We’re doing a little throwback to the time a basketball legend once called The Magic City home. Yep—we’re talking about the one and only Michael Jordan. Let’s take a look at his time spent here in Birmingham and his brief time spent as a Birmingham Baron.
#23 on the court and #45 on the diamond
About 21 years ago, Michael Jordan left the court and tried out baseball for his one and only season. And like most things he does, he was surprisingly good. After winning three championships with the Chicago Bulls, he was assigned to the Birmingham Barons. You’re probably thinking why Birmingham of all places? The Bulls and Chicago White Sox were under the same ownership so the transition to the White Sox’s Double-A affiliate, the Barons, just seemed like a no-brainer.
The excitement spread through the entire Southeast. The Hoover Met would see car tags not just from Alabama anymore. People were coming from as far as the Midwest just to see him play. Wherever Jordan went, his fans followed. Because of this, the Barons set attendance records at every ballpark they played at in the Southern League.
Just like most athletes, Jordan had some great days and some not-so-great days. I guess you can make that call based on some of his stats:
- First game as a Baron, Jordan goes 0-for-3 with two strikeouts
- He later gains a 13-game hitting streak that pushes his batting average to .327
- Hits in the first of several game-winning runs. His 7th-inning double broke their 4-4 tie and gave the Barons a 9-4 win.
- Had one of the coolest game finishes in Barons’ history on July 6th. The Barons had no hits by the 8th-inning against Huntsville until they rallied back in the 9th. The score is 5-3 with the bases loaded and 2 outs so the tension is high. Jordan hits to 3rd base with the other team unable to make a play. This one hit clears the bases for a 6-5 win.
Birmingham hits the big screen
Michael Jordan is a man of many talents including acting. In 1996, he teamed up with Bugs Bunny for the classic movie, “Space Jam”—possibly the most underrated kids movie of all time in my opinion.
Check out the trailer for yourself:
If you haven’t seen “Space Jam”, I suggest as soon as you get done reading this article, you go rent it ASAP. The film mixes live-action with animation and follows a fictionalized version of what happened between Jordan’s initial retirement from basketball in 1993 and his 1995 comeback. The Looney Tunes enlist the NBA legend to help them win a basketball game against aliens who intend to use the animated creatures as attractions in their theme park.
There are some familiar faces/voices like Bill Murray, Danny DeVito, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson and Larry Bird to name a few.
Filming locations in the ‘Ham
The opening scene was shot at the Hoover Met, where we get a glimpse into a Baron’s baseball game during Jordan’s time there. He’s repping the Barons’ uniform and everything. It’s not really the highlight of the movie considering that he strikes out but it’s filmed right here at home.
The second spot is the “Birmingham Pines Country Club.” No, it’s not a real golf course, but Birmingham got a little name recognition. After all, Jordan loved playing golf. His house in Greystone sat on a private course and he would frequent local courses like Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club and the Country Club of Birmingham.
Life off the field
Jordan’s arrival to the Birmingham Barons had mixed reviews. His fans loved the new adventure he was taking through baseball. His name alone brought in record-breaking crowds. As for the players, the excitement wasn’t reciprocated as much. Some players were a little salty that he received a position rather than someone who had done more to earn their spot in baseball.
The new president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, Kenneth Coleman was once a Baron and happened to play with Michael. You can read about his positive account with playing with the world’s most famous basketball player here.
According to a reporter at AL.com, here’s some of the places he hung out at:
- Movies at the Colonnade
- Laundry done at Mark’s Quality Cleaners in Inverness
- Rounds of gold at Greystone, Shoal Creek, Oxmoor Valley, Inverness, Old Overton and the Country Club of Birmingham
- Sammy’s, an adult night club where the attention turned away from the entertainers and went to “His Airness”
Let’s face it. Basketball was always meant for Jordan and he hooped a little even in Birmingham
With possibly the most iconic dunk style in NBA history, Jordan went back to his roots during his time in Birmingham. During the summer of 1989, he showed students at the University of Alabama Birmingham his legendary talents.
He participated in a dunk contest at UAB’s Bartow Arena where he showed off every possible dunking move he had. Seemed like he spent more time in the air than he did on the court. Take a look at some rare footage of the once-in-a-lifetime event:
If you’re fascinated with Michael Jordan’s feats through his successful career, make sure to check out ESPN’s 10-part documentary “The Last Dance”. I didn’t plan on watching it, but the first episode sucked me in and I was hooked.