Jordan makes birthday appearance at NBA Legends Brunch

Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues, Alonzo Mourning honored by retired players

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dell Curry had just been honored as the 2019 Hometown Hero at All-Star Weekend, and the award presentation to the popular sharpshooter-turned-broadcaster for the Charlotte Hornets was extra-special because his three children — NBA players Steph and Seth Curry, and daughter Sydel — were on stage to make it.

Moments later, though, an unofficial hometown hero stepped from behind the curtain at the Charlotte Civic Center Sunday to send an even bigger buzz through the Legends Brunch crowd of an estimated 2,000 people.

Michael Jordan, arguably the NBA’s greatest player ever and owner of the Hornets since 2010, made a surprise cameo appearance to cap the annual All-Star celebration of the league’s history and pioneers.

“I see a lot of old friends, a lot of old adversaries, some teammates,” Jordan said. “You guys know today is my 56th birthday — I look young compared to a lot of you guys out there.”

Jordan typically keeps a low profile publicly. Even though All-Star Weekend had flushed him out a couple of times heading toward Sunday night’s game, some of the organizers of the brunch weren’t told he would be dropping by. But the event, presented by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, is one of the highlights of the weekend each year and was attended by nearly 200 former NBA players.

Apparently, an old college teammate from the University of North Carolina Tar Heels convinced Jordan to be one of them.

“Sam Perkins nagged me for about two months to be here,” Jordan said. “I’m glad I chose to do this. It’s great to see the energy that you [fans] provide to us, and to see the former players and the opportunity that you provided to me.”

In addition to Curry’s award, three other Hornets were honored: Muggsy Bogues received the Community Ambassador Award, Alonzo Mourning was given the Global Ambassador Award and Glen Rice was named Hornets Legend of the Year.

“I’m here just to congratulate the four guys who have done an unbelievable job for the city of Charlotte,” Jordan said. “I played against all four of those guys and they were true, true competitors. But the thing I love most about them — I’ve had the chance to spend time with them — is what great people they are, and what they have done for the city.

“When I ask them to be a part of things, I don’t get a ‘no’ from those guys.”

Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood, chairman of the NBRPA board, spoke during the program about the improved benefits the retired players have received in recent years, thanks to financial assistance from both the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA. Among them: A health care program for the league’s alumni and an increase in their pension payments.

Michele Roberts, executive director of the active players’ union, praised the former players for building up the league in which today’s participants thrive. So did Jordan.

“To all the legends, you guys paved the road for all of us,” he said. “Everything that I’ve done, I’ve paid tribute to you guys. I’m glad we were able to find some way that we were able to give things back.”

Current Hornets All-Star guard Kemba Walker presented Bogues with his award, appearing in the morning despite his starting spot in the evening’s game. Hall of Famer and fellow Georgetown star Dikembe Mutombo introduced Mourning, and Mourning in turn presented Rice’s award.

Singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton performed during the poignant “In Memoriam” segment of the program, in which a slideshow of NBA figures who died since the previous Legends Brunch was projected on massive video screens. TNT studio host Ernie Johnson had the crowd laughing and wincing with another one of his comic, corny and annually anticipated poems.

But comedian JB Smoove, who opened the entertainment, had the event’s funniest line, ripped from recent headlines. Gushing in his memory of Magic Johnson’s signature no-look passes — “He’d look you in the eyes and that ball is gone before you know it” — Smoove then warned players on the team over which Johnson now presides.

“Some of you Lakers better look out,” Smoove said, “for the no-look trade.”

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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