This is a landmark that whispers.
The man who reshaped the sports world's topography to look suspiciously like the patterned bottom of a basketball shoe was born here, in the former Cumberland Hospital, on Feb. 17, 1963. The 10-story brick building is now a homeless shelter, one that critics say is among the worst in New York. There is no hint, no suggestion -- not even a small bronze rendering of a wagging tongue -- that Michael Jordan entered the world in this place. There are, however, three guards manning a metal detector in the foyer.
But Jordan is here, if not in spirit, then certainly in apparel. On a warm July day, John Anderson is walking down the block where the shelter, the Auburn Family Residence, stands watch. He is wearing a powder-blue North Carolina jersey, No. 23. Jordan's college jersey. The 42-year-old chef lives across the street from the former hospital.
"Here? Michael Jordan was born here?" he said. "Oh, man. I had no idea."
He's not alone. Few people in the Ft. Greene neighborhood seem to know Jordan was born in the former hospital. His parents lived in Brooklyn for only 18 months while James Jordan, Michael's father, went through mechanic's training on the GI Bill.
But still, arguably the best basketball player ever, and it's a relative secret he was born in this spot?
"They should probably make this place much better because of that," said Shameko Martin, who lives in the shelter with her husband and two children. "Millions of people wear his sneakers and wear his clothes.
"The same way they remember Michael Jackson, his music and how he impacted the world, they should do the same with Jordan. I didn't know he was from here. There should be something. Something with his name on it."
Perhaps it's better like this. Jordan will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday along with John Stockton, David Robinson, Jerry Sloan and Rutgers women's coach C. Vivian Stringer. There is very little mystery left to his life story. Most of us know it by heart: from his being cut from his high school varsity team as a sophomore to his standout career and national title with the Tar Heels to his two Olympic gold medals to his short minor-league baseball career to his six NBA titles with the Bulls. From highlight film to "Space Jam."
From product endorser to Charlotte team executive. From his game-winning basket as a freshman in the 1982 NCAA title game against Georgetown to his game-winner against Utah for the NBA title in 1998, when, with one move and, OK, perhaps an offensive foul, he made the Jazz's Bryon Russell go stand in the corner.
Golfer, gambler, car-pooler.
So there's nothing wrong with a whisper of a start. Nothing wrong with some nuance and subtlety and intrigue involving a man who, six years after his basketball career ended, remains near the top of national popularity lists for athletes. Nothing wrong with a little peace and quiet before he made all that noise.
Lest there be any misunderstanding or any tendency toward mythmaking, let the record show that Michael Jeffrey Jordan arrived in this world shoeless, which is to say Nike-less. And he did not have a bloody nose on arrival. Too bad, because we could have offered the perfect diagnosis: early onset altitude sickness.
No, he arrived fairly healthy.
"After Michael's birth the doctors did keep him a couple of days to be sure that his lungs were clear of some mucus," said his mother, Deloris.
He would go on to have an impact everywhere he went -- even here, in a neighborhood that has known hardship for decades. Anderson, the man in Jordan's North Carolina jersey, said of the seven friends he was closest with growing up, three are in prison, four are dead.
But knowing that Jordan was born across the street from where he's standing brings a smile.
"Jordan is one of those players, he made people dream that anybody could do whatever," he said. "Go from nothing to something. Knowing he was born here makes me feel like I can do anything."
James and Deloris Jordan came to Brooklyn in 1962 with a son, Larry, leaving their two older children with James' mother in Wallace, N.C.