Barack Obama couldn’t afford a ticket to see Michael Jordan play with the Bulls in the ’80s: ‘I was pretty broke’

After being selected No. 3 overall by Chicago in the 1984 NBA draft, Michael Jordan made an immediate impact on the Bulls organization. 

Just weeks into his professional career, “everybody on that Bull team … knew he was the best player we had,” said the team’s former general manager Rod Thorn on an episode of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary about Jordan’s rise and the dynasty he built in Chicago.

The series was originally supposed to be released during the NBA finals in June, but with sports leagues and events suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, ESPN, which co-produced “The Last Dance” with Netflix, moved up the release date to offer viewers an escape. Since April 19, ESPN has been releasing two episodes every Sunday night.

The first episode details Jordan’s early basketball career, at UNC and then with the Bulls starting in 1984. His rookie year, everyone in Chicago wanted to see the young phenom play — the stadium went from being two-thirds empty to selling out every game, the documentary reports.

GP: mj North Carolina Basketball

Michael Jordan played at the University of North CarolinaFocus On Sport

One Chicago resident couldn’t afford a ticket at the time: a young Barack Obama, who had recently graduated from Columbia University and moved to Chicago to work with the Developing Communities Project. “When Michael first came to town, I didn’t have the money to buy tickets for a Bulls game, even the discount ones back in the day,” recalled the former president. “I was pretty broke.” 

In the early ’80s, Obama had undergraduate loans from Columbia University, where he earned a degree in political science in 1983. He would later take out more loans to attend Harvard Law School from 1988-1991.

Combined, he and his wife Michelle, who also attended Harvard Law, owed a total of $120,000 in student debt.

“We didn’t come from wealthy families,” Obama told an audience in North Carolina in 2012. “When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together.”

For years, Obama lived frugally as a cash-strapped student. He drove a beat-up, yellow Datsun with a “rusted-out, four-inch hole” in the car’s floor, the former First Lady describes in her book “Becoming.” Through it, she “could see the pavement rushing beneath us.” 

The couple didn’t finish paying off their debt until they were in their 40s. 

Obama, who became president when he was 47, is now worth millions, thanks to book and Netflix deals. Plus, after leaving office, ex-presidents remain on the government payroll and earn an annual pension of about $200,000 (in office, the president earns $400,000 a year). 

It’s safe to say that the basketball fan could afford to be a Bulls season ticket-holder today if he wanted to. Of course, he wouldn’t get to see the greatest of all time in action — it’s been nearly two decades since Jordan played his last game at the United Center.

Episodes seven and eight of “The Last Dance” will premiere on Sunday, May 10 at 9 p.m. ET. It will air on ESPN in the U.S. and on Netflix outside of the US.

Don’t miss: NBA legend Scottie Pippen started out as the equipment manager in college before earning a spot on the team

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