Virginia honors slain players in memorial service on campus
It was a moment that will always be remembered: Michael Jordan’s hand on the shoulders of a teenage Michael Jordan, the two of them embracing each other in the hallway of the University of Florida.
“It was an honor to play for Coach Jordan,” said Chris Smith, a junior guard at the UF basketball team in 2002. “And to lose his spirit, his spirit, just to leave that to the last day… and he was so humble, too.”
With a basketball in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other, Jordan walked away into the sunset Saturday afternoon at a ceremony that marked the anniversary of the death of Jordan’s former Bulls, and at the University of Florida where the four men were murdered for their excellence.
Jordan, who was killed in a helicopter crash just before his 30th birthday, was remembered by his former teammates and the entire University of Florida community as a great leader, a loyal friend and a good man.
“To have the chance to play for a coach like that, and to be a part of such a legacy, it takes a lot out of you. It doesn’t show, it never shows,” said Chris Smith, who played for Jordan’s Bulls from 1999 to 2001. “But then it’s kind of just like a blank page and you just have to fill it with what you can do to be that example.”
Jordan, who was widely hailed as the best coach in the game, died shortly before the anniversary of his Bulls defeat of the Miami Heat at the United Center.
Jordan was killed when he was flying off the coast of Argentina in a helicopter with wife Jeri, who is from South Florida, and daughter Gianni. Jordan was going to give an honorary degree to UF at the commencement ceremony. That was the last day that he was seen alive. He was killed while completing the trip to Uruguay for a pre-arranged basketball game.
Jordan’s former coach, Billy Donovan, said the memorial service was a fitting tribute to a man who will never be forgotten.
“It was fitting, and it was appropriate. This is something you know you’re never going to see. This is something you’re never going to see again and that’s what he’s going to leave behind as a father, as a husband and as a coach,” Donovan said.