On his way out of Yankee Stadium, after he was done towering over Derek Jeter Day in the Bronx, Michael Jordan stopped for a reporter who asked if the six-time champ had ever mocked the five-time champ over his edge in ring ceremonies.
"Never," Jordan said.
"I know Derek's got a chance to get six this year," Jordan said. "Nah, this year's going to be tough for him to get it, but no, I've never joked with him about it. He's such a good friend that I wouldn't talk about it that way with him."
This is the same Michael Jordan once celebrated as a world-class trash-talker, the same Jordan who taunted New York Knicks players (Patrick Ewing), coaches (Jeff Van Gundy) and even executives (Dave Checketts) over their repeated failures to unseat his Chicago Bulls. But Jordan swore that baseball's lord of the rings, Jeter, was one New Yorker he refused to mess with.
As he walked away from the crowd that had gathered near the Yankees' clubhouse, everyone basking in his glow, Jordan explained why.
"Derek's my idol," he said. "I love that kid."
Never mind that Jeter would go on record later suggesting that Jordan was full of it, that the owner of the Charlotte Hornets "constantly reminds me that he has six and I have five." This wasn't a day to sweat the small stuff.
In the end, after the Yankees trotted out the Joe Torres and Mariano Riveras, and the Cal Ripkens and Dave Winfields too, there was no question who represented the biggest get of the event, outside of Jeter's grandmother, anyway, the woman who took him to his first Yankees game and made sure he rooted for the right team.
Resplendent in his blue suit, Jordan looked about 8 feet tall when he was introduced to the Stadium crowd and took his ceremonial place on the field. As he emerged from the dugout, the fans made a noise they didn't make for the pinstriped VIPs. It sounded an awful lot like, ohmigoditsMichaelJordan.
But it was something Jordan later said in a news conference about his admiration for Jeter that spoke louder than his presence in the ballpark.
"Being in the city of New York, where one little hiccup basically can fry your personality or your perception, your persona," Jordan said, "this kid's done everything the right way. And he's done it in a way that no one can criticize anything he's done in this environment during his 20-year career."
Jordan didn't even play in New York -- though he briefly considered signing with the Knicks in the summer of 1996 -- and yet he got burned by the bright lights of the big city in 1993, when he took a break in the middle of a Bulls-Knicks playoff series to go late-night gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was never quite the same public figure, or quote, after that one.
The NBA would ultimately investigate Jordan's gambling habits, and soon enough the greatest basketball player of all time was retiring (temporarily) and finding a sanctuary in minor league baseball, where he ran across a certain gangly first-round pick of the Yankees playing the fall season in Arizona.
"I was fascinated with the way he played," Jordan said. "I was a student of the game trying to learn from everybody. ... I was a student watching him. He was a great teacher. He was a great educator, just by watching the way he carried himself."
Even though he spent his entire career in the most volatile marketplace, Jeter never found himself in the middle of a gambling scandal, or a sex scandal, or any scandal. He watched so many of sports titans crash and burn -- Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods -- and yet emerged virtually unscathed despite facing the kind of social media surveillance Jordan never saw in his prime.
"I don't think anybody can say one bad thing about Derek Jeter," Jordan said.
It's not entirely true. Over the years the Captain was criticized for failing to embrace and support A-Rod, and for fighting for every last dollar -- after his skills had declined -- in those 2010 contract talks that turned hot and ugly.
But for all the starlets and supermodels he has dated, and for all the nightclubs he's said to have visited, Jeter has never been publicly shredded by a scorned ex, or photographed in a compromising position. In short, he has never been TMZ'd.
When's the last time he was even pictured with a drink in his hand?
"In this time and era," Jordan said, "where very few people take the time to say 'What if?' before they make a decision, he's done that and he's made the right decision each and every time."
Jordan wasn't alone Sunday in expressing his amazement over the perfect game Jeter has pitched over two decades in New York; Ripken did the same. Torre recalled summoning his shortstop into his office in 1997, the season after Jeter had won his first World Series title and rookie of the year honors, and had replaced the recently married John F. Kennedy Jr. as the city's most eligible bachelor.
"I just wanted to make sure that he wasn't taking anything for granted," Torre said. "We had a very short conversation. I never asked him that question again."
All these years later, with Torre among the dignitaries seated behind him, Jeter stood on the grass between the mound and home plate as the crowd chanted his name. When he closed down the old Stadium in 2008, Jeter grabbed a microphone and charged the fans to carry their memories across the street to the new place.
Sunday afternoon, with the emotion of the moment causing his steady hand to shake, Jeter thanked the fans in the new place who had "watched me grow up over the last 20 years" and assured them that the joy and entertainment he provided them "can't compare to what you brought me."
Jeter's execution was flawless, as expected. He made sure he remembered to thank George Steinbrenner in his speech, something Torre had forgotten to do when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Then the Yankees went out and lost another ballgame to the Kansas City Royals, a development that didn't rain too much on Jeter's parade.
"It was awesome," he said of the ceremony. "It was something I'll always remember."
Jeter wasn't surprised by Jordan's appearance; the shortstop had seen he was in town at the US Open, and figured something was up. That didn't make the sight of him any less important.
"MJ is like a brother to me," Jeter said. "He is like an older brother that I've never had."
But for all his greatness, the older brother never could've escaped from New York without a scratch the way the younger brother did. That's one edge the five-time champ will keep over the six-timer for keeps.