To six-time champ Jordan, pal Jeter an idol
NBA legend thrilled to greet Yankees' captain during tribute ceremony
NEW YORK -- They met as competitors in the Arizona Fall League class of 1994, when Michael Jordan was already one of the biggest sports stars on the planet, having long since conquered his mastery of the hardwood floor and now trying to make his skills click on the baseball diamond.
Derek Jeter was doing the same, a 20-year-old wearing the uniform of the Chandler Diamondbacks and fine-tuning his swing to chase a boyhood dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees. The future captain and His Airness, then with the Scottsdale Scorpions, had more in common than they thought.
"M.J. is like a brother to me," Jeter said. "I've known him for quite some time. We first met when I was in the Arizona Fall League; he was playing baseball. Our relationship has grown throughout the years. He's like an older brother I've never had."
Jordan was one of the surprise guests for Jeter's on-field ceremony on Sunday, walking out of the first-base dugout after Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Dave Winfield were introduced. Having tracked Jeter's career over the past two decades and enjoyed common ground as a leading Nike pitchman with the captain, Jordan has grown to become a big fan of Jeter's.
"I don't think anybody can say one thing bad about Derek," Jordan said. "He's a complete champion. He's an idol for me, in terms of how he's well respected in the game, from not just his teammates, but his opponents. He carries himself like every professional baseball player, or professional athlete, should.
"Just about the way he carried around himself from a personal standpoint, that I truly admire. Knowing the expectations of others, he's maintained and done things the right way. In this time where very few people take the time to say 'What if?' before they make a decision, he's done that. And he's made the right decision each and every time."
Jeter said that he has had numerous conversations about life on and off the playing field with Jordan, a fellow mega-star who can relate to an existence in the blinding spotlight. Jeter had an inkling that "something was up before the ceremony, noticing that Jordan was in New York. Normally, Jordan would've dropped him a line.
"It was great that he could be part of it, because I've learned quite a bit from him," Jeter said.
Jeter said that Jordan often ribs him about the six NBA titles that he owns, compared to Jeter's five World Series wins (so does Yogi Berra, who wasn't able to attend Sunday's ceremony but has bragging rights intact with 10 Yankees rings). Jordan acknowledged that comparing basketball to baseball is a little bit different.
"I'm [among] 12 players out there, where I can affect 12 players," Jordan said. "Derek has to rely upon his other teammates; everybody has to do their respective jobs. For the team to be successful, everybody has to do their job. From a leadership standpoint, you have to lead in that manner. I think he's done that.
"I think the four guys he played with throughout his whole career, they can all vouch for that leadership that he presented, along with the managers that he played for. Winning thrives on great leadership, and he's a great leader. It doesn't surprise me that he's been successful during the time he's been in the game because of the leadership he presents on the field."
Jordan's post-playing career presents a possible blueprint for Jeter, who has often said that he would like to call the shots in an ownership position when his last at-bat is in the books. Jordan said that he believes Jeter will be successful in whatever career path he chooses after the Yankees.
"He's prepared for this. He chose to step away from the game on his own," Jordan said. "I think there are a lot of things out there that he hasn't experienced yet. He hasn't gotten married yet, hasn't had kids. These are all different challenges that he's probably looking forward to. I've heard him talk about possibly owning a team.
"I think he has a clean slate at his own disposal. He has a great reputation; financially, he's put himself in a good position. His knowledge of the game is strong. He's going to sit down with his family and pick his next step. I promise you he's going to give it the same type of effort as he did for the game of baseball. I wish him the best."