by KRIS CANTRELL
“I’m just a man for God’s sake”
-Chazz Michael Michaels, February 8th, 2006
When I was in fifth grade, I missed out on a golden opportunity. I missed out on shaking hands with a legend. I missed out on a free ride to Portland. I missed out on meeting Mike Dunleavy.
This wasn’t your average ‘Mike Dunleavy’ either. It was THE 'Mike Dunleavy.’ I’m not talking about LA Clipper Mike Dunleavy or Milwaukee Buck Mike Dunleavy. I’m talking about Portland Trail Blazer Coach of the Year Mike Dunleavy. You know, that guy who choked away a double-digit lead in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
At the time, meeting Mike would’ve been right up there with my Mom finally breaking and buying me Pokemon cards. A trip to Portland would’ve meant three things:
One, it would’ve meant an entire day away from school. The drive from Springfield to Portland takes roughly four hours round trip. And that’d be pretty aggressive by bus.
Two, it would’ve meant a luxurious leather bus seat all to myself. I wasn’t a small kid in elementary school. ‘Husky’ would’ve even been a kind adjective to use. If I were one of the few chosen, I’d have ample space to let loose in my JNCOs, away from the confines of my desk.
Three, it would’ve meant actually meeting Mike Dunleavy. That’s at least a year of bragging rights and proof in the form of a signed rubber Báden basketball. One of my friends would later put that basketball in a special glass box, and he'd show it off every time I spent the night. I, like him, could have lived every fifth-grade Blazer fan's dream.
It wasn’t meant to be.
In order to get that special ticket to meet Mike, I had to write one of the best essays in the school. And I didn’t. My teacher brought up rumors of a selection committee controversy, but eventually I found myself in my regularly assigned seat.
A year later, Mike Dunleavy was fired from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Dunleavy moved on to LAC, got fired again, and now has a son who’s a pretty decent NBA player. But to this day, every time I see the name ‘Mike Dunleavy’ (Jr. or Sr.) I think ‘Portland Trail Blazers’ and ‘Fifth Grade’.
Sports are weird like that. We’ll distill another human’s entire career into a few moments that fit into our own lives.
I don’t know where Antonio Freeman went to college, but I know exactly where I was when he caught this pass on Monday Night Football. I don’t know what happened to Robert Horry, but I remember calling my best friend after a couple of these big shots. And I totally forgot Aaron Boone hosts Baseball Tonight, but I’ll never forget this walk-off homer in the ALCS.
A similar story could be shared about Chazz Michael Michaels. Most of us have no idea who this guy is outside of the Iron Lotus or his hit documentary, “Blades of Glory.” Does he still skate? Is he in prison? Did Kanye and Jay pay him for that intro to "N—— in Paris?”
As an alcoholic and sex addict, we can only imagine the kind of mischief Michaels got himself into after winning gold in Montreal. That’s probably why he isn’t endorsing the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki with Apolo Ohno. And that might be why he basically disappeared, until now.
The other night, during the opening figure skating event in Sochi, the crowd just about lost it for a man wearing a maroon blazer sitting in press row. It was Chazz Michael Michaels. Michaels wasn’t in attendance for another improbable return to the ice though. This time he attended as a fan. He was in town to cover the U.S. Curling team, had some down time, and wanted to check out the new hotness: Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
I had the pleasure of sitting near him, but couldn’t muster up the courage to actually talk to him. So I listened and watched.
The first thing I noticed was the mustache. It was a thing of beauty, unlike any collection of hair I’d seen before. Most mustaches look like they took a great deal of time to grow and groom. Not his. After seeing it up close, I wondered if he came out of the womb with that perfect strip of luxury.
The next thing I noticed was the hair. It was majestic. I spend close to ten minutes doing my hair every morning, and I still suffer from a few wild strains of revolt. Not Chazz. His mop looked like a well-groomed golf course. Every blade exactly where it was intended to be.
The last thing I noticed was his smell. He smelled like wet socks, pickled. I wouldn’t be surprised if he put on that suit, stuck the Iron Lotus, and wore it ever since. He also had a thing for peanuts and vodka. The three scents really fed off of each other.
His reaction to the skating wasn’t that surprising. He made fun of the mediocre performances and acted unimpressed with the great ones. You can take the man out of the competition, but you can’t take the competition out of the man.
Once the night ended, I had an urge to plug my nose and ask for a photo or autograph. I just wanted a little something I could bring home. Something braggable. Something to show my friends who met Mike Dunleavy that one time.
I couldn’t do it.
Chazz Michael Michaels wasn’t just an athlete with a couple gold medal performances I could tell my grandchildren about. He was an everyday guy, like me. I couldn’t fit his life, or that mustache, into a glass case on my mantel. He wasn’t just a zoo animal (despite the smell) who landed a few ice tricks. He was just a normal dude.
I’ll never know what exactly went down after Michaels left the sport of figure skating. And I’m alright with that. I wouldn’t want to be judged by the moments people file away or the ones written across tabloids. I’d want my life’s entire sample size to be considered. And Chazz Michael Michaels deserves the same.
Kris Cantrell was torn between watching the new episode of The Bachelor and Olympic Ice Dancing. Follow him @kmcantrell.