Was Michael Jordan Really Cut From His High School Basketball Team?

Legends are steeped in myths. There’s usually a nugget of truth to rumors, and the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team is the perfect example of this. Do you know the real story about the early years of His Airness?

How the myth of Michael Jordan’s high school team is based in reality 

Fans hear a fair share of Jordan-related myths and sort-of stories, but none is as popular as the one about him being cut from his high school basketball team. Yes, Jordan was technically cut. But the truth is more complicated. Let’s rewind and take a look at the real story. 

Jordan grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and tried out for the varsity team as a sophomore. The 15-year-old was a skinny 5-foot-10 and not as skilled as he needed for a spot on the varsity, reports Yahoo Sports.

His best friend Leroy Smith was a whopping 6-foot-7 and made the team. After all, at that height, it didn’t really matter whether he could dribble or shoot; all Smith had to do was stand under the basket and hold up his arms.

Rejection was Jordan’s great motivator

Charlotte Bobcats managing member of basketball operations Michael Jordan
NBA star Michael Jordan | Gary O’Brien/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

So Jordan did what any bummed teenager would do. He went home, locked himself in his room, and cried. Unlike most teens, the demotion to the junior varsity squad made him more determined to hone his skills so he’d be a shoo-in for the varsity next year.

Jordan said, according to ESPN, “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it.” Visualizing that roster did the trick. MJ scored over 40 points in many games that season. The JV team packed the gym every night.

Dean Smith was an early fan

The summer before his junior year, Jordan did what most teenagers do; he grew four inches. He also worked out all the time, bulked up, and became a star on the varsity squad, averaging over 20 points per game.

After his junior season, Jordan went to Coach Dean Smith’s basketball camp at UNC-Chapel Hill. Smith saw Jordan’s potential and signed him to the Tar Heels as his senior season at Laney got underway. Jordan proved his worth by averaging a triple-double and becoming McDonald’s All American.

So, no. Jordan wasn’t cut from the team his sophomore year because he never actually made it. But he did suffer through the indignity of being on the second-tier squad while his bestie got to play with the big boys. The Laney coach has been criticized for bumping His Airness down to the JV team. But how could anyone know in 1978 that four years later, Jordan would be the toast of the NCAA?

In Chapel Hill, reports Ozy, Jordan was just the freshman who hauled the film projection equipment and followed James Worthy and Sam Perkins onto the team bus. Until he hit “The Shot” that gave UNC the NCAA championship in 1982, Jordan was just another gawky kid learning the fundamentals.

“The Shot” heard round the world

NBA fans think “The Shot” is the jumper MJ knocked in during the 1998 NBA Finals to give the Chicago Bulls the NBA title over the Utah Jazz. Nope.

The Shot is the jumper he floated in from the corner with 15 seconds left to give the Heels the win over Georgetown and Patrick Ewing. Sure, Worthy went on to win the tourney MVP and leave school early to join the Lakers. But Jordan credits “The Shot’ with catapulting his career. 

Jordan had a nice career after he left Carolina

Trying to list all of Jordan’s accomplishments would take a while, so let’s look at the highlights: Olympic gold, All-American, more NBA championship rings than he can put on one hand, Hanes underwear mode, and some Jordan sneakers (Zion Williamson is a fan). President Barack Obama presented Jordan with the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

That sneaker deal expanded in 2017 to include UNC athletics under the Jordan umbrella. Jordan flies high, no doubt, but he remembers where he came from. After Hurricane Florence devastated his hometown of Wilmington in 2018, reports UNC, he not only donated $2 million to relief efforts but was on the ground handing out food and supplies. 

Oh, and Jordan is the only former player to be the majority owner of an NBA team, the Charlotte Hornets. Recently, Jordan spoke at Kobe Bryant’s memorial service. He was moved to tears during his speech when he joked that there would be another “crying Jordan” meme on the internet.

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