YOUNG GUNS

As this matter unfolds, you will find that what happened to Mr. Jordan was the kind of random violence that all the public is concerned and afraid of. It could have been any of us. It could have been anybody who happened to get tired at that time.

--Jim Coleman, director of North Carolina Bureau of Investigations

They didn't seem all that dangerous.
But, of course, the two killers of James Jordan were now surrounded by a dozen heavyset, solemn-faced deputies who led them into a North Carolina courthouse for arraignment last Monday morning.

Then I remembered that nobody ever looks dangerous at his own arraignment for murder. He always seems shocked, puzzled, saddened, stunned.

I once stood ten feet from John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 young men, and I thought he looked like a pathetic, harmless clown.

I watched Johnathan Doody and Alex Garcia, the perpetrators of the Buddhist temple massacre, and thought they looked like typical high school students.

Killers do not reveal themselves.
I saw the North Carolina courthouse scene live on CNN television. This was the kind of coverage I remember television giving the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

That was 30 years ago. This is probably fitting. No figure in American life since JFK has evoked anything so close to an aura of Camelot as has Michael Jordan in recent years.

His triumphs as a Chicago Bulls basketball player, his television commercials and his $30 million per year income have transformed everything about him into myth.

The latest Harris Poll rates Michael Jordan as everyone's favorite sports star. An accompanying note states that Jordan is the favorite of every demographic group studied. This encompasses sex, region, age, race, income and education. Nobody is bigger than Michael Jordan these days. Not even Clint Eastwood. Not even Elvis.

James Jordan, Michael Jordan's father, was the friendly little man with the big grin and the shaved head. He spent the last years of his life known only as "Michael Jordan's father."

If you looked for him, you could spot him at his son's side during Michael's greatest triumphs.

"As long as he's here," Michael Jordan used to say, "I know I have at least one fan." Michael always called his father "Pops."
With laughter and obvious great pride, the elder Jordan would say:
"Yeah, there was a time I used to be James Jordan. Now I'm only talked about as Michael Jordan's dad. That's the way people know me. But I don't mind at all."
He was murdered in cold blood at about 3:30 a.m. on July 23, when he stopped to take a nap near the intersection of interstate highways 74 and 95, near Lumberton, North Carolina.

The teenagers didn't know him. They didn't seek him out because he was Michael Jordan's dad. To them he looked like an easy mark, someone who could be robbed and killed without fear of discovery.

Why wouldn't they assume they could get away with this crime? Incidents exactly like this occur on the highways of this country every day.

What made this one different was the fact that Michael Jordan had only one father.

I have always been surprised whenever I hear about professional athletes carrying guns in their cars for protection. Today, I find myself wondering why every driver in the country doesn't find it necessary to carry a loaded gun.

Would it make this account more effective to call the killers thugs? I don't think so. The brutality of the story tells itself. There is, in the end, a deadly banality about all of these crimes. They are all the same. It is only because they occur with such regularity that our senses have been ground down, dulled.

We merely shrug at the news of the latest victim and move on about our business. What's on television tonight?

One of the young men lived with his mother in a trailer court just a mile from the crime scene. He was recently released from prison, after serving time for armed robbery and assault.

The other was awaiting trial on a charge of armed robbery. They were close friends. On his way home from attending the funeral of a friend, the elder Jordan had unwittingly wandered, alone, into enemy territory.

The telltale signs of affluence may have helped to target James Jordan. He was driving a $46,000 Lexus 400, red in color, with vanity license plates memorializing his son's association with the University of North Carolina and Michael's jersey number throughout the superstar's basketball career with the Tar Heels and the Chicago Bulls.

The killers admitted to police that they had been scouting the area around the interstate turnoff, waiting for someone to come along who looked like he might have some money they could steal.

James Jordan answered that description. He parked his car by the side of the road, to rest his eyes and take a nap for a few moments before driving on.

Try something different. Put yourself inside the mind of the 18-year-old who fired the shot from his .38-caliber pistol into the elder Jordan's chest, killing Jordan with a single shot.

I hesitate to put words in anyone's mouth. But if you have been following the many murders committed by members of this age group, you come to understand that the thoughts are always the same. So it doesn't require a grand act of the imagination to re-create them.

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