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Revisit Michael Jordan And Chris Rock’s February 1997 Cover Story: ‘MIKE CHECKA’

This article originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of VIBE Magazine | Cover photography by John Scarisbrick

Chris Rock’s about to go one on one with Michael Jordan. It’s not going to be pretty.

WHAT‘s left to say about Michael Jordan? Second only to Jesus Christ in one popularity poll, he’s gone from Tar Heel to titan, dominating courts and commercials and everything in between. He came out of retirement to spank the entire NBA and even learned to live with Dennis Rodman (which probably helped him prepare to do battle with monsters from outer space). He also seems to have come to terms with the loss of his pops.

But don’t sleep on Chris Rock. He’s the man who downed Suge Knight on worldwide TV. He’s the voice of that obnoxious little puppet who blows up Penny Hardaway’s Nike commercials, plus he’s had TV specials and movie roles and sung duets with Barry White. Most recently, he rolled out Bring the Pain, a hip hop comedy album produced by Prince Paul, and his own self-titled talk show on HBO. What!

Mike and Chris first met on the set of Saturday Night Live in 1991. “Everybody on the show had some sh*t for Mike to sign,” recalls Chris. “I was the only one who didn’t f**k with him.” Jordan, who was surprised by the grueling rehearsal schedule, says he won’t be making a repeat appearance: “They better replay that one.”

VIBE hooked them up again last October in a plush Manhattan hotel suite at an impossibly early hour. Overcaffeinated publicists scurried through the halls mak-ing nervous noises into the cell phones pressed to their ears—much to the amusement of Michael’s usual entourage. Rock showed up a half hour late, helped himself to some fresh-squeezed juice, and started making fun of the promotional material for Mike’s new fragrance(!). Jordan entered the room tapping his wristwatch and scold-ing the funnyman. That’s where we join them now…

MICHAEL JORDAN: Don’t you have a watch yet, man?

CHRIS ROCK: The limo didn’t show up, and it’s not easy getting a cab.

Don’t worry about it, bro.

Okay, what similarities do we have? You’re 33,1’m 31. I’m born in Brooklyn, you’re born in Brooklyn. Family from the South, family from the South. Lost my father ago, you lost your father…

Three years ago.

A FRIEND OF MIKE’S: You jump high?

I can’t play ball for shit. It’s sad, my ballplaying ability. But I can fake it—play for the exercise.

Alright, Michael. Michael, Michael, Michael, Michael. Let me ask you this: Do you think O.J. did it?


And no matter what your feelings are, would it stop you from playing golf with him? Every time I’ve seen O.J., he’s had golf clothes on.

I don’t know if I would play golf with him. I don’t know him that well….

O.J. is actually like the first Michael Jordan, in a sense. This black athlete, superpopular…

I would say either O.J. or Dr. J. They crossed a lot of color barriers. I think he and Dr. J were the first to integrate from a sports standpoint.

“Do you think losing your father is God’s punishment for being successful.” “No. I think it’s a test from God.”

But did he do it? I’m just like most of the people, I think that…a lot of evidence may point in one direction; but the court spoke. If they said he was innocent, then he’s innocent. I let it drop there and move forward. Shit, no one will ever truly know, ’cause no one was there. He’s innocent as far as I’m concerned; I’ll take the word of the judicial system.

Now if someone accused you of murder, would you call Johnnie Cochran?

Right now I would. In a heartbeat. You kidding me, why not?

Johnnie Cochran! You got a plug from Michael Jordan. Okay, famous-guy, stuff: People always give you suggestions.

It’s like, you got a skillion dollars, you’re the best ballplayer in the world, but still people will walk up to you and say, [Lil Penny voice] “You know what you need to do?” What suggestion pisses you off the most?

Actually, anybody that tells me how to spend my money, I think that’s really insulting. I’ve earned this money; you didn’t help me earn this money. You wanna tell me to put it here, here, or here. I think to some degree that’s an insult.

You left school early to play ball, then you went back and got your degree.


Tiger Woods just dropped out of school to play golf: No one said shit. Baseball players are encouraged not to go to college. Do you think people fuck with the black athlete a little too much in basketball?

Look at what athletes are weighing against college: an opportunity to make a lot of money—a lot more money than some of these people with Ph.D.’s and all the masters degrees you can have. Basketball is one industry where you can get paid for potential. Not for things that you’ve done on a professional level, but the potential of being a great player—and you can be set for the rest of your life. Some people don’t like that. But we didn’t determine that. You can’t really criticize these kids for making these decisions. If you have an opportunity to go out there and grab for that pot of gold, why not go for it? But you have to have your own objectives. You want to do it? Great. You want to go to college? That’s great too.

But do you think it’s unfair the amount of attention paid on basketball players who don’t go to school?

I think it is unfair when you focus so much on basketball.

People drop out of school every day.

Every day.

To get shitty jobs.

That is true.

My brother dropped out of school to drive a truck—no one batted an eye.

Nobody jumps on the baseball players because they very rarely jump from high school to the majors. They go through the minor leagues, then they come into the ranks of the professional baseball players. But college basketball players come straight into the pros.

So it’s jealousy?

Sure, some of it. I would think so.

See! Jealousy. Now, baseball is going through a popularity thing right now. Even if they didn’t have the strike, baseball is having a hard time reaching the youth. My feeling, baseball has not learned how to embrace the “asshole athlete.” If Charles Barkley played baseball, he’d be on nine teams. Matter of fact, they might get him out of the league. Do you think baseball’s way too conservative, like they don’t know how to make certain personalities work for them?

I think to some degree, yes. I mean, for instance, with Charles you can say what you want to say, but he’s probably one of the best players to play basketball.


I can’t think of a baseball player who has that personality….

Well, you got Albert Belle, who gets booed in every stadium in baseball. That same personally in basketball, he’s the Man.

Sure, he’s Dennis Rodman. Not to the point where he cross-dresses, but the way he plays. And his teammates love him, but everybody else hates him.

Do Dennis Rodman’s teammates love him?

Well, they respect him. I wouldn’t call it love. I mean, when we walk off the basketball court, we don’t care where Dennis goes. We know he’s probably going to some strip joint or some other weird club. We all understand that. Just so when we come back to practice the next day, he’s ready to do his job. We don’t question what the hell he’s been doing up to that point. We can’t babysit him. Everybody knows that coming into it. He don’t throw any curves.

But baseball can’t handle that type of personality. They won’t accept it from a black athlete. They will embrace an asshole like Lenny Dykstra all day. You know, he can crash cars, drive drunk—[dumb-ass voice] “He’s a player. He’s the kind of guy ya love to have on your team.” If Lenny Dykstra was a brother, he’d be a bellhop right now.

I don’t know Lenny, [Laughter] but you may be right.

I like Lenny. I like him, but you know. Okaaay. When was the last time you were truly uncomfortable—feet wet something vicious, car broke down, hying to get a boost somewhere?

Last time? Baseball was an uncomfortable situation. It becomes uncomfortable when you’re in situations that you’re not familiar with. But I put myself in that predicament, and I enjoyed it. I got comfortable just by learning more about the game, but initially it was uncomfortable.

It reminded you of before you got paid?

Well—not quite. [Laughter] I mean, before I got paid I still had the skills to get paid. Baseball, it was a whole different thing: I was trying to obtain the skills. The money part wasn’t the emphasis. I was getting paid maybe $200 a month, so quite naturally it wasn’t the money. It was just the idea of picking up something new. Playing a game you haven’t played for 14 years.

Everybody’s more or less got their own opinions about why I was doing it. And why I shouldn’t do it. Instead of just giving a brother an opportunity to go out and do what he can. He’s not hurting the game; if anything he’s helping the game.

It was cool, you went to the minors. That was the cool part. If you’da gone straight to the majors, it would’ve been, like, Ahh, come on.

I had a great time. Shit, it was a lot of fun for me. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

What makes Michael Jordan laugh, TV, comedians?

I watch you. I watched your HBO special, and I’ve been mocking every damn thing you did on it. Especially that one, “I looove black people. I love black people, but I hate them fuckin’ niggas.” You gotta give me a copy of that special, man. I’d carry it with me everywhere, ’cause I know a lo-o-ot of niggas who don’t know…. [Laughter]

Michael Jordan, Chris Rock: 'Mike Checka' Cover Story, Feb 1997
John Scarisbrick

Okay, this is worth getting up in the morning. He likes me and Cochran. All the sales are going up. Okay, you’re 33?

I’ll be 34 in February.

Okay, so when you were in high school, Run-D.M.C. was really big. Run-D.M.C. was the shit.

Oh, sure.

Any rap you still into?

I don’t listen to much rap. I’m more of a mellow man. I listen to Anita Baker. I listen to Toni Braxton. That type of sound.

In high school, though, were you down with the King?

Little bit. KC and the Sunshine Band was still…

KC—really?! That’s light, you’re from North Carolina.

C’mon, man. I ain’t from the big city. I didn’t know nothing about no rap music. Shee-it. Lionel Rich ie was still hot back in those days. I had heard of Run-D.M.C. back in high school days but not to the magnitude of a city person.

You said “city person.”

Yeah, I was a country brother. I was born in Brooklyn, but I stayed nine months. I don’t even remember it. At all.

Here’s a weird question. You lost your father; I lost my father. Do you think somewhere in the back of your mind, like, this is God’s punishment for being successful?

No. I think it’s God’s way of telling me that I’ve gotta make some mature decisions without the support system of a father. When you have to make decisions, you always talk to your parents, ’cause they’ve known you ever since you was a snotty-nosed kid. Now I gotta make decisions myself with the lessons and the teachings that my father had given me over the 3o years that I was around him. So it’s a test. I think it’s a test.

You and I, we’re part of the fortunate crew of black men who actually had fathers.


So, I mean, to lose a father when most people you know—or a large percentage of the people you grew up with—didn’t even know their father. Either their father didn’t hang around or just cut the fuck out. What pisses me off is whenever I see a guy as old as my father who ain’t shit. Igo in the old neighborhood, and I see like a fuckin’ wino, 6o, alive and just chillin! But my pops is gone. Does that piss you off at all?

Same thing to me is when I see someone who had a child and doesn’t take care of that responsibility; who’d rather run away from it—now that pisses me off. If you were there to lay and make that baby, you’ve gotta pay the price. You have a responsibility for that child. You shouldn’t be running around and being selfish—enjoying the rest of your life while that kid’s suffering and the wife or the girl is suffering. That’s just sad. And that won’t help the black community. Certainly that kid’s gonna entertain a lot of different problems as he gets older, ’cause he didn’t have two parents there to teach him. That’s our problem in our society today. One of ’em.

Do you feel people put too much pressure on you to be a leader because you’re black? Like, no one says, “You know, Stallone needs to do more for Italians.”

True, especially with athletes. We’ve been given this position. We didn’t campaign to be role models, but we accept it and try to do something with it, even though it’s added pressure. We feel an obligation to give some type of guidance to other people. But the true role models are the parents who see these individuals every single day. We only do it from a generalization, from a distance. We gotta speak to so many different people. Kids need individual attention. It’s just a bailout when they try to give it to us.

We are not role models. We are people who are popular to kids at a young age. Nobody likes you when you play like shit. Nobody likes me when I’m not funny. Your parents are the most important people in your life. And whoever you around is who the fuck you gonna act like.


Okay, James Jordan Foundation opened in Chicago. What’s that all about?

You know, you’ve been to a Boys and Girls Club. What we try to do is give kids an outlet to get off the streets. You know all the shit we used to do when we was at the Boys and Girls Club. It let us vent our frustration, our anger, instead of turning a gun toward someone else or getting into gangs. That’s what it’s all about.

Okay, you’re doing cologne here. I don’t have anywhere near as much money as you—and I probably wouldn’t do cologne. They’d have to give me a loooooooot of money. A looooooooooooooooooooot of money. A ton. Do you realize no man has ever done cologne, in the history of cologne? Suave guys [like] Sean Connery don’t got cologne. Gay men don’t even have cologne. You’d figure some gay guy would have a fragrance by now. Little Richard would have Tutti-Frutti. “Tutti-Frutti by Little Richard.” Smell all fruity. What am I trying to say?

Do you think this is too far—at all? Did your wife talk you into it? ‘Cause my woman has talked me into many a thing. Did Juanita talk you into this?

Do you wear cologne?

Yes, I wear cologne.

Right, so you enjoy fragrance.


Well, I enjoy fragrance. And I think the whole concept was, let’s see if you can create a fragrance that everybody can associate you with. For years, athletes were known as sweaty, dumb jocks who wore sweats all the time and tennis shoes.

Now basketball players get the most girls. And they always wear suits.

So the awareness of fashion is starting to change. It’s not just a woman’s thing. I know 20 years ago this might be a gay thing, but 20 years later, I mean, look….

We’ve seen your kids—we trust you. We’re not questioning you. [Laughter] Dennis done got in there now. 

Michael Jordan, Chris Rock: 'Mike Checka' Cover Story, Feb 1997
Michael Jordan (center) and Chris Rock with the cast of 'Saturday Night Live' in 1991. Getty Images

Oh, noooo. That’s an exit. Do not enter.

Oh, man—okaaay. You got enough money of course. So you had to do this ’cause you liked it.

I loved it. It’s a creative thing. When we did the Air Jordan shoe, same thing. Hadn’t been done. Innovative. Kinda weird at first. Next thing you know, it has a life of its own. We’re hoping the same process happens here. You got a bottle, didn’t you?

They sent me a whole thing….

Pass that out to some of your friends in Brooklyn. Some of ’em could probably use it. [Laughter]

What endorsements would you never do?

I would never do anything like Rogaine. I mean that’s just hoping and wishing that I can get an Afro next week. Or, I wouldn’t do cigarettes, cigars. I don’t want to project something that’s viewed negatively by a lot of people—but I love cigars. Shee-it, I’d smoke a cigar in a heartbeat. I smoke ’em, but I wouldn’t endorse ’em. And condoms. I mean, even though everybody gotta use them. But they too small! They gotta get some bigger ones. I’d endorse the big ones. [Laughter]

“Hi. I’m a pro basketball player. As you know, we get lots of pussy.”

We use Double X.

He’s a married man, but, you know, pro basketball player. What’s the craziest thing a girl ever did to get your attention?

Lie down in front of my damn car. I had just gotten to Chicago. Everybody wanted an autograph, but I had to be out. This girl laid in front of my car and said, “I’m not leaving. I’m not getting up until you give me an autograph.”

A FRIEND OF MIKE’S: She’s dead now. [Laughter] Okay, I guess the owner’s the most powe0 guy….

Oh, [Bulls owner] Jerry [Reinsdorf]?

Then it’s you and [coach] Phil [Jackson].

Phil, then me.

Phil, then you, okay. Here’s a question: B.J. Armstrong’s your man. Did you ever think about trying to pull any strings for him to not get traded?

B.J. and I were probably the tightest of all of us on the team. I’d known him since 1983. Pippen and Horace [Grant] were over here. Bill [Cartwright] and everybody else were on their own, but me and B.J. always hung out. I knew he and Phil didn’t get along, so as long as I was there I was able to soothe the tension between them. But when I left, that’s when things went totally off track. They were at each other’s throats. B.J. wanted to be a scoring point guard and Phil wanted him to be more of a setup point guard. When I came back, things were so messed up, nothing I could’ve done to save B.J. from being traded.

[Bulls VP of basketball operations] Jerry Krause told me that they were gonna leave B.J. unprotected [in the expansion draft]. I said, You gotta be crazy. Next thing you know, they put him on the wire, and they snapped him up in a heartbeat.

First guy picked.

First guy. And it pissed me off too. I told Jerry at that moment, You knew what was gonna happen. You knew he was gonna be picked. That was just your way of soothing tensions between Phil and B.J. If I wouldn’t have retired those two years, B.J. woulda never gotten traded.

He still lives in Highland Park right near me. I think he’s happy. He’s got his money. He’s got three rings. He has an opportunity to play the way he wants. I’m happy for him….But I hate it. That was my boy.

Well, I guess that about covers it—unless you wanna talk about Bugs.

Don’t ask stupid questions. Y’all are fine, man. You venture on the stupid questions when you start talkin’ about Bugs. You all been different so far, and I like it. Now tell me about these Yankees. Y’all Yankee lovers? That was some game last night against the Rangers.

Yeah, well, you hate to win on an error because you think…

Shee-it. Are you kidding me? That’s like winning on a missed free throw. [Voice rising] Are you kidding me? A win is a win. Are you a Knick fan?

I’m the biggest Knick fan.

They gonna be all right this year.

Aw man, you know they gonna be I-ight this year. [Laughter]

Don’t go crazy now. It’s just the same guys in different uniforms. They ain’t have nobody that we haven’t bust in the past. So what’s hot, man? What you got new coming out?

Me, I’m doing a TV show. Like an Arsenio-type thing on HBO.

Oh, cool. You got me. I’ll watch it in a heartbeat.

Plus I’m getting my new act together; go on tour. Got some new Li’l Penny commercials coming out.

You know what Barkley says about Li’l Penny?


He says, “Damn, Penny don’t have no personality. That’s why he gotta have a little doll!”

This article originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of VIBE Magazine | Cover photography by John Scarisbrick