real Michael Jordan puts up the game-winning shot over Bryon Russell to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals in 1997.
The real Michael Jordan puts up the game-winning shot over Bryon Russell to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals in 1997. Fred Jewell/AP
More than 7,000 people turned up Monday to watch the NBA Development League's Utah Flash host the Dakota Wizards, most of them probably for the half-time show in which Michael Jordan would play one-on-one with former Utah Jazz star Bryon Russell.
It was billed as a charity rematch of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals, in which Jordan sunk a game-winning jump shot over Russell. The championship went to the Chicago Bulls, but Jazz fans were convinced that Jordan fouled Russell.
So, there it was at half-time Monday. The lights were dimmed NBA-style, the crowd was excited, and Russell was on the court to confront his nemesis — except it wasn't the real Jordan, but an impersonator. Soon enough, the crowd began booing.
Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen tells NPR's Robert Siegel that Russell was in on the gag, but he acknowledged it went "terribly wrong."
"When I put the offer out there, I was hoping to give these guys an opportunity to play each other. And then when Michael didn't show, we'd put this ... skit together to try and keep it entertaining," Brandt says.
He has since issued a formal apology.
Still, Brandt acknowledged that they used the Jordan look-alike to test the team's social media strategy. Hours before the game, he says, they filmed the impersonator at a restaurant and leaked it through Twitter. But it wasn't until the local newspaper picked up the story as fact did news of "Jordan's" appearance spread.
Still, the crowd could have had many clues that the man on the court was not the 6-foot-7-inch Jordan. Their only similarity: They are both bald.
"The guy was only 6 feet tall," Brandt says. "I would say he barely looked like Mike other than the fact that he was bald."