NBA legend Michael Jordan is in the discussion as being possibly the greatest NBA player of all-time, but he was a star before he ever played a game for the Bulls. He was one of the top collegiate players during his career at the University of North Carolina, which is why the Bulls selected him with the third overall pick in the 1984 draft.
But he was a late bloomer because he didn’t join the varsity team in high school until his junior year, which helped him land a spot with the Tar Heels in the early ’80s. Here’s a look at Jordan’s basketball career prior to entering the NBA.
Michael Jordan’s high school career
Jordan attended Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C., where he played basketball, baseball, and football. There is a myth that Jordan was cut from his high school’s basketball team, but that’s not entirely accurate.
The truth is that tried out for the varsity basketball team as a sophomore, but he didn’t make the cut because at 5’11”, he was deemed too short to play at that high of a level. That snub only motivated him to prove that he could compete on the varsity team, and he became the star of the school’s JV team.
He scored 40 points in several games that season. He grew four inches over the summer and trained hard to earn a spot on the varsity team as a junior. In his final two seasons at Laney High, he averaged more than 25 points per game and was selected to play in the 1981 McDonald’s All-American game in his senior year, scoring 30 points.
Michael Jordan with the Tar Heels
Michael Jordan played under legendary coach Dean Smith at UNC, and he earned ACC Freshman of the Year honors in his first season, when he averaged 13.4 points per game. That March, he made the clinching shot that won the 1982 NCAA championship game against Georgetown.
Jordan would later recall that shot as being the major turning point in his playing career. In his three seasons with the Tar Heels, Jordan averaged 17.7 points, five rebounds and 1.8 assists in 101 games. He won the Naismith and Wooden College Player of the Year awards in 1984 and entered that year’s NBA draft, forgoing his senior year.
He went third in the draft after centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie, who went No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Jordan would later return to UNC and complete his degree in 1986.
A legacy that goes beyond the hardwood
Jordan would go on to have one of the best careers in NBA history, leading the Bulls to six NBA titles and earning Finals MVP honors each time. He also earned five league MVP awards during his career and was named an All-Star 14 times, winning the All-Star Game MVP award three times. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
But perhaps his most lasting legacy came off the court and in his business dealings. When Nike introduced the original Air Jordan shoe in 1984, it was so popular that it would grow into its own sub-brand, Jordan Brand, that makes shoes and other apparel and earns the Hall of Famer $130 million annually, which is $40 million more than he made in his entire playing career.
He’s also a rare athlete who crossed over into mainstream entertainment on his way to becoming a household name around the world. Probably his most famous project in the entertainment industry was his starring role in the 1996 film Space Jam, in which he co-starred with a number of popular Looney Tunes characters.