Michael Jordan As Religion / Mike Piskur

Basketball cards were the center of my universe in 1993. In school, we traded all day, during supposedly standards classes like math and English, and also during made up classes like Basketball Cards (yes, seriously). We honed our bargaining skills and, before long, came to realize that specializing in one player's cards was the smartest way to proceed. This process moved furiously. Shaq, already a juggernaut in his second year, was the first to be claimed. Magic Johnson, Penny Hardaway, Charles Barkley all went off the board. Yet, no one had claimed Michael Jordan when I wised up to the scheme. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Perhaps hoarding MJ cards was too obvious or too easy, or maybe everyone assumed someone else had chosen him. Whatever the case, I'll take dumb luck over the alternative every time. Quickly my collection of ten Jordan cards grew to 30, then 50, and eventually more than 100. Jordan was the best player, the current champion, the global icon. He'd yet to announce his retirement to play baseball. I was fully immersed in the Church of MJ: I had the jersey, the door-length poster, the hat, not the sneakers, but the breakfast cereal, and the burger. I bargained over the outcomes of games with what my seventh-grade self conceived of as god. So really, a good year of my life was itself a shrine to Michael Jordan.

I'd cornered the market (within my junior high school) after a few weeks. My newspaper delivery profits went to acquiring more of MJ's cards. When he announced his retirement from the NBA to play baseball, I collected his baseball cards, and even a World Cup soccer card. Of all the stupid crap I collected as a kid (e.g G.I. Joe toys, baseball caps) I'm still proud of the Jordan collection. Yet, given the commitment of time, money, and mental effort, the collection is lacking. It includes no cards from before 1989, so none of the truly rare early Jordans. Even in the mid 90's, especially then, Jordan's rookie card carried an outrageous sum. Original Jordan sneakers were priceless relics of a lost golden age, practically Etruscan pottery, and tales of this early exploits (63 points against Boston) became legend, unsubstantiated by personal memory.

The better part of three decades later, those cards reside inside pages of a binder packed inside a crate kept inside a storage unit. I look at them once every few years. The cards are pure nostalgia, a shot of adrenaline to the heart, a remembrance of my priorities as a boy. The salad days. My 13-year-old self gifted these cards to me. They are a favor from the past. I thank my former self for these gifts, these relics from a bygone golden age, and I consider what gifts my present self can bestow upon my future selves.