Team USA gets lift with MJ in the mix

U.S. Team captain Fred Couples watches a practice round with Michael Jordan at the Presidents Cup.

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SAN FRANCISCO – Ping Pong? Check.

Pool table? Check.

Video games? Check.

All the necessary food and drink? Come on, are you serious?

The locker rooms here at the Presidents Cup are compatible in so many ways . . . save for one intriguing component.

“Can you imagine,” Geoff Ogilvy said, “how intimidating it must be to walk into their locker room and see Michael and Tiger.”

As in Jordan and Woods.

MJ and TW.

Arguably the most dominant team athlete ever serving as an assistant captain to a team led by the arguably the most dominant individual athlete ever? Pretty good combination, eh?

Now we could spend hours debating just what in the name of Walter Hagen Jordan is doing here in the first place (”His role is to have fun with the guys,” U.S. captain Fred Couples said), but there is one thing that can’t be denied.

The man has cache. Icon of all icons, you could say.

Then again, that’s looking at things from the American side, where basketball happens to maintain a lofty spot in our sports landscape.

But how about the lads representing flags not within the borders of North America and Europe, guys who grew up where rugby, soccer, and cricket thrill the masses? Does Jordan resonate with them?

Tim Clark, being diplomatic and polite, merely smiled, then shook his head slowly.

“Obviously, I know his accomplishments and all . . . but I don’t think he’s going to hit one tee shot or one putt.”

In other words, Jordan doesn’t move the needle for Clark.

photo

John Smit after South Africa won an international rugby union match July 4 against the British Lions.

Of course, such an admission might just land Clark on MJ’s hit list, of sorts, right there with Byron Russell, Jeff Van Gundy, Jerry Krause, Isiah Thomas, and even Leroy Smith, who didn’t do a thing other than make a high school basketball team. Each man was called out during Jordan’s “acceptance” speech at last month’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction and if Jordan were to discover that Clark would prefer his locker-room motivation to come from John Smit and not the five-time NBA MVP, well, he’d probably ask for re-write.

But John Smit would be Clark’s guy, if International captain Greg Norman went Couples’ MJ route.

“I love to watch rugby. That’s our sport,” Clark said, so being captain of the South African national union team that is ranked No. 1 in the world thus qualifies Smit as something rather special in his eyes.

A similar thought process using Mike Weir as an example would probably land Wayne Gretzky into the International Team’s locker room. Hockey guys, the two of them.

Extending that further, one would assume that Camilo Villegas would dip into another sport for his motivation. “In Colombia,” he said, “it’s all about soccer.” So, sure, arguably that country’s greatest soccer player, Carlos Valderrama, would be a consideration, as would fellow South Americans, Diego Maradona and, of course, the incomparable Pele, “but you know what,” Villegas said, “it probably wouldn’t be a soccer player. I’d be more inspired by a guy like Lance (Armstrong).”

(Hey, cycling enthusiasts have to stick together, though it’s a relief that Villegas didn’t suggest that David Feherty, another bike-rider, should be the International Team’s answer to Jordan.)

Not that Jordan’s legend doesn’t register with Villegas. It does. Ditto Aussies Ogilvy and Adam Scott, both of whom are of an era where basketball came into prominence Down Under.

“Back then we had a good basketball league,” Scott said, “and I would watch the Bulls play.”

So Jordan resonates with him?

“Oh, yeah, absolutely.”

photo

Australian cricket team member Donald Bradman in July 1932.

Only Scott is a true Aussie. So is Ogilvy. To them, there is an unyielding allegiance to cricket and the more you might offer an American smirk, the more they would embrace their sport. Scott suggested that an iconic figure who could offer locker-room motivation would be Shane Warne, “one of the greatest bowlers ever,” he said.

Told that Ogilvy tossed out Sir Donald Bradman’s name when asked for an iconic figure who would inspire, Scott nodded his head appovingly. Bradman, it seems, elicits a sense of awe, even eight years after his death at the age of 93.

“The greatest batter ever,” Ogilvy said. “When anything of his goes on eBay, the prices are off the charts.”

Whereas Jordan’s five MVPs are equal to those of Bill Russell and one shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s, and his six NBA championship rings are barely half of the 11 team titles won by Russell and the NHL’s Henri Richard, Bradman’s accomplishments from 50 and 60 years ago remain unmatched.

“Incredible, what he did,” Ogilvy said, offering for example the 99.94 Test batting average that Bradman put up in his prime. Ballyhooed by cricketers as “the greatest achievement in any major sport,” Bradman’s average is such a freak of statistical nature that nothing Jordan put up compares.

Except, that is, if you consider bank accounts and cup trips, be they Ryder or Presidents. Jordan’s advantage in the ledger on both those counts is overwhelming.

Whether or not that qualifies him to be an assistant captain, well, you make the call.

Not that it matters, mind you. The man’s already got the job.

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