Tiger Woods is to golf what Michael Jordan was to basketball. It was natural that the two would become friends, despite Woods being warned off.
Tiger Woods turned pro at the age of 20, back in 1996. The California-born prodigy had long been tipped to be a great in golf, and with good reason. Through the next 9 years, Woods produced the single most dominant era that an individual golfer has ever put on show.
Woods was so dominant that golf almost seemed tailor-made for him to play. He became the first golfer in 25 years to win 8 tournaments in a single year in 1999. Tiger followed that up with a streak of 6 straight wins the following year.
Tiger became America’s next sporting darling as a result of his dominant run. So who else should he turn to for advice but the most famous American sportsperson of all time?
How Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan became friends
Johnny Merchant was the family lawyer for the Woods family, and he had some words of caution for the young star. Tiger had idolized MJ growing up, so Merchant’s words weren’t of much use. But he made sure to put his view across to the youngster:
“Michael can play basketball as well as anyone who’s ever played the game,” Merchant said. “There isn’t anything else that Michael is good at doing. Nothing! And he’s had too many years of being out there in public. So he’s going to try to use you.”
Woods talked about his relationship with MJ in an interview after he became the youngest to win the Augusta Masters in 1997:
“I guess my association with Nike did help that. But Mike’s in a position where I think my life is going. And I went through some problems, I didn’t know how to handle certain situations.”
“Like dealing with visibility, loss of privacy, articles, just people in general, and Mike helped me out because Mike has already been there. He’s established himself as probably the best basketball player that’s ever lived.”
“He’s so well-known that what better person to relate to me than not a movie star, celebrity or anything like that but a guy who’s down to earth, who’s an athlete, who can relate to another athlete. And Mike is almost like my big brother right now.”