Who Is Michael Jordan?
There was less than a minute to go in the 1982 college basketball championship game, one of the biggest events in sports. The Hoyas, Georgetown University’s men’s basketball team, had taken a one-point lead over their rivals, the Tar Heels from the University of North Carolina. With thirty-two seconds left, Carolina coach Dean Smith called a time-out so he could discuss their next moves with his players.
The team, in their white-and-blue uniforms, gathered around their coach. He knew that Georgetown would carefully guard James Worthy and Sam Perkins, two UNC players who had become big stars. Coach Smith had to decide who else could take a shot at scoring a basket if Worthy and Perkins couldn’t get free from defenders. He thought the team should try to get the ball to Michael.
Michael Jordan was a nineteen-year-old freshman at UNC in 1982. Coach Dean Smith rarely let freshmen play. He thought the first-year students needed to watch and learn—from the bench—before they were ready to play big-time college basketball.
But Michael stood out. He was quick and could jump high. He was tough and energetic. Even better, he loved to work and to learn. He practiced hard and listened to his coaches’ instructions. Coach Smith knew he was different. He put Michael in the starting lineup for the first game of the season, and he stayed there all year.
Now, with seconds left on the clock, Coach Smith was going to trust the team’s chance at a championship to the freshman, Michael Jordan. Everyone knew he had the talent to make the shot. But even more importantly, Michael had the confidence. Some athletes would be scared by this big moment. They might be afraid of making a mistake. And they certainly didn’t want to be the one to lose the game. Michael was another kind of athlete. He wanted
to take the shot.
The time-out ended and the players got ready to go back on the court. Their coach had only one thing to say: “Knock it in, Michael.”
The clock started again. The Georgetown players swarmed Worthy and Perkins. Michael waited on the other side of the court. With fifteen seconds left, Jimmy Black passed the ball to him. Michael caught it and jumped in the air. The ball left his hands and sailed sixteen feet to the basket. It swished in and the Tar Heels took a one-point lead. The crowd roared.
Georgetown had time to make another shot, but their players couldn’t seem to score. The clock ticked down to zero. The UNC Tar Heels were the 1982 college basketball champions!
After the game, Michael told a reporter that he hadn’t felt any pressure. It was just another jump shot.
That was the very first game-winning shot made by Michael Jordan. It was far from the last. He would go on to win six NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals. He was named Most Valuable Player five times and played on fourteen All-Star teams. Many people consider him the greatest basketball player ever and one of the greatest athletes of all time. Chapter 1: Too Short
Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 17, 1963. His parents, James and Deloris, were both from North Carolina. James had moved the family to New York so that he could go to school. Michael had an older brother, James, known as Ronnie, and a sister, Deloris, called Sis. Another brother, Larry, was just a year older than him. The family returned to North Carolina when Michael was five months old. His sister Roslyn was born the next year.
In a family of five children, Michael wanted to be the center of attention. He danced, sang, told jokes, and played tricks. Sis said he always loved to have an audience.
The Jordans moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, when Michael was five so they could be closer to James’s job at a General Electric plant. James loved baseball. He taught Michael and Larry to play as soon as they could hold a bat. Soon they were playing in Little League. As they got older, they also became interested in basketball. Their father put up a basketball hoop for the boys. And later he built a court for them.
When Michael was nine, he watched the 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Americans lost. Michael told his mother, “I’m going to be in the Olympics one day and I’m going to make sure we win.”
Michael and Larry played against each other any chance they could get. Michael adored Larry and looked up to him, but he always wanted to beat him when they played.
Everyone agreed that Larry was a fantastic athlete. He was very strong and quick. Most people thought that Larry could have been a star basketball player. But there was one problem—everyone expected basketball players to be tall and Larry was short.
But Michael kept growing. Soon he was taller than Larry. He became an outstanding baseball player. At age twelve, he was named the state’s most valuable player after his Little League team won the state championship.
He kept getting better at basketball, too. In 1977, Michael entered the ninth grade. Every morning, he came to the gym before school to practice basketball with his friend Leroy Smith. Michael was about five feet, seven inches tall. Leroy was a whole foot taller! But Michael was fast and could jump high. They had both made the middle school team. In one game, the team scored fifty-four points. Michael scored forty-four of them!
In 1978, Michael and Leroy began their sophomore year at Laney High School. They both tried out for the varsity basketball team. Leroy made it and Michael didn’t. Later, the coaches said that they knew how good Michael was. But height is important in basketball. And the coaches felt that they needed someone tall like Leroy to compete with other teams.
But Michael didn’t know the truth. He only knew that he hadn’t made the team. He went home and cried alone in his room. He thought about quitting, but his mother encouraged him to stick with it. Michael took her advice and played with the junior varsity team during his first year at Laney. He worked hard and put on a show, averaging twenty-eight points per game. It was obvious how talented he was on the court.
Michael was worried, though. He wanted to have great skills and
to be taller. He prayed every day. He hung from a bar, hoping to stretch himself out. By age sixteen, Michael was five feet ten. That was taller than most people in the Jordan family. It seemed unlikely he would grow much more than that.
Then one day, a cousin came to visit the Jordans. He was six feet seven! Suddenly Michael had hope—there were taller people than him in the family after all!
Michael had another worry as his sophomore year wore on. He had constant pain in his knees. His doctor took X-rays of Michael’s legs and discovered good news. The X-rays showed that he was growing fast and had a lot more growing to do. The pain was probably related to his rapid growth.
When he returned to school for his junior year in the fall of 1979, Michael was six feet three and still growing. He easily made the varsity team. Michael was offered two jersey numbers. He chose twenty-three because he hoped to be half as good a player as his brother Larry who wore number forty-five.
Now he had the height to match his skills. And people beyond his high school were beginning to notice.
Copyright © 2019 by Kirsten Anderson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.