Michael Jordan

Fascinating 1-on-1 interview between Michael Jordan, OJ Simpson resurfaces

O.J. Simpson appeared on a show hosted by Michael Jordan called "Greatest Sports Legends" in 1988

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The country has taken a trip down memory lane following the death of O.J. Simpson, which Simpson's family announced on social media Thursday morning.

It's almost impossible to comprehend all of the ways in which Simpson influenced American culture. Never before had a professional athlete transcended his sport and rooted himself into the average person's daily life the way Simpson had. And that was true even before he was accused of double murder. He was a staple of American sports, Hollywood, commercialism and the very notion of the American dream. Ultimately, he would have a profound impact on the United States justice system, too.

NBA legend Michael Jordan interviewed Simpson for an episode of a show called "Greatest Sports Legends" in 1988, in which the two sports icons walked leisurely around a luxury resort in Carlsbad, California to chat about Simpson's illustrious football career.

Jordan's first question to Simpson was about his government name, Orenthal James. As he often did, Simpson had a charming response.

"I think I was in the third grade, the teacher was calling out your name and wanted you to sit down," Simpson said. "They'd call out every name, and I was still standing there. She went through the list and she says, 'Are you Orenthal?' And I said 'No.' She said 'What's your last name?', and I said 'Simpson.'

"When I got home that day, I said, 'Mom, what's my name?' Because all my life they called me O.J."

The two bantered about his captivating days as a college running back, and Simpson admitted that his favorite game of his entire football career wasn't the day he eclipsed 2,000 yards with the Buffalo Bills, but the day he helped USC take down No. 1 ranked UCLA to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl in 1967.

"The city championship is on the line, the winner will go to the Rose Bowl, the winner will probably be the national champions, it's the last game of the year, and Gary Beban and I are the two leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy," he told Jordan. "So everything was on the line."

Simpson recounted an impressive play early in the game in which he broke several tackles to score a 13-yeard touchdown. The performance, he said, earned him the Heisman.

The conversation moved to the magnum opus of Simpson's football career — the night he broke Jim Brown's single-season rushing record and became the first player in NFL history to break 2,000 yards.

"That last game, we knew no matter what happened, we were going to break that record," Simpson said. "I think I needed something like 61 yards, and if I had to carry the ball 61 times, we were going to break the record."

An intriguing moment of the interview was when Simpson described what motivated him the most throughout his football career.

"As a kid, I guess my first sense of acceptance came from the gym or the playgrounds, he said. "Somehow, you could be the person that you want to be, or you can have people view you in the vein that you like to be viewed in. There's a certain adulation. The fact that people would take the time to look at you to say, 'Hey, I like this guy, this guy has something to offer.' The only place I could achieve that was in the gym and on the playgrounds.

"I wanted to be known. I wanted to be liked."

Simpson recalled a specific memory from childhood, when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco.

"Everybody was excited, my teachers — my white teachers — because Willie Mays was coming. And it seemed that every time they would speak of Willie Mays, they'd be happy, it would be with some joy," he said. "I wanted to be able to affect people like that."

For almost three decades, that's exactly what Simpson did. It all came crashing down in 1994 when he went to trial for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman at Simpson's home in Brentwood, California.

In what became known as “The Trial of the Century,” Simpson was acquitted of the double slayings. But the spectacle of the trial forever changed the public's perception of the former football turned Hollywood star, especially after he was found liable for the deaths by a California civil court jury and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the victims' families.

In a separate case more than a decade later, Simpson was convicted by a jury in Las Vegas and sentenced to prison for leading five men, including two with guns, in a 2007 confrontation with two sports collectibles dealers in a cramped room at an off-strip Las Vegas casino hotel.

After serving nine years in a Nevada prison for the armed robbery, Simpson was granted good behavior credits and discharged from parole on Dec. 1, 2021. The then-74-year-old continued to reside in the gated Las Vegas community where he had moved after being granted parole. Simpson became a frequent poster to Twitter, now X, offering sports takes and photos from the golf course, where he spent much of his post-incarceration free time.

Early in 2024, it was reported that Simpson had been diagnosed with and was being treated for prostate cancer.

One of the most dramatic falls from grace in American pop culture history concluded, symbolically, with Simpson's death on April 11, 2024.

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