Before he became a superstar in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan was a star at the University of North Carolina. He played for legendary head coach Dean Smith and learned the proper fundamentals of basketball.
Jordan played his high school basketball at Emsley A. Laney in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was one of the most highly recruited players in the country and chose to play at UNC despite hating the Tar Heels as a kid. The shooting guard was in love with David Thompson, who played at NC State, but Smith and the recruiters at UNC convinced Jordan to come to Chapel Hill despite MJ being “scared” and “intimidated” by the iconic tactician.
Michael Jordan was nervous when he met Dean Smith
Jordan told SLAM Magazine in 1997 that he was pretty nervous when he met Smith for the first time. However, the two developed a strong bond after getting to work.
“Scared. Intimidated. I mean, his reputation preceded him,” Jordan said. “I was pretty nervous about it, but he was easy to talk to. Very knowledgeable. Very caring coach.”
In Episode 1 of The Last Dance, the popular docuseries showed an old clip of Smith talking about Jordan. The two-time national champion said, “He was very inconsistent as a freshman, but he’s one of the most competitive ones we’ve ever had in our drills. He wanted to get better, and then he had the ability to get better.”
Jordan played three seasons at UNC and established himself as one of the best players in school history. He also hit one of the biggest shots in NCAA history.
Michael Jordan averaged 17.7 points at UNC and hit game-winning shot in 1982 championship game
In 101 games at UNC, Jordan averaged 17.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He won the 1981-82 ACC Rookie of the Year Award, the 1983-84 ACC Player of the Year Award, and was the Wooden Award winner in 1983-84.
During his first year at UNC, Jordan helped the program win the national championship against Georgetown. He scored 16 points in the title game and hit the game-winning jumper. The Bulls legend admitted in 1997 that his shot against Georgetown gave him the confidence to excel in late-game situations once he got to the NBA.
“It gave me the confidence in game-winning situations, how to deal with the expectations and maintain your poise so that you can be successful,” Jordan said. “I mean, I don’t get rattled at close games or at the end of the game, because I’ve had so many successful opportunities that I can think about. That I’m willing to live with it—the negative of missing the shot.”
Smith gave Jordan the greenlight as a youngster, and that switch never turned off for Black Jesus, who is the NBA’s all-time leader in points per game. Jordan had so much love for Smith, and he was absolutely devastated when his former college coach died in 2015.
MJ: Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Dean Smith
Smith died in 2015 at the age of 83. As expected, Jordan released a heartfelt statement after losing his college coach.
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith,” Jordan said in 2015. “He was more than a coach – he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”
Jordan will certainly never forget the impact Smith had on him as a person and basketball player. Thanks to Smith’s lessons, the six-time NBA champion learned how to play the game the right way at UNC and became the GOAT with the Bulls.