It was the late 1990s and the Chicago Bulls were in Toronto a night early to play the Raptors.
Michael Jordan, a bit of a baller in his day, ran into then-Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi at a bar, and the two athletes lit up cigars and started playing pool.
Jordan rallied quickly from Domi’s early lead and had just six balls scattered on the felt.
“If I sink all these, then you have to bring your son to the game tomorrow,” Jordan challenged the hockey player. Then Jordan promptly cleaned the table.
“Tickets will be at Will Call,” Jordan told Domi. Courtside.
Tie relays this tale, which is lifted from his new bestseller Shift Work, to us with a wide smile. He says his young son, Max, couldn’t take his eyes off M.J. during the game. Jordan nailed a three-pointer and winked at Max.
After the game, Tie says, Jordan wrapped baby Max in a towel and walked around the Bulls dressing room. Max posed for photos with Jordan, Dennis Rodman and the rest of the team.
“It was pretty cool. Max was too young to remember, but every time I see Michael Jordan I thank him,” Tie says. “I saw him at Chris Chelios’s Hall of Fame party. He remembered he beat me in pool, too. Great (photo) for Max, being walked around the room by the best athlete in the world ever.
“That’s the beauty of being a professional athlete. Everybody wants a piece of you when you’re in the limelight.”
Even if his friend, Connor McDavid, were healthy, Max Domi would be in the running for the Calder Trophy this season. The Arizona Coyotes forward leads all rookies in goals (eight) and is second to Chicago’s Artemi Panarin in points (15). Because of his father, the younger Domi has these relationships with stars of a generation past.
The freshman wears sweater No. 16 in homage to Bobby Clarke, Tie’s favourite player as a kid and a fellow sufferer of Type 1 diabetes.
Teemu Selanne, whom Tie bodyguarded in Winnipeg, has been texting and tweeting about Max’s impressive start. He made a point to go watch Max live in Anaheim last week. Tie’s close friend, Mario Lemieux, has been encouraging Max through text messages, too.
“Max has certain guys that you could call hockey players, but they’re like his uncles because they’ve watched him since he was a kid,” Tie explains. “They call him Maxie.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs‘ draft specialist Mark Hunter, Tie says, has been watching Max since he was 14 years old. Back when he was managing the London Knights, Hunter traded three second-round draft picks to get the Kingston Frontenacs to make sure young Domi played for his OHL powerhouse.
Tie insists he and Max’s mother wanted their son to go the NCAA route instead, to the point where they made three trips to Michigan investigating options south of the border.
“When Max got drafted to the OHL, he said, ‘I want to play in the OHL.’ He’s the one who has to play. He chose it. We supported him,” Tie says.
“We let him make that choice. People thought I had the influence, but I actually wanted him to go to school, OK? I spent a lot of hard dollars to put him through private school. That was important.”
Sit down with Tie Domi, and he’ll tell you more than once that he lives for his children. Though Tie has missed a chunk of Max’s games this month while promoting his new book (currently No. 1 in Canada), he’ll be in attendance at the Bell Centre Thursday for Max’s first game against the Montreal Canadiens. He travelled for his boy’s debuts in Toronto and Ottawa as well.
Tie recalls nasty Senators forward Chris Neil having a chance to “smoke Max” on Oct. 24, but the oft-nasty forward let up on the rookie.
“During the faceoff, Max congratulated [Neil] on his 900th game,” Tie says. “I was very proud of Max for doing that.
“Being a Type 1 diabetic since 12 years old, how he’s a leader to kids and meets with so many families and inspires them, he’s a true inspiration not only to diabetics but to his parents and friends.”
The greatest challenge for a diabetic taking a run at the Calder and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup, Tie says, is staying on top of your blood-glucose level and ensuring everyone in your circle understands what you’re dealing with.
“There are mood swings, but he’s handling it well—knock on wood,” Tie says. “Everybody around him has been great. He’s got a routine down. The eating part is the biggest thing: when he eats in relation to exercise. Seeing him handle the families and kids he deals with, I sure couldn’t do that.
“That makes me more proud as a father than any scoring championship or title he’s won.”
Nine-year-old Max and father Tie in December 2004. (Paul Chiasson/CP photo)