Hagen: As Ralf "X" crack the pass of Michael Jordan caught

Hagen: As Ralf "X" crack the pass of Michael Jordan caught

Hagen: As Ralf "X" crack the pass of Michael Jordan caught

Hagen. A basketball game like a Beatles concert: In the cabin whisper, “X” Risse talks about his game with Jordan – and a duel against Nowitzki.

Ralf Risse falls into a soft lounge chair and looks thoughtfully around the room. "I don't really know what to tell you," says the 57-year-old to Yannick Opitz and Sören Fritze, the initiators of "Cabin whisper". Funny, curious or inspiring stories are the order of the day in this series, but Risse, the former Bundesliga and national player, is modest. But when "X," as he's known, starts chattering, your jaw drops. The 57-year-old was one of very few Germans to play with and against Michael Jordan. The fact that "X" was still dueling with Dirk Nowitzki at the time is almost irrelevant. Curtain up for the cabin whispers with Ralf Risse.

The Nowitzki experience

In his last full season in Germany, Dirk Nowitzki played for his hometown club, the second division club DJK Würzburg. Word got around that the tall, thin blond boy had NBA potential. When Nowitzki played an away game in Salzkotten in 1996, Henrik Dettmann was in the audience. The then national coach came especially to watch the mega talent. But another basketball player with strong throwing power also made an impressive game: Ralf Risse, then guard of the Salzkotten second division team, handed Würzburg and “Dirkules” 30 points. “I was still quite fit at the time and played through. And Dirk was a bit lazy, he stood around in the zone and didn't come out when I threw it," recalls "X". But, the winger admits: Dirk also played a strong game, of course, and the Würzburg team won the game.

Nowitzki was a type of basketball player that nobody had seen before. A prototype. 2.13 meters tall and yet fast, agile and, above all, powerful. "He was as big as our center, but he couldn't defend him because he was too slow. And he threw me from a standing start”, laughs the 1.95 meter “little” Ralf Risse.

By the way: Risse also had a duel with Nowitzki's mentor and trainer, the legendary Holger Geschwindner. "It's funny: When I was a rookie, I played against Holger. And when I was close to the end of my career, I played against his pupil.” Geschwindner's performance against Risse was even more impressive. At that time, the young Hagen had been warned against the "old man", who scored from all positions and was still fit at the age of 38. But Risse wasn't listening properly. "He gave me a pretty good 40 points," grins "X".

Hagen: As Ralf

The Jordan experience: Part 1

When the Frankfurt Basketball Hall filled to the last seat on August 28, 1990, the spectators were curious: does this Michael Jordan really exist? And does he actually play for Steiner Bayreuth? Yes and yes! Jordan was then 27, in the prime of his career, and his sponsor Nike organized two interlude matches in Frankfurt and Paris as part of a promotional tour in Europe. They had no sporting value, but delighted the spectators. Because Bayreuth was Germany's only team sponsored by Nike at the time, Bayern had the pleasure of welcoming "His Airness" to their ranks.

"Shortly before the game we all asked ourselves whether he was really coming," says "X", who was in the Bayreuth squad at the time and played against a selection of American basketball players. And then he appeared. 15 strong bodyguards dressed in black first demonstratively positioned themselves at the edge of the field. Safety First. “At first we thought that was a bit exaggerated. But no, it wasn't that,” Risse recalls. Scores of spectators tried to rush onto the field just to be able to touch Jordan. Ambulances had to arrive to treat fainted fans. "It was surreal, like a Beatles concert," Risse shakes his head. And then the game started.

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"X" Risse played well and a lot in the friendly game - and one scene he will never forget. How the young Hagener ran down the right flank, accepted Jordan's pass and "threw the thing in" from the line of three. A pass from Michael Jordan, that must have felt like praise from Caesar. Risse ran back on defense and high-fived Jordan. "Nice shot!" said the NBA superstar of the Chicago Bulls. "Nice pass!" replied "X". Both grinned. Sometimes players had to pinch themselves to make sure they weren't dreaming. "We all had the Nike shoes with the Jordan logo on them," grins Risse. “And then he, the logo itself, stands next to us. That was cool.”

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"MJ" didn't play a particularly good first half, however, he made a lot of throws into the ring. Jordan had no rhythm. He was only supposed to play the first half, but when that was over he said, "Fuck it. I'll keep playing.” As expected, Michael Jordan turned up the heat in the second half and led his team to victory. Teammates, opponents and fans were enchanted. How can a player be that good? "It went off like that. He really wasn't from this planet," cracks enthused 31 years later. It was above all Jordan's type of movements, his dominant physique and his incredible jumping ability that made him so special. Risse gets up from his chair, waves his hands and hops on one leg: "Just how he did a layup looked fantastic."

The Jordan experience: Part 2

The second game in Paris showed just how exceptionally good the probably best basketball player of all time was. This time "X" played against Jordan, but he didn't have to defend "His Airness". That thankless task was left to Michael Curry, an American who played for Bayreuth in 1990/91 and later worked his way up to one of the NBA's best defensemen in the top league. Curry was fast, athletic, had long arms and bite. "Curry was a fighter and he was very motivated against Jordan," says "X".

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Curry tried everything against the Bulls star. But Jordan scored 59 points. Fifty nine. Curry had to be doubly annoyed, because on the one hand he was presented, on the other hand his Bayreuth teammates applauded Michael Jordan. "What Jordan did was just incredible, we had to cheer for him," Risse recalls, adding with a smile: "Curry was so sour. He didn't want to speak to us anymore."

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