"Bag It, Michael!"
March 14, 1994
MARK MULVOY is the former managing editor of SI who wrote the infamous cover billing "Bag It, Michael!" for a March 1994 story about a certain NBA star's minor league baseball career. And Michael is the Jordan who famously took exception to that cover and vowed never to talk to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED again.
And then there's me: I had just finished a run of eight years as SI's NBA writer when that issue came out. I'm writing this not so much because I regret the cover line but because I regret never brokering a golf match between Jordan and Mulvoy. Both are excellent golfers, ultra-competitive and inclined to stick in the needle whenever possible, which as they see it is pretty much all the time.
Over the years I have spoken to both men about that cover, and they remain aggressively adherent to their original positions. Mulvoy saw it as a legitimate description of what he considered a sideshow—"Eddie Gaedel reincarnate," as he put it, conjuring up Bill Veeck's dispatching a dwarf to the plate in 1951. And Jordan took it as an egregiously unfair and pointedly personal insult that was at odds with what he saw as his legit contributions to minor league baseball, not to mention his (occasional) contributions to the Birmingham Barons' offense.
Both men use SI cover history to bolster their points. "I put Michael on the cover 22 times and there was no problem," Mulvoy has said. "Nike was happy, Gatorade was happy, and Michael was happy. So one cover doesn't make him look like the greatest ever and he gets mad?"
Jordan sees it differently. "SI made all this money putting me on the cover, and then you stab me in the back?" he told me. "I'll never forget it."
When I got back on the NBA beat in 2001, Jordan, by then a Wizard, was unfailingly cordial, to the point that I suggested, "Let's end this thing, Michael, and sit down and talk for an hour."
"It's not you, Jack," he said, throwing an arm around my shoulder, "but I'm not doing an interview with your magazine."
So it has remained. But as I write this, I realize: There's no reason not to get MJ and MM out on the golf course, two decades after that story. The two haven't spoken since 1991, when Jordan received SI's Sportsman of the Year award. I don't care what side bets they make, but I know what the ultimate stakes should be.
The loser has to carry a sign through the clubhouse:
BAG IT, MICHAEL.
OR BAG IT, MARK.