How Michael Jordan Helped a Grieving Family Heal Following the September 11 Attacks

Thousands of Americans lost a loved one following the events of September 11, 2001. One of them is Shaun Powell, a longtime NBA reporter. Powell’s brother Scott, whose life was lost that fateful morning, was a computer contractor at the Pentagon.

On the 20th commemoration of 9/11, Powell shared the story of how Michael Jordan helped bring a bit of joy — and healing — to his grieving family.

Powell asked if his family could meet Michael Jordan

After his brother died, Powell was contacted by countless people sending their condolences. One of them was Brian McIntyre, an NBA senior vice president, who asked Powell to let him know if there was anything the league could do.

While there was nothing at the time, Powell reached out some time later to make a request (h/t NBA.com).

Days turned into weeks and months, and once semi-normalcy returned to our family — obviously, nothing would ever be the same again — I asked McIntyre about that offer.

“Sure. What do you need?”

“Well, just one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“You think his kids could meet Michael Jordan?”

Shaun Powell

Scott was a big NBA fan living in Washington D.C. He never got to meet Jordan, who came out of a three-year retirement shortly after 9/11 to join the Wizards.

“He’d [Scott] ask about certain players, which wasn’t unusual,” Powell wrote. “As a sportswriter, you ask questions and you also get them. He’d wonder about Jordan; again, a pretty common inquiry for me those days: ‘What’s he like?’”

Powell had covered Jordan for years, following him before the 90’s dynasty and after. He knew the effect MJ had on people who met him; a larger-than-life figure who made the world stop, even if it was temporary. He was the type of athlete who could help his family heal during a devastating time.

Jordan shared a few moments with a grieving family

The NBA managed to come through on Powell’s request to meet Jordan. Following a Wizards practice, Michael met Scott’s son and daughter, his mom, and Shaun’s daughter, among others.

“Then [Jordan] turned the corner and went straight to the kids,” Powell said. “’What’s up, little man?’ and, ‘Hey little girl,’ and put them at ease. Jordan still knew how to work a room. Then, with a hug: ‘Hello mom, glad to see you.’ Then, to me, with a playful dig: ‘Why’d they bring you?’”

The interaction lasted seven to 10 minutes, according to Powell. Jordan gave lots of handshakes and high-fives to the kids, while offering his sincere condolences to the family. In the end, MJ and the whole group took a photo together.

It was long enough — and memorable enough — of an interaction to where years later, Powell saw Jordan for the first time since that day. His Airness held an informal Q&A with several invited reporters, and as the event ended and people were leaving, Michael stopped Powell and asked, “Everyone good?”

Jordan dedicated the entire season to helping families affected by 9/11

Michael Jordan bows his head during a moment of silence in New York as the Knicks host the Washington Wizards.
Washington Wizards forward Michael Jordan bows his head during a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks during pre-game ceremonies at the start of his first game, against the New York Knicks, since returning to the NBA for the second time. | MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images

A brief meeting with Jordan went a long way in helping Powell and his family heal from their loss. But MJ dedicated his entire first season in D.C. to aid people affected by 9/11.

Jordan decided to donate his entire $1 million Wizards salary to the 9/11 recovery effort and the victims of the attacks. “It’s my way of giving back and hopefully aiding those in need during a terrible time,” Jordan said at the time. In addition, with Jordan not announcing his comeback until after 9/11, the six-time NBA champion chose not to do any interviews regarding his return “out of deference to the victims.”

Gestures, both big and small, weren’t uncommon for Jordan. As someone who covered MJ for years, Powell knew how Michael treated people whose lives were impacted by meeting the basketball legend.

“The truest test of character, though, is how you treat the people who don’t matter to you, and Jordan by most accounts aced that test,” said Powell. “There were too many tales, most undocumented, of Jordan using his celebrity for good, when there were no TV cameras around, when there was nothing for him to gain from the act itself. He already had all the positive publicity he’d ever need, anyway. Some of these deeds came with a firm request from Jordan: Don’t tell the world.”

Instead, Powell did tell the world about Jordan meeting his family. And if the reporter is right, there are countless other families who have similar stories to share.

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