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DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. – Who does Michael Phelps look up to?
That bar has to be set pretty high for the all-time leader in Olympic medals. And so, sitting with David Feherty during a special Ryder Cup edition of Feherty Live, the Golf Channel's version of a late-night talk show, Phelps talked about the man who inspires him most.
Feherty's show had come to the grand old Tivoli Theater in suburban Chicago, where it was only fitting that No. 23 would come up in conversation. For it was only 20 miles to the east where Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA championships. Feherty joked that his low-budget show couldn't afford the real Michael Jordan, only a blowup one, and with that out stepped the five-time MVP, drawing the capacity crowd inside the Tivoli Theater to its feet and an adoring smile across Phelps' face.
Of all the famous people Phelps has rubbed elbows with over the years, Jordan hasn't been one of them. Until Monday night.
Already shy whenever a camera is shoved in his face, Phelps could barely muster a sentence sitting next to MJ. Feherty wondered why a kid from Baltimore would grow up idolizing a guy playing in Chicago.
"He's the greatest," Phelps muttered as he stared at his shoes.
And then, in a moment as refreshing as an early-morning swim, Phelps let everyone know just how he felt: "I'm at a loss for words."
Phelps said he has been in the pool since announcing his official retirement following the London Olympics, but only for a little exercise. He insisted on more than one occasion Monday night that he's "not coming back." Golf, it appears, is where at least some of his focus is now, though he says he's not very good at it. (His swing, which Feherty broke down on video, showed otherwise.)
The dedication to swim seven days a week for at least the last 12 years took its toll on Phelps, who called retirement "the best thing to ever happen."