An Oral History of Michael Jordan Hosting SNL



September, 1991. Only a couple of months after winning his first NBA title–and five years ahead of his co-starring role together with an animated bunny in a Hollywood blockbuster–Michael Jordan made his first great jump into mainstream culture when he hosted on the Season 17 premiere of Saturday Night Live.

The incident was an immediate classic, and not just for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s unforgettable rendition of all Green Eggs and Ham or some of extreme performances from musical guest Public Relations. Jordan was almost perfect, knocking a memorable monologue (at a quilted, olive-green coat that later inspired a distinctive makeup of the Air Jordan VI) and seeming at a half dozen sketches, three of which eventually become iconic:”The very first Black Harlem Globetrotter,””Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” and”Daily Affirmation With Stuart Smalley.”

Polished and written, Jordan nailed almost every line. Nearly 30 years after, cast members, extras and authors recall being struck by Jordan’s professionalism and star power–and how nicely that incident holds up. “We had a great deal of athletes around the series,” long-time author Robert Smigel says,”but Jordan was the pinnacle.”


ROBERT SMIGEL (SNL writer and cast member): The previous summer, there was a comedy tribute to Jordan in the Chicago Theatre. He did not do a whole lot of humor on that series, but he did the”Super Fans” bit with us that evening. I met himgot to use him and perform the sketch together with himhe was really laid back and friendly. The sketch was a major hit and he had a wonderful time. I was told after that gave him the assurance to host SNL. I am sure they were pursuing him heavily. He had been such a fantastic option to host.


JIM PITT (SNL talent planner ): It is one of my favourite subjects. I was one of just two men in the gift section, and if
a athlete functioned, it was just like,”Why not one of you guys handle this?” So I was kind of Michael’s man all week. I moved outside to New Jersey, picked him up and his wife at the airport and if it had been call time, I would only go hang and wait patiently for him.

ELLEN CLEGHORNE (cast member): I had been a brand new cast member. This Monday was my first day on the job and I have to meet Michael Jordan.

CHRIS ROCK (cast member, through Sophisticated’s Sneaker Shopping, 2017): He was the greatest star who had done the series…He had been in the peak of his abilities. It was just like hanging about Iron Man or something.

GARY NEWTON (SNL additional ): It was always a huge deal to sponsor the very first show of this season and clearly Jordan was in his zenith. It was just like Babe Ruth had come into host the series.

SMIGEL: It was just like Babe Ruth–I recall Al Franken stating that. It is funny to think back on this; now all of the accent is on”rings” This man just had one ring in the moment, however there was not any question in anyone’s head he was the best player anyone had seen. We had had Joe Montana and Walter Payton, Wayne Gretzky; if we had an athlete, everyone’s starstruck. With Jordan, folks simply could not believe that he was there.

CLEGHORNE: I am from New York, I had been a big-time Knicks fan, but my mum’s from Chicago, and that I used to spend money in Chicago. Nevertheless, it did not matter–the happening of Michael Jordan, even when you were a Knicks fan, everyone was a Michael Jordan fan.

PITT: People are amazed that athletes had been such fantastic hosts, but [SNL creator] Lorne Michaels would state,”They have been coached their whole lives–they just take direction very well.” This week of this series is unlike anything else in sports or entertainment; they have defeated the greatest heights, however they do not automatically understand how to do so. They must simply trust the procedure.

ADAM SANDLER (cast member, through Dan Patrick Show, 2017): I do not believe he had that much pressure on himself. I really don’t believe that he was like,”I need to be a fantastic host.” He wished to do it directly to your series’s sake.


ROCK: The throw is utilized to famous individuals –we’d famous people on each week and no one would request autographs or something. However, Jordan, yo…it got to the stage, they needed to set a shield, a policeman, outside Michael Jordan’s dressing room for the throw. Only for us.

SANDLER: I recall Lorne was telling everyone,”Just stop with the autographs. Stop. Leave him alone.” It was nuts.

PITT: This was the only time in my years which there was a hint on the host door stating”No Autographs.” That was not himit was the series . But I will say, he signed up a great deal of things in the first half of this week and he had been really gracious about it.

SMIGEL: I understand that he signed a great deal of basketballs weekly. I have mine. I maintain it in a cupboard, I am so frightened of something happening to it.

ROCK: I recall at one point , [Chris] Farley, Sandler and [David] Spade were gonna head to McDonald’s and Jordan was going to come together with us [laughs]. I believe we got into the elevator and he is like, Eh, I can not go, men. However, it was trendy. We must hang out with him that the entire week and that he was amusing in the sketches.

SANDLER: He had been hanging outside, we became so tight–to your week, you understand. He was truly adorable. He was only cool, guy. Handsome dude. He owned the entire location.

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CLEGHORNE: He had been quite kind. You work with a few men and women that aren’t that fine, then you see how this guy, who is the very best of the finest in his sector, might be so wonderful. I composed this sketch,”Zoraida that the NBC page,” and it is only him and me, and that I continue touching him, catching his arm. We did lots of shoots in rehearsal, and he could have been like,”Uh, do not touch my arm” However he had a sense of humor. He played .

PITT: He was good to take care of. I would not say he gave up a lot, but he was super nice to people on employees. After he got during that Monday assembly, where all of the writers throw their thoughts, he got more and more comfortable. As the week moved on, it will get a bit more serious with rehearsals and it is a really regimented program. He did his job, he discovered his lines.


At Smigel’s sketch, the all-white Globetrotters of this 1920therefore take a chance by registering their initial African American participant,”Sweet River Baines.”

SMIGEL: I am a massive basketball fan and I grew up enjoying the Globetrotters.

PITT: Every once in a while, staff members could wind up in sketches . In cases like this, Smigel especially wrote me . The thought was that the first Globetrotters were those slow white, cultural men. My title was”Mick O’Herlihy.”

NEWTON: I worked throughout the day in the gym at 30 Stone, on precisely the exact same ground where they filmed. That is how I have to understand the casting directors and that I did some excess work–probably nine or eight sketches within the duration of 3 decades. You come in, you do not make waves and they bring one back. With this particular one, they attracted a lot of people in, such as an audition. There was not actually a means to find out if men could playwith, so they began asking individuals baseball questions–which way they can tell if you’re a poser. I played high school and that I loved the sport, so that I did so well on the trivia.

SMIGEL: Tom Schiller was that this amazing filmmaker who’d short movies for SNL and he had a genuine affinity for old-timey aesthetics. However he was also this humorous eccentric, so he comes to the group and he is literally sporting an old manager’s beret and he has a megaphone, like a personality as he is directing. And Michael Jordan is looking at him Who’s this man?

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PITT: We filmed the basketball scenes earlier in the week, possibly on Thursday, in the 23rd Street Y. ) The basketball strings were
pretty fundamental –old fashioned, two-handed set shots, hook shots and also the Globetrotters'”magic ring.”

NEWTON: We needed to seem very stiff –single bounce moves, possibly 1 dribble, which was it.

SANDLER: Michael was in certain quaint wig. We were on precisely the exact same team as himwe must pass him the ball and he would have a shot.

SMIGEL: I place myself at the sketch–the scene in which somebody’s carrying a two-handed set taken and Michael cubes it hard, simply smashes it. I could not resist with my shot blocked by Michael Jordan.

NEWTON: I had been on the opposing group. On one play I have place at the center of the lane and he jumped me and dunked. They did not use it at the series, but only to have that occur…

PITT: There has been lots of downtime, therefore the wonderful memory for me personally is more than just shooting the scenes, but shooting with six or seven other men and among these is Michael Jordan. We had been friggin’ shooting with Michael Jordan. It was rather surreal. At one stage I did a small push to the hoop, no attempt whatsoever and that I sort of pulled it up and then he stuck out his arm half-assed and it moved and he leered at me. I only realized,”Wow, what’s true. He’s super aggressive.”

SMIGEL: You see him on the court and you also know he is a mad competitor. Between takes, he is seeing the celebrities shoot and he just looks at me with disgust, for example, Look at those men, only a lot of weekend hacks.

NEWTON: At some stage that day, among the primary cast members extends and gets his autograph. And another one goes and yet another one. It was those men taking the lead that sort of gave us permission. It probably helped that there were just 12 to 15 individuals in the gym. I am not typically one for autographs, but I had a basketball which I got signed to get my little brother. I gave him for Christmas.

SANDLER: I recall Rob Schneider with a basketball. I was like, I thought we are not permitted to do this! He is like, It is Jordan. I gotta. I skipped it to become trendy and I regret it.

1592357217 496 Exclusive Interview With Michael Jordans Longtime Agent David Falk

An update on the sketch which helped convince MJ to sponsor, together with Jordan linking the beer-swilling, Bears-obsessed, heart-attack-prone Chicagoans in Ditka’s Restaurant. Mike begins by ordering a Gatorade and ends by injecting a grass skirt and linking the Super Fans to get a hula dance.

SMIGEL: From the sketch, they are imposing their soccer obsession on the basketball player, but it was the Bulls were the individuals who made the sketch renowned. It became famous in Chicago the season earlier, and then we did it for its season finale, and the Bulls won the championship. The Bulls even place it on their courtroom season–it really said”Da Bulls” on the sideline. The Bulls were actually what made it nationwide. In the close of the sketch, we did the hula dancing with Michael and I got a photo of that. It is the only show company photo I have in my property.


Composed by and starring prospective US Senator Al Franken, the recurring Stuart Smalley sketch battled with Jordan’s look. Possibly the series’s most enduring picture is Jordan–aka”Michael J.” to protect his anonymity–considering his own reflection in a mirror, even together with Smalley hovering over his shoulder, giving himself a pep talk to improve what Smalley presumes is his delicate self-esteem. How Jordan was able not to break character (though it was shut for another ) is that the sketch comedy equivalent of a 50-stage match.

CLEGHORNE: It is read day–Wednesday–and Michael Jordan is sitting on very top of desk, and Al Franken is sitting right across from me. Franken pulls out that sketch, and I will let you know I never laughed so hard at anything in my entire life. They asked me in the 45th reunion to select a sketch, and also many people chose a sketch that they had been in. I chose the Stuart Smalley sketch together with Michael Jordan. Only the magic of these two together…which was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.

PITT: The way he managed to maintain a straight face throughout that, I really don’t understand.

SMIGEL: This was such a fantastic moment, and he not breaking personality upped the sketch as time passes. It was great, since the sketch was really ridiculous –the notion of him being anonymous. It was great.


PITT: I had not bothered him , but after the series ended–that is just like 1:30 Sunday morning– I am walking to the vehicle in the basement garage and that I had this gorgeous golden Michael Jordan signature basketball. I said,”This one’s for me personally, if you do not mind,” and he said,”JP, you treated me well all week, happy to get it done.” I am not even a basketball junkie, but it had been an incredible experience.

SMIGEL: How he had been, his public character… my children are large NBA fans today and throughout the pandemic we have been seeing classic matches. You find a number of the most astonishing games and he then steps off courtroom and he is so unkind. He does this matter where you meet him he reproduces your title, so he understands it. Years after, I had been at his retirement service together with my spouse and we visit himand it is,”Hey Robert, hi Michelle.”

SANDLER: All of us were in love with him. He was the best. It had been similar to the Jordan you adored when he strikes a shot and whistles –that is that we had on the series.


Ryan Jones is a Contributing Editor in SLAM. Follow him on Twitter in @thefarmerjones.

Pictures via Getty.



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