Bob had been writing a newspaper column for almost 20 years. There were times when he would question the very nature of humanity, and wonder if there was any answer to the unremitting cruelty. Part of this had to do with a particular case that involved a beautiful, bright-eyed, four-year-old boy named Lattie who had been systematically tortured over the course of a long Chicago summer.
After Lattie’s death, when the police discovered what had been done to him, Bob wrote column after column about the people who had murdered Lattie. He wanted to make sure that Lattie received justice.
The same things that were done to Lattie were done to his brother, Cornelius, too. Somehow Cornelius survived. He watched Lattie slowly being killed and was unable to stop the killers. Cornelius’ brave testimony in court is what helped to convict his mother and her boyfriend.
By the end of the trial Cornelius had just turned nine. He was a thin, extremely quiet boy; with his little brother dead and his mother in prison, he was living with other relatives. The two great loves of his life were reading and basketball.
Steve Schanwald, a vice president of the Chicago Bulls, had read Bob’s column and left a message that if Cornelius would like to come to a Bulls’ game he would have tickets for him. So, Bob took Cornelius to the game.
To every Chicago youngster who follows basketball, the stadium was a shrine. And now Cornelius was in the stadium, about to see his first Bulls game. Bob and he walked down a stairway, until they were in a lower-level hallway. Then a door opened and a man came out. Cornelius looked up, and his eyes filled with a combination of wonder and total disbelief.
Cornelius tried to say something; his mouth was moving but no words would come out. He tried to speak and then the man helped him out by speaking first.
“Hi, Cornelius,” the man said. “I’m Michael Jordan.”
Jordan knelt down and spoke quietly with Cornelius. He made some jokes and told some stories about basketball and he didn’t rush. For a long time the only adults Cornelius had any contact with were adults who wanted to hurt and humiliate him. And now Michael Jordan was saying, “Are you going to cheer for us today? We’re going to need it.”
Jordan went back into the locker room to finish dressing for the game. Cornelius was given a red shirt that was worn by the Bulls’ ball boys. He retrieved balls for the players from both teams as they warmed up.
Then, as the game was about to begin, he was led to Jordan’s seat on the Bulls’ bench. That’s where he was going to sit – right next to Jordan’s seat. During the minutes of the game when Jordan was out and resting, Cornelius would be sitting with him; when Jordan was on the court, Cornelius would be saving his seat for him. At one point late in the game Jordan took a pass and sailed into the air and slammed home a basket. And there, just a few feet away, was Cornelius, laughing out loud with joy.
Bob wanted to thank Jordan for taking the time to be so nice to Cornelius. Bob had learned that Jordan had been aware of the Lattie case, and when he had heard that the Bulls were giving Cornelius tickets to the game, he had volunteered to meet with Cornelius.
After the game, in the locker room after the last sportswriter left, Jordan got up to retrieve his gym bag and head for home. As he walked toward the door of the locker room he saw Bob and stopped. Bob said, “I just wanted to tell you how much Cornelius appreciated what you did for him.”
Jordan stood there waiting, as if Bob might petition him for something else. When Bob didn’t say anything, he said, “That’s why you came back down here?”
“Well, I don’t think you know how much today meant to Cornelius,” Bob said.
“No, I’m just surprised that you came back down to tell me,” he said.
“My mom would kill me if I didn’t,” Bob said, smiling. “She tried to raise me right.”
Jordan smiled back, “Mine, too,” he said.
They shook hands, Bob turned to leave and Jordan asked, “Do you come out to a lot of games?”
“First one,” Bob said.
“Well, you ought to come back,” Jordan said.
To cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.