Attorney Don Godwin, photographed by Steven Visneau.

Business

The Day Don Godwin’s Father Sold Seven New Cars to Michael Jordan

The Dallas trial lawyer says his dad's experience taught him a lot about respect and treating people right.

Don Godwin’s a canny and successful Dallas trial lawyer whose clients have ranged from H. Ross Perot and Jerry Jones to Norman Brinker and Halliburton. But during four long conversations we had for this article in the July/August issue of D CEO, the topic Godwin got most animated about was his father—a guy named Lewis Godwin who grew up on a North Carolina farm, left school after the 10th grade, and went on to become sales manager for a big car dealership in Wilmington, N.C. Specifically, Godwin was most enthused telling about the time in the early 1980s when his dad sold seven new cars to Michael Jordan, the future superstar for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

“Michael’s daddy came into the car lot one day with his wife and Michael and the grandmother and a brother and a sister—there were seven people there in all,” Godwin recalled. “Michael’s father knew my father well, because he had sold him cars over the years. He said, ‘Mr. Lewis’—that’s what he called him—’this is my son Michael. He just graduated from the University of North Carolina and he is wanting to talk about getting some cars.’ Michael said, ‘I want to buy seven cars. You see that big black Mercedes, the four-door? That’s the one for me. I want my mother to have the little Mercedes next to it, and I want my dad to have a Mercedes. I want my grandmother to have a big Pontiac Bonneville, and my brothers and sisters—Firebird Trans Ams, beautiful Pontiacs.’

“My dad called Michael’s daddy aside and said, ‘I think the world of you and Mrs. Jordan …and I know Michael means well, but my son graduated from college with honors in 1969, and he didn’t get a new car for several years. And your son is graduating from college and he’s talking about buying seven cars. Tell me how he’s planning on paying for that.”

“Mr. Jordan said to him, ‘Mr. Lewis, don’t you know who my son is?’ My father said, ‘I never heard of your son.’ And Mr. Jordan said, ‘He’s an All-American and was deemed to be the greatest basketball player to ever come out of the University of North Carolina. He’s the greatest player ever in basketball and he’ll go on to be one of the greatest that ever played the game. … Don’t you understand? He just got a $10 million signing bonus from the Chicago Bulls, and he’s going to make millions of dollars every year. So don’t worry about it, Mr. Lewis. He can take care of it.’

“My dad went back over to Michael and told him he hadn’t meant any disrespect—he’d just wanted to make sure the family was okay with everything—and Michael said, ‘I understand, Mr. Lewis. But I want you to get a large sale. I’m going to pay the window-sticker price, because you were a really good friend to my mother and daddy. When nobody would loan them money to buy a car, you always made it happen.’

“So, my dad goes in and tells the owner of the dealership that Michael Jordan is out there and wants to do a good deal and the owner says, ‘Yeah, we’ll do a good deal.’ Then he added, ‘Go out there and tell Michael to come in. I want to get a picture made with him.’

“My dad goes back out and tells Michael, ‘We have a deal. By the way, the owner would like you to come in and have a picture made—just the two of you.’ And Michael said, ‘Really? He wants me to come in there, rather than him come out here where my mom and daddy and grandmother are? He thinks I’m going to do that?’ Michael said, ‘Mr. Lewis, do me a favor. Go in and ask one of the people that’s got the camera to bring it out here and take a picture of you and me together, and then one of you and me and all my family together, and that’s the only picture that’s going to be made here today with me in them.’

“My dad said, ‘You’ll get me fired if I do that.’ Michael said, ‘No, you go get the camera. If you don’t, I’ll go get it myself. I’m not taking a picture with anybody that won’t come out here and meet my family and meet me.’ So, my dad went in there and got this big old camera and brought it out, and they took a couple of pictures. My dad still had them when he died.

“I was so proud of that. Here my dad is with a 10th grade education, selling seven cars to Michael Jordan. He said, ‘Michael was a real gentleman to me and treated me with respect, even though I was a nobody. I kind of felt he respected me because of what I had done for his family.’

“I took away a lesson from that,” Don Godwin concluded. “If you treat people with respect and you’re good to them, they’ll always remember you. No matter what your station is in life, there’s the right thing to do.”

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