Like most people of my generation, I grew up idolizing Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five. Their dance moves, afros, and hip costumes—everything about them—were the coolest things my friends and I had ever seen. I mean who didn’t want Michael’s red leather jacket from “Thriller”? I sure did. Even though my family spent a great deal of the ’80s in Germany with my military father, there was no way you could miss Michael and his shiny glove or his famous dance, the moonwalk. I could do the moonwalk better than anyone in my class in Germany. The world loved him and so did I.
When we did arrive back in the United States during the mid-’80s, Michael was the undisputed King of Pop, and my brother, sisters, and I ate it up. We watched every one of his videos from the album Thriller with laserlike focus, analyzing his every move so we could re-create them in our living room. “Beat It” was pretty much our family anthem, since we listened to it and sang it so much. After I entered the NBA and got drafted by the Orlando Magic, I went to purchase a house and wanted one on the lake in Florida. The real-estate agent told me he had the perfect house for me and that Michael Jackson had been interested in buying it as well. I actually bought it.
One day out of the blue, there was knock on the door and when I opened it—there stood the King of Pop in all his glory. I’m rarely without something to say, but on that day and at that moment I was speechless. He wanted to see what I’d done with the place (LOL), so I took him on a tour. As you might expect, he loved my recording studio and couldn’t get over my round Superman bed that fits 45 people. He thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. Having just gotten a taste of fame myself, I was really surprised by how normal and kind he was. I could tell he really enjoyed just hanging out and talking for a while about basketball and other stuff going on with me. He liked just being a regular guy for a moment.
Since he was so nice, I asked him to hang around a little longer so my youngest sister, Ayesha, could come over to meet him. She loved Michael on an entirely different level and would have killed me if I hadn’t held him there for her. He stayed, and it was probably one of the best days of our lives. He came back to visit another time with Lisa Marie Presley. She loved my Superman bed, too! A couple years later, when I became a Los Angeles Laker, Michael invited me to Neverland for the day. Again, I was speechless. To go to someone’s house that had a zoo and roller coaster was surreal. I was more excited than any of the kids there. I had a ball and so did Michael.
As my career became more hectic, it wasn’t as easy to spend time with him, but we kept in touch over the years through friends and associates. His death really hit me and my family hard because he’d been so much a part of our lives before we’d ever even met him. My youngest son, Shaquir, who is just 7, cried his eyes out when he heard he’d passed away. Michael was the most amazing performer of my lifetime and, for me personally, an inspiration and a friend.