- September 6, 2021
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MJ or Lebron? Who is the GOAT?
It’s a common argument today on social media with Michael Jordan and LeBron James being the main candidates, although Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant have their supporters too. Evidently young fans have never heard of Wilt or Russell or Larry Legend or Kareem or the Big O from days gone buy, and you can certainly make the case for others. Ever hear of Tim Duncan or Akeem Olajuwon?
Needless to say, it’s can be a long list.
The greatest competitor?
This is a shorter list, and this Larry Bird/Boston Celtics fan here will easily concede and say that any Mount Rushmore of the greatest (NBA) competitors should start with the six-time scoring champion, six-time NBA Finals MVP, five-time league MVP and NBA Hall of Famer. Yes, Jordan in case you’re not a basketball fan.
Former Auburndale Bloodhounds/Florida Gators standout Terence Barber saw that competitive streak first-hand this summer during three rounds of golf he played with Jordan over the summer at The Grove XXIII, Jordan’s own luxury golf club in Hobe Sound. Barber also saw how Jordan respects a competitor who can challenge him, which is why Barber ended up playing those three rounds in Jordan’s group and eventually learning a valuable lesson.
That Barber played on the course is a coup in itself, considering that there are fewer than 80 members according to an Insider.com article in April. So the story of those rounds actually begins in 1999 at the Bob Hope Classic.
Barber was caddying for his college roommate and best friend Emmitt Smith. Polk County prep fans knew all about Emmitt long before he became a Florida Gators, and then Dallas Cowboys great. Playing with a heavily taped ankle as a sophomore, he rushed for 208 yards when his Pensacola Escambia football team ousted Bartow from the playoffs in 1984. Then as a junior, he rushed for 265 yards when Escambia eliminated Barber’s Auburndale squad in 1985.
So at the Hope Classic, Barber met Jordan for the first time with Jordan telling Emmitt that this “dude doesn’t look like no damn caddy.”
Jordan remembered Barber at meeting No. 2, which came at Mario Lemieux’s celebrity event in 2001, telling Emmitt, “E, you haven’t fired this dude yet?”
Barber admitted to being a bit star-struck at the first meeting, but was less so this time around, telling MJ that he had game and was willing to play for a friendly wager in the day’s practice round. Barber, a natural athlete, certainly has game as his high school coach Joe Parrish correctly predicted.
“You put a golf club in his hand, and he’d par it pretty soon,” Parrish told The Ledger in 1986 when describing Barber’s athleticism.
The practice round, however, got rained out, so Barber didn’t get the chance to put his money where his mouth was. That chance finally came 11 years later at another celebrity event of Derek Jeter’s in Tampa in 2012. This time, the bet was on.
Barber played in a group with Rhonde Barber and Derrick Brooks behind Jordan’s group. He shot 76 to MJ’s 88 and collected some gas money.
Barber then played the Grove XXIII for the first time last October at the invitation of former major leaguer Gary Sheffield. Again, Barber, playing with Sheffield and former boxer Winky Wright, and again behind Jordan’s group, shot 72. Jordan shot 81 and relinquished a C-note to Barber with the vow that he’ll get it back one day.
Now we get to late July. Barber again accompanies Sheffield to Jordan’s course, not knowing if Jordan would be there. But sure enough, shortly after Barber arrived, Jordan drives up in a yellow Lamborghini.
Game on, same bet.
In this round, Barber played with Lawrence Taylor, Ricky Jackson and Sheffield. First 18 holes, Barber shoots 72 to Jordan’s 84. Second 18 — it’s a given that when invited to play, it’s going to be two rounds — it’s Barber 75, Jordan 79.
Now comes the trash talk, Barber said, with Jordan telling him it was easy for Barber because there was no pressure on him. Barber’s response? “I play the course, not my competitors.”
Jordan asked if they were coming back the next day and Barber checked with Sheffield, who said absolutely.
After four hours of sleep and a poor effort on the driving range with Jordan looking on, the round was on, this time playing in Jordan’s group, and now Barber could see Jordan’s game face up close. Barber, under pressure with 30 to 50 people watching, outdrove Jordan on the first hole and birdied the hole, but Jordan, who is all business on the course, didn’t acknowledge the result. You’re not going to get a “Great shot” from MJ during the round. He’s out to beat you.
Final score, Barber 74, Jordan 80.
The next 18 was close, although Jordan took a big number on No. 12, and the final was Barber 76, Jordan 84.
Barber thought he had back-to-back wins, but now comes the valuable lesson. If you’re betting with Jordan, make sure you know the rules. While the first 18 holes were stroke play, the second 18 was match play. The way it broke down, Barber owed MJ. One more tip, if you’re paying off the bet, stick to a hundred-dollar bill. To MJ, 20s are pocket change, and “bro, I don’t carry no damn change in my pockets.”
“It’s the most funniest thing I ever heard,” he said.
Time for one more round, this time as teammates against another duo in match play. Jordan and Barber shot 3-under, but their opponents shot 6-under.
Jordan and Barber were the last two to leave the clubhouse, and now we get to perhaps the highlight of the long day of golf as the two had a quiet conversation and a transition back from the celebrity world to the real world. For Barber, the real world is being a positive mentor to young kids today, like the middle school girls soccer team that he coached in 2018, crediting that group with teaching him what perseverance really means.
Barber prefers to keep that conversation with Jordan private, but it left him impressed.
“I met a lot of famous people in my life but never ever as down to earth as this dude as he was talking to me about real life issues,” Barber said. “You can argue who’s better basketball player, but he’s the GOAT in so many other ways you won’t believe. End of the day it was a great moment, I will cherish forever.”
Roy Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.