called back to me and mumbled something I didn’t quite catch. The only word I heard was when he said, “…..Jordan” at the end of his explanation.

Friends, I have often gone back to revisit this moment, and have tried to dissect exactly where things went wrong. I literally heard one word this man said and saw the police officers, and somehow, in a fraction of a second, a new reality had been created in my head.

“…Like Michael Jordan?” I asked, just to be very sure of what I had heard. “Yes!” the crowd replied. My heartbeat quickened, and I breathily shouted “Thank you!” and ran back to my friends to tell them the incredible news I had found out.

“Guys,” I said as I opened the car door and threw myself inside. “They’re waiting in line to meet Michael Jordan!”

I’m going to let my audience pause here for just a moment, to prepare for the inevitable train wreck that is coming next. Are you ready to keep going? You’ve come too far to back out now.

What happened in the next five minutes can only be called a frenzy. As we began driving out of the parking lot again, one friend screamed and shared with us that Michael Jordan was her biggest celebrity crush (ever since she watched Space Jam as a kid). In an incredible surge of loyalty, we all immediately decided to put our lives on hold and help our friend make a big dream come true. This was once in a lifetime! We didn’t care if we had to wait in line for the next four hours. This was happening.

My friend with the crush on Michael called her study group to cancel the meeting they had scheduled for that evening. Another friend changed her shift at work so that she wouldn’t miss the Big Meeting. We decided that a couple of us would hold our place in line while two other people would run into the FYE store in the mall to try and find a copy of Space Jam for him to sign. I can’t explain to you fully just how excited we were to make this happen. It was one of the most adrenaline-filled moments of my life. If you’ve ever been a part of fulfilling a friend’s lifelong dream, then maybe you’ll get how high we were all floating in that instant.

We circled back in the parking lot and passed the line of people as we parked. Some of them gave us strange looks, but we figured they just weren’t as big of fans of Michael Jordan as we were. We all piled out of the car and gleefully took our place at the back of the line.

And then we waited.

Again, as I look back and reflect on this life event, I wonder what the people in line must have thought as they watched our unquenchable excitement during the approximate ten minutes that we waited in line. In those moments, they probably just thought we were odd. But what happened next probably caused them to tell this story to all of their friends and family that evening.

As we settled down a bit for the long wait, I couldn’t help overhearing people close to us in line talking about tickets. Suddenly, a feeling of dread surged through me. Did we need tickets to attend this very legitimate meet and greet? Of course! They wouldn’t just let any average joe off the street come this close to a basketball pro like Michael Jordan. Why hadn’t I thought this through? I asked myself that question frequently in the coming days.

Trying not to deflate my friends’ hope, I quietly turned to them and shared what I heard. We all agreed that I should ask someone to clarify what this business about tickets really meant.

Discreetly, I turned to the person right beside us in line, and said quietly, “Excuse me, I have a question.”

The person I was addressing completely ignored me. However, a kind citizen at the very front of the line overheard and called to me, “What’s your question?”

Now, with the attention of the entire line on me, I cleared my throat and asked, “Do we need to have tickets to meet Michael Jordan?”

A couple seconds go by. Confused stares, and then-

This is a line to get tickets to purchase the new Air Jordans on Black Friday.”

Suddenly, it was as if the scales on my eyes fell away, and I was able to see the situation clearly. Michael Jordan would not be arriving at the Nicholasville mall. However, his line of shoes would in fact be hitting the shelves later this week, and these people were waiting in line to pre-purchase a pair. As our mistake began to sink in for the people around us (“Hey! These girls think they’re in line to see Michael Jordan!”), I looked again at the police officers at the front of the line. With renewed clarity, I saw that they were actually just a few Foot Locker employees in their black and white referree uniform, waiting to hand out the tickets for the shoes.

My dear reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever been laughed at by an entire line of strangers, but I can tell you it is a very surreal and humbling experience. Luckily for me, my friends and even myself had joined in the laughter as we made our Walk of Shame back to the car in defeat. Just then, one of the police officers/Foot Locker employees shouted to us.

“Hey wait! Michael Jordan is coming!” We stopped and turned, confused. He laughed and said “Yeah, I’m about to pick him up from the airport now!” The crowd went wild with more mocking laughter, I said, “Okay, thank you,” and we continued on our way to the car.

This story has absolutely no lesson to it. It’s just something really dumb I did that my friends continue to bring up to this day. One thing we did decide-after a very long time of my friends shouting and asking how in the world I had managed to misunderstand something so badly-was that our friend group was extremely ready to jump in and do something good for each other. In one way or another, we had a bonding experience that would stick with us for a lifetime. One forged by the power of dreams, excitement, and very bad hearing.

As a side note, if anyone out there knows Michael Jordan, I owe my friend a signed copy of Space Jam.

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