Son remembers unlikely star of 'The Last Dance'

Posted at 9:01 AM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 10:01:30-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — With almost no live sports over the past couple months, millions of people have tuned into "The Last Dance", a 10-part docu-series on Michael Jordan's final season with the Bulls. On Sunday night the show provided an unlikely star with a proud son watching in Nashville.

Nicholi Wozniak's taken a keen interest in "The Last Dance". A lifelong Bulls fan, Wozniak grew up in Chicago the son of one of Jordan's bodyguards.

His father, John Michael Wozniak, passed away in January after a nearly two year battle with colon cancer, and Nicholi knew there was a chance he’d be able to catch a glimpse or two of his father over the course of the show.

"He got interviewed [for the show]," Wozniak said. "But they interviewed Barack Obama, Justin Timberlake and Bill Clinton. There’s all these people getting interviewed, and then I see the trailer and I’m thinking there’s no way my dad’s going to get anything significant. We may be able to see him here or there."

It didn’t look like Wozniak would be able to see anything Sunday after late afternoon storms knocked the power out at his home in a Bellevue neighborhood west of Nashville.

"When the power went out I said, 'I’ll just catch it tomorrow on Netflix,'" Wozniak said. "After my phone service ramped back up I had all these texts and calls and memes and gifs of my dad and I thought, 'what did I miss?'"

Wozniak had missed his father beat the notoriously competitive Jordan not once, but twice in a friendly game of quarters that's become one of the most talked about scenes through the first six episodes.

"It wasn’t a surprise," Wozniak said. "It was familiar. It was just them hanging out and they caught it on camera."

The 22-year-old footage made John Michael Wozniak and instant online sensation. Twitter and other social media platforms were flooded with pictures and memes of this unknown man with a curly mullet taunting Jordan with the same shrug he had made famous with a three-point shooting spree in the NBA Finals a few years before.

"I would say, ‘Dad, why don’t you change your hair, change your style, you’re on camera all the time,'" the younger Wozniak said. "He said, 'people recognize me because of my hair, because of my mustache. They recognize me, this is my look.' So the feeling I had was he was right. Almost like I was embarrassed about how right he was.”

John Michael had a look, but he also had a way about him. He was confident, driving a corvette to and from work, which earned him the nickname “Hollywood” early in his 31-year career with the Chicago Police Department.

That nickname not only stuck, but gained traction when he started working security detail for Jordan. John Michael Wozniak was often front and center in camera shots or in the middle of a mob of fans next to one of the most famous athletes in the history.

"It’s funny because some of the banter my dad and Mr. Jordan would have would be about my dad being recognized a little too much, or my dad being like, 'people know me too, Mike,'" Nicholi said. "So if my dad were watching I think it would be almost like an 'I told you so' moment."

Despite their competitive banter, Nicholi says Jordan treated his father like family. He hired him as his security team, and often had him oversee his house in suburban Chicago.

When John Michael retired from the police department in 2004, Jordan hired him full-time. Wozniak worked right up until he no longer could. Jordan continued to pay him until his death.

"I know [people] know [Jordan] as a fierce competitor and all those things," Nicholi said. "They say he’s an assassin, but he’s a very, very good man. Very good man to his friends, to people. He’s done so many good things that people probably don’t even know. He’s a good man, and I think that’s why he and my dad became good friends, because my dad was the same way."

Nicholi Wozniak sent a rare text to Jordan after the show, saying he "created a monster", a reference to his dad's new found fame.

But as the calls and texts of people wanting to know more about John Michael continue to roll in, Nicholi's embracing the chance to tell the world about the father he so dearly loved and misses.

"John Michael Wozniak, AKA 'Hollywood,' was first and foremost an awesome father," Nicholi said. "He was a very, very proud Chicago Police officer in narcotics. Very proud of the guys he worked with. And then also with Mr. Jordan, they called each other brother. He truly saw him as a brother and a friend. And was just a very low key, quiet, good man, and I’m honored to tell people that."