When Michael Jordan lost in wheelchair basketball to future Paralympian
In 1987, Eric Barber, 16, wrote to an NBC show called Sports Fantasy to pitch his dream: to play Michael Jordan one-on-one. The caveat: It would be in wheelchair basketball.
Jordan accepted. He would play Barber, who was born with scoliosis and lost the use of his legs at age 3.
They dueled in front of a gym crowd at Jordan’s basketball camp at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. Barber was confident, predicting victory and detailing his strategy before the event.
“Pretty much just to go around him. Keep him off balance. Shoot from like 15 feet. If I miss, get a rebound before he gets there,” he said on NBC.
The stakes: first to 20 points for a Coca-Cola, decided as the two had a 45-minute conversation beforehand. Barber went up 16-4 before Jordan closed to 18-14.
“You know how competitive Michael is,” game referee Larry Labiak said, according to the Chicago Tribune in 1999. “He started sticking his feet in Eric’s spokes to slow him down. But it was all in fun.”
Barber then drained the winner, later chalking up the victory to Jordan’s lack of experience.
“His basketball skills transferred, but he didn’t get the hang of the moving chair, so I took advantage of him,” Barber said with a smile, according to the Chicago Tribune in 2001. “I didn’t feel too badly because he had been taking advantage of people with his superior skills for a while.”
Barber went on to make four U.S. Paralympic wheelchair basketball teams, starting in 2000 and earning two bronze medals.
In the recent ESPN series “The Last Dance,” Jordan had another interaction with a future Paralympian. In video from 1998, Steve Emt was shown greeting Jordan after a Chicago Bulls game. Emt’s connection: He was a practice player for the University of Connecticut in 1992-93, going up against future Bull Scott Burrell.
In 1995, Emt was paralyzed in a car accident. He later took up wheelchair curling and made the 2018 U.S. Paralympic team.
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