NISSWA -- Clayton Houff sat in the back seat of a Suburban and thought, "What in the heck am I doing here?"
Houff needed to pinch himself to verify he wasn't dreaming while being escorted to Brainerd International Raceway for the Superbike AMA Championship June 26.
It wasn't how he arrived that created the surreal situation. The confusion was caused by his company -- Michael Jordan, Charles Oakley and Richard Dent.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan (center) talked to his Jumpman23.com Superbike racing team representatives as Parts Unlimited Chief Executive Officer Jeff Fox (left) waited to take Jordan on a golf cart June 27 to Brainerd International Raceway's first turn. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
While the two NBA stars and the Super Bowl XX MVP need no introduction, the 34-year-old Houff does. The clubhouse manager at Grand View Lodge's Pines Golf Course was simply in the right place at the right time.
While staying at Grand View during Superbike weekend, the golf-crazed Jordan couldn't resist the Nisswa resort's award-winning golf facilities. Jordan was given Houff's cell phone number and told to call him whenever he wanted to play.
On June 25, Houff waited for his phone to ring. It never did. Instead, Jordan and his all-star posse strolled up to the 27-hole course unannounced.
"They don't need a tee time but the place is packed," said Houff. "There are 100 people outside, probably 30 people in the shop, and I'm at the counter. All of a sudden I look up and here they are walking through the shop.
Clayton Houff walked behind basketball legend Michael Jordan June 27 as Jordan walked up Brainerd International Raceway's tower suites stairs. Jordan was visiting BIR during the annual AMA Superbike Classic. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
"Everyone in the pro shop is stumbling around and my staff is falling apart. I'm just looking at (Jordan) and he walks right to me. He kind of leans up on the counter, puts out his hand and says, 'Clayton? Mike.'"
Houff adorned the group in Pines gear and sent them to the first tee.
"They go outside and get on their carts and people are just kind of starting to notice," said Houff. "You can hear the grumbling, 'God is that ...? Oh, man, it is.' People are starting to freak out.
"There was a group of 30 that I wanted to get them out in front of so I went out to these guys and said, 'Hey guys. I've got to get a group off in front of you that wasn't scheduled. Listen, you're going to understand.' Then out walks Michael Jordan."
Houff made sure everything was perfect for the celebrities His hard work must have impressed Jordan.
"He asks me if I'm going to go to the races," said Houff. "I tell him I was thinking about it. Then he goes, 'Do you want to come and watch the races in my box?' Well, yeah.
Clayton Houff profile
Occupation: Clubhouse manager at Grand View Lodge's Pines Golf Course
Career highlight: A day with NBA superstar Michael Jordan
"He's like, 'All right.' Then I went and got them some beer. As soon as they pull away from the tee, 98 guys that were standing behind the tee box pull out a phone and call somebody. 'You won't believe this. I just watched Michael Jordan tee off at the Pines.'"
Houff, a sports fan who appreciated the six-time NBA champion's superior talent, received numerous calls from friends asking for Jordan's autograph. He turned them all down.
"We were just hanging out," said Houff. "I just didn't want to bug them. I didn't ask him for any autographs, photos or nothing. I just figured, I'm experiencing this. I'm not going to blow it and make him mad or anything."
On June 26, Jordan's group had a 10 a.m. tee time. Houff returned to the clubhouse to prepare for their arrival.
"They tee off and he goes, 'So, are you going to come today?'" Houff said. "I said, 'For sure,' and then he said, 'Well, meet us when we're done.'"
Houff met them at the cabin and was introduced to more of Jordan's friends. As they prepared to leave, the 6-foot-6, five-time NBA MVP grabbed Houff's attention.
"He was like, 'Clayton, you come with us,'" said Houff. "So it was me, Oakley, Dent and Jordan and the driver in one car, then his manager and his buddies in the other car," Houff said. "I'm sitting in the back of the Suburban, looking ahead, and it's Oakley, Dent and Jordan! They're like, 'What about this lake? What kind of fish do you catch out of this lake? Where are the bears? When do the bears come out?'"
The driver brought the group to the luxury tower at BIR. While Dent and Oakley mingled outside, Jordan and Houff went to Jordan's luxury box.
"He's just super excited about racing," Houff said. "He's all fired up. He's telling me I have to check this out. I'm just like, 'Wow. This is crazy. What is going on?'
"There was a bunch of good food and beer, whatever you wanted. We watched the races and when they ended he took a spin around the track on one of his Ducatis.
"Then he wanted to go down to his trailer. We're all sitting inside on coolers, Oakley, me, Dent and Jordan, and I'm thinking, 'What is going on here?' It was crazy."
Within 20 minutes, word of Jordan's presence spread throughout BIR. Hordes of people convened near the trailer, eliminating Jordan's privacy.
"As private as he wanted to be, he was pretty cool because he was just sitting there interacting with people and talking to all the other drivers," Houff said. "That was kind of funny because normally (drivers) are the stars and they were all coming in to see him."
After the group left the track, Jordan wasn't done with Houff.
"When we got back Jordan asks me, 'What are you doing now?' I told him, 'Nothing, really.' 'Well, why don't you come in and have some beers?'
"So I go into the cabin. Oakley is in the kitchen making chicken wings and tuna salad and I'm sitting at the table with Jordan and one of his other buddies. They are playing cards and talking trash like you wouldn't believe.
"It was hilarious. I was thinking of taking out my phone and calling one of my buddies just to have them hear it. It was just crazy. Here I am, these guys are playing basically war for $300 a hand that takes two seconds. Oakley is in the kitchen asking me if I need a beer and I'm like, 'Yeah.'"
Houff said it seemed natural to hang out with Jordan because he and his friends were so normal. They weren't jerks or pretentious.
"Jordan was totally relaxed, super nice and very personable," said Houff. "You could tell he didn't want to be bothered, but he seems basically like a normal guy.
"It seemed like those guys were his really good buddies. I think they probably hang around him pretty much all the time. It was trash talk non-stop. But the other thing was it was all about him. Whatever Michael wanted, that's what they did.
"Dent was a really nice guy. Then, when we went to the track that day, Oakley wore a Pines wind shirt and Dent had on a Pines visor. When we were sitting outside the trailer, 500 pictures were taken for sure with those guys in Pines gear, which is just sweet."
Houff said he couldn't ask for better perks on the job. He'll never forget that weekend, mostly because he's had to tell the story over and over again.
He's getting sick of the story himself. But he'll never get tired of the experience.
"He's like the most famous person in the world and I'm drinking beers with him," said Houff.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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