Michael Jordan’s High School Coach, Clifton Herring, Faced Much Bigger Obstacles Than Basketball
Everyone knows the name Michael Jordan. Considered to be the GOAT, he’s been the face of the basketball since his final retirement in 2003. But with the ESPN docu-series, The Last Dance, shining the spotlight back on Jordan, the world has seen a different, darker side of the icon — and it’s surprisingly petty. No one knows this better than Jordan’s high school coach, Clifton “Pop” Herring.
Michael Jordan cut from the team by his high school coach?
Jordan loves to tell the story of how Herring cut him from his high school team when he was a sophomore. He’s told it in interviews. He’s used it to inspire people to follow their dreams no matter how hard they may be to achieve. He even referenced it during Hall of Fame induction speech. The problem is, the story is just not true.
As Sports Illustrated reports, Coach Herring, affectionately called “Pop” by his players, was deeply invested in the lives of his boys. Moreover, he believed in Jordan’s talent and took active measures to foster his talent. He came in extra early every day to unlock the school gym just so Jordan could practice his jump shot. He worked one-on-one with the future star on rudiments like ball handling and shooting from the perimeter.
And as far as getting cut from the varsity team? Coach Herring made a tough decision. Despite Jordan’s raw, unshaped talent and abilities deep in the paint, Herring put him on the junior varsity team at guard instead of varsity so that Jordan had time to develop his shot and his leadership. It was a gift to the young player, a down payment on his success.
Coach Clifton Herring’s struggle
Given Jordan’s eventual success, this should be a story with a happy ending, right? Unfortunately, even as Jordan’s career took off, Pop Herring’s life declined, according to Forbes.
As he was approaching middle age, Herring was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a condition that ran in his family. In battling the disease, Herring lost everything: his wife, contact with his daughter, and eventually his job.
Despite his mounting personal losses, Pop Herring’s quality of life continued to decline. He turned to alcohol to deal with his problems. He lived in a bug-infested rental property with broken furniture and clutter everywhere. Because of his mental illness, people took advantage of him, which eventually led to his arrest.
In January 2012, a serial rapist named Andrew Bernard Adams pushed his way into Herring’s life and began living with him. When the body of a dead 24-year-old girl was found on the property, police arrested a drunk Pop Herring in the process of arresting Adams. Herring spent the next few months in jail on a paltry $100 bond.
Herring eventually passed away in 2019 at the relatively young age of 66, according to USA Today. His life unfortunately never improved. Jordan owes a huge debt to his former mentor. Without Herring’s sacrifice and dedication, Jordan may never have developed into the dominant player that he eventually became.
Since The Last Dance aired, Jordan’s mean side has been on full display. He continued to spread the story of Herring cutting him from the team even though he knew that it deeply hurt his former coach. And when Herring’s life began to take a tragic turn, Jordan was nowhere to be found, despite his wealth and resources. Things might’ve turned out differently if Jordan had attempted to intervene, putting his pride and an embellished story aside.