Michael Jordan in Fresno? Revisiting the camp that brought the 6-time NBA champ to the Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The last two episodes of the Last Dance air this Sunday on ESPN, with the 10-part documentary introducing Michael Jordan to a new generation.

But longtime residents of the Central Valley have seen #23 from the beginning of his career to the end thanks to yearly trips MJ would take to Fresno for more than a decade.

"Selland Arena holds what 10,000 people? Every time he was there people said they were there. 50,000 people said they were there," said Dale Yurong, Action News anchor who covered Jordan's trips to the Valley.

Described as the most famous man on the plan, Michael Jordan made a yearly trip to Fresno, and was the main draw at a basketball camp put on by three former Fresno State Bulldogs.

"Growing up in Mississippi I was in the church with Dr. Martin Luther King. Watching people gravitate to Mike, people lose they mind," said Tyrone Bradley.

"People say he was more popular than the Pope... Yeah he was," said Bobby Anderson.

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Longtime residents of the Central Valley have seen Michael Jordan from the beginning of his career to the end thanks to yearly trips MJ would take to Fresno for more than a decade.

So how was it that the most famous man on the planet came to Fresno every year for more than a decade?

"Main reason we wanted to do it was we were young knucklehead kids but we still liked basketball and we figured Fresno State was doing camps but we did the camps for them. I said 'We could do this ourselves," Bradley said.

The trio called it the Tyrone Bradley, Bobby Anderson and Rod Higgins camp.

"It was a bond second to none. He would come out right after they win the championship and people would say 'He's not coming out, he's in Phoenix.' Two, three days later he was in Fresno," Anderson said.

It started with success on the court. The Bulldogs winning 102 games in a four-year stretch, making three trips to the NCAA Tournament and winning the NIT.

"All of us coming from Chicago, we won a lot of games, made a lot of friends so we figured what's the next step? Camps provide you with the opportunity to give back and pay it forward."

Rod Higgins was drafted by the Bulls in 1982. Two years later, he was close friends with Jordan. On a team that was called the "Traveling Cocaine Circus," Higgins and Jordan stayed clean and became close friends.

"It was about the relationship. Our friendship was tight and he said alright if you're doing something I'm going to come out and support you."

"We told Rod next year we were going to do our own camp. Rod said 'I'm going to do my camp with you guys and Michael is coming.' I said 'What?!' And it was on ever since then," Bradley said.

In 1987, days after Larry Bird knocked his Bulls out of the playoffs, Michael Jordan was in the gym at Clovis West.

"We walk in the gym and it's jam-packed. I'm looking at Rod going 'What about all of those people in the line out there?' It was standing room only already and they couldn't get in."

Those who got in saw Michael put on a show.

"He was playing and some guy was harassing him 'You don't have a left hand' and then he made an NBA three-pointer with his left hand. Craziest thing I could ever see and he said 'How about that?' He was just talking to people in the stands, you know it's intimate there," said Marc Q. Jones with 940 ESPN.

Clovis West was too intimate for the growing superstar. The next year the camp moved to Selland Arena.

"Everybody was looking forward to it every year. It was the biggest thing-probably still the biggest thing to happen here."

Dale Yurong was reporting on Jordan's visits at the time.

"I got a call from one of the pros at San Joaquin Country Club and the message was 'You didn't hear it from me but Michael Jordan is teeing off at 10:45 and I think you should be here.' Jordan is still sitting in his cart and he looks down and looks at me and goes 'If I give you this interview will you let me golf in peace?' And I said 'yeah done deal," Yurong said.

It was Fresno's golf courses that occupied Jordan's time before games as he often played two or three rounds a day, always with a wager.

"All the highlight moves and dunks that we would show on the sports highlights every night. Jordan was doing those in the exhibition games in Fresno. Not the NBA Finals," Yurong said.

Michael's yearly commitment helped other players like Chris Mullin to come to play.

"Chris and Tim Hardaway and Mitch (Richmond), I think Mitch came out. Scott Brooks came out. I remember Larry Nance coming out. James Edwards. Cliff Robinson," Higgins said.

What started out in one gym tripled in size, bringing in more than 900 students. The camps, inspiring the next generation to carry on the legacy.

"Bruce Bowen kind of took the torch from him," said Fresno native and current NBA player Quincy Pondexter. "That was always the goal. As soon as I made it it wasn't to leave the city or to get out of the city it was to help make a great experience basketball wise for the community here."

All these years later, the same holds true for that trio of Dogs who started that camp in their 20's, closing up shop in their 40's.

"If there was anything we got out of this, we helped a lot of people," Anderson said.

"Just solidifying ourselves not just as former Fresno State athletes but we're good for the community as well," Higgins said.

"We had some sort of impact on the greatest player in the world's career because he was able to bond with someone who went to school here and took those values of hard work, dedication, loyalty to the NBA and that's what Michael Jordan bonded with. And that's something to really be proud of," Jones said.

The final two episodes of The Last Dance air Sunday on ESPN.

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