For Michael Jordan, anonymity outside of his inner circle is elusive. Still generally recognized as the greatest NBA player of all time, his celebrity transcends sports. Through his longtime relationship as a pitchman for Nike, Jordan has long been a recognizable face worldwide. Still, everyone wants a chance for some alone time. Whether hanging out quietly with friends or just getting off the grid and going for a burger, it’s natural to want to go unrecognized at times.
When he was the toast of the town in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, Jordan strategically worked the angles to ensure some privacy. Sometimes, that involved the age-old practice of getting a little help from his friends.
At least Michael Jordan didn’t have to deal with social media
For all the attention showered upon Michael Jordan during his legendary NBA career, he never had to deal with the crushing weight of constant scrutiny online.
Social media didn’t exist in Jordan’s era. While the six-time NBA MVP had problems finding a quiet place to be alone, his phone wasn’t constantly blowing up with photos of him eating a meal, going to a store, or walking the dog.
But it’s hard being a celebrity. Whereas a major city offers near-complete anonymity to an ordinary person, it just provides more sets of eyes to follow a public figure’s every move.
That was why Jordan learned to be creative when he wanted to escape the spotlight.
Former White Sox star Ozzie Guillen was one of Jordan’s accomplices
Ozzie Guillen is also an institution in Chicago, just not quite at the scale of Michael Jordan (because, hey, who is?). On a recent episode of the La Vida Baseball podcast he cohosts with sones Ozzie Guillen Jr. and Oney Guillen, the World Series-winning former manager of the White Sox explained how Jordan managed to get out of the spotlight.
One of his go-to moves, Guillen explained, was to swap cars with teammates or friends. He remembered what happened one night when he arrived at a Colombian restaurant driving Jordan’s car.
A person outside the restaurant greeted him with: “Oh, come on! You’re not Michael Jordan.”
A bit perplexed, Guillen figured out the mystery when he spotted the “JUMPMAN23” license plates on the vehicle.
Guillen did the switch-a-roo maneuver with Jordan while the basketball legend was in Chicago in 1994. That summer, both played for the White Soxv. Guillen was the starting shortstop on the South Side. Jordan was an aspiring prospect (of sorts) at Double-A Birmingham in the Southern League.
Maybe Michael Jordan should have ditched the vanity plates
Guillen got a small taste of what it was like for Michael Jordan to drive around Chicago. On the other hand, maybe advertising your identity on your license plate wasn’t a great idea while seeking some privacy.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of people posting tales of their criminal activity on social media. When the authorities come knocking on the door, they are somehow surprised.
It was not Mark Zuckerberg that ratted out those criminal masterminds. Neither did Michael Jordan have anyone to blame for people being able to know who he was by the car he drove.
Maybe “IMNOTMJ” was a better plan.