Living With Michael Jordan (And More) In These Strange Times

Listen, we got the memo about social distancing. Really. But the houseguests are really starting to proliferate, and I’ve run out of courtesy masks.

Let me tell you who’s over right now. Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, that’s who. Man are they yuge. And you know who was also recently over? Doron Kavillio, the most dynamic counter-terrorist agent I’ve ever met. He’s a stubbled tough guy who smokes so many cigarettes it was hard for us to see the living room sometimes. We love all his friends too: the sweetest group of ninja soldiers able to kill targets that you could ever hope to meet on a sunny day in Tel Aviv. I’m especially fond of Amira, a dark-haired interrogator whose user-friendly line of inquiry can get even the most hardened cases to ’fess up.

We had a terrific recent visit with Esty, a 19-year-old Jewish woman who had a lot of trouble in her ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn. I guess this is out already, so it’s okay to spill: She’s hiding out in Germany, on the run from her husband, and looking for her long-lost mom. We especially appreciated her taking off her sheitel to show us her shorn hair.

I’ll have to breeze through some other recent and recurring guests. The seriously ripped Uhtred, a Saxon who was raised by Vikings (now there’s a backstory), who promises to return. I must get the name of his physical trainer. Other current houseguests include two of the most adorable Neapolitan young women ever created: doe-eyed Lenù and pouty Lila whose pluckiness despite having the short end of the patriarchal stick is very inspiring.

We always have time for Marty and Wendy Byrde, a lovely husband and wife, but we worry about them. They’re obviously caught up in something.  Always stealing off to check their phones. Word is, they’re connected to some kind of Mexican cartel. We just hope they don’t bring that business into our house. Same with Jimmy McGill, although now he’s going by the name Saul Goodman. Lovely man. We’re very fond of his dynamic lawyer-wife Kim Wexler too. But he’s in deep trouble, too, with some shady people. If things ever calmer for him, I do plan to talk to him about his serious vocal fry. Again, we worry.

If it isn’t already abundantly clear by now, I’m talking about characters in TV shows like The Last Dance (albeit real-life characters), Fauda, The Last Kingdom, Unorthodox, My Brilliant Friend, Ozark, and Better Call Saul. I could mention so many more – and so could so many of us in TV controller-clicking lockdown.

They come over, they spend time in our hearts, sometimes weeks or even months. But then sadly they’re gone. It feels like a real loss. Saying goodbye to Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson of Homeland, that was a tough one because we knew they weren’t coming back. (No, nothing we said.) But there’s every indication they’re still working together and doing what they do best: warding off threats to the American heartland, so there’s always that.

(L-R): Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Jacqueline Antaramian as Dorit in HOMELAND, "Prisoners of War". Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.
(L-R): Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Jacqueline Antaramian as Dorit in HOMELAND, “Prisoners of War”. Photo Credit: Sifeddine Elamine/SHOWTIME.

We love them. They’re getting to us so much, they are actually coming alive in our brains and staying there, even more so than they did before.

“I’m just so sad and depressed about [character name withheld to avoid scene spoilers],” I tell my wife about a tragedy that takes place in Season 2 of Fauda. That’s the show with Doron, by the way. I felt the same way about Beocca in The Last Kingdom, a priest from back in the days of King Alfred who was over at our house for a long spell. Won’t say what happened, but it shook us up.    

Now, my wife is no sports fan. (Once when I took her to a professional soccer game in a stadium she said “Everyone is so loud.”) But she and I are both entranced as we continue to watch The Last Dance, which is ESPN’s edge-of-the-seat documentary about the Chicago Bulls’ iconic run of form in the 1990s, as well as a fascinating rumination about Michael Jordan and the inner game of celebrity.

“I like that guy Doug,” she says to me at one point.

“Who?” I ask.

“You know,” she explains. “The tall coach of the Chicago Bulls.”

“Oh, close,” I say. “You mean Phil Jackson.”

MIAMI - APRIL 2: Michael Jordan #23 and Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Miami Heat on April 2, 1996 at Miami Arena in Miami, Florida. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
MIAMI – APRIL 2: Michael Jordan #23 and Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Miami Heat on April 2, 1996 at Miami Arena in Miami, Florida. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

This is not to gloss over the incredibly tragic loss of human life and the devastating effect the Covid-19 Era has had on the film and television industry, not to mention the entire planet. But on another level, our former busyness of life all too often interrupted the life of the mind. We were forever having to put down our mental tools, and get to the studio, the office, the movie theater, the store, the bar, the restaurant, or wherever we work.

Right now, that life of the mind – the story viewing mind. – never had it so good. We are giving so much more of ourselves, and for longer periods of time, into these fictional characters and their dilemmas, as we sit glued to screens on our iPhones, laptops, and TVs. They are mattering to us perhaps in ways they never mattered before. This experience of letting the stories seep into our souls is one of the most positive outcomes of this global crisis.

By investing more time with fictional houseguests, we are investing more time into thinking about our own lives. These visitors are inspiring us to workshop our own humanity. While theater owners are rightly concerned about what this may or may not portend for theater-going, it’s certainly a good push for the power of entertainment. A lot of people will remember how these shows and movies weren’t just time diversions; they were lifelines to our sanity. When we get back to the real world, one fine day, more people than ever will recognize that entertainment is more … than entertainment.


Featured image: DETROIT – 1989: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls drives to basket against the Detroit Pistons during the 1989 season NBA game in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)


Desson Thomson

Desson Thomson is currently Director of Executive Communications for the Motion Picture Association of America, the political advocacy organization for the Hollywood film industry. He comes from a 25-year career of journalism with The Washington Post, most of them as a film critic, as well as seven years as a public policy speechwriter for the Obama administration’s State Department.