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Even if you’re not a basketball fan, just about everyone is familiar with Michael Jordan. During his time on the NBA hardwood, His Airness became one of the most famous men on the planet; between his incredible talent, relentless will to win, and savvy business decisions, kids around the world all wanted to be like Mike. The legend’s career, however, could have ended before it truly began.

During his time at the University of Carolina, Michael Jordan actually had an untimely brush with death. Thankfully for basketball fans everywhere though, a bizarre watermelon, samurai sword, and blindfold-related incident didn’t send MJ to meet his maker.

Michael Jordan’s rise to prominence

These days, it’s almost impossible to imagine Michael Jordan as anything other than one of the greatest basketball players to hit the hardwood. MJ, however, wasn’t always the finished article.

Jordan honed his competitive edge battling against his brother, Larry. That fire, however, wasn’t any help when Michael tried out for his high school’s varsity basketball team as a sophomore; he failed to make the cut and, condemned to a season on the JV squad, went home and cried.

That setback, however, inspired MJ to take his game to the next level; thanks to his famous work ethic and a growth spurt, he made varsity the following season and, by the time he graduated, had become a McDonald’s All-American and earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

With the Tar Heels, Jordan continued to improve. During his first season on campus, he took home ACC Freshman of the Year honors and knocked down the game-winning shot to clinch the NCAA title. His basketball career, however, could have ended right there.

A watermelon, a samurai sword, and a brush with death

Given what we know about Michael Jordan and his NBA career, it would have made sense for Dean Smith to wrap MJ in cotton and protect him from any possible harm. At the time, though, things worked out a bit differently.

As Donnell Alexander explained in a 2012 ESPN story titled “Michael’s Brush With Death, “Dallas evangelist Bill Glass was planning a Carolina stop for his prison ministry tour” in 1982 and requested a UNC athlete joined him. While Glass was hoping for a marquee player like Sam Perkins, Jordan showed up instead.

On that trip behind bars, Glass was joined by a”martial arts expert from Tennessee named Mike Crain.” While the exact details of what happened aren’t clear, Jordan was roped into Crain’s act. The basketball player laid on a weight bench with a watermelon on his stomach; Crain donned a blindfold and attempted to cut the fruit in half with a samurai sword.

The sword unsurprisingly split the watermelon in two, but also struck Jordan. He needed to go to the emergency room, where doctors closed the cut with three stitches.

It’s safe to say that Michael Jordan made the most of his oppertunity

Had Crain’s samurai sword gone a few inches further into Michael Jordan’s stomach, the world could have been a much different place. Thankfully for basketball fans everywhere, though, His Airness survived and went on to have a legendary career.

While Jordan’s greatness needs no introduction, it is worth revisiting just how dominant he was. Although it took some time for his Chicago Bulls to overcome the Detroit Pistons, they went on to claim six NBA titles; on an individual level, MJ claimed 10 scoring titles, five MVP awards, and literally changed the game of basketball.

In the world of sports, you’ll often hear the phrase ‘a game of inches.’ Those words probably mean a bit more to Michael Jordan than to most others.