Whether you believe Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time (a conversation for another day), what can’t be argued is that Jordan remains one of the most revered and well-covered athletes of his generation.
It seems like no stone has been left unturned in Jordan’s life. From his days getting cut as a high school sophomore in Wilmington, North Carolina, through those final few glorious years in the NBA, Jordan’s life has been chronicled like few others.
But for all we know about Jordan, there is one thing that has been rarely discussed: How the heck did he end up at the University of North Carolina? If you think it’s as simple as a local kid going to the state school, think again.
On Thursday, North Carolina coach Roy Williams joined “The Sidelines Podcast” with Evan Daniels and shared the fascinating story of how Jordan ended up at North Carolina. Williams was an assistant in Chapel Hill at the time, and as he explained, the staff was initially unimpressed by the lanky, 6-foot-4 high school junior [you can listen to the interview above]:
“It was strange because we get a call from Mike Brown, who was the athletic director from the Hanover County schools, telling us that there was a player down there that he thought had a chance to be possibly something special,” Williams said. “Coach [Bill Guthridge] went down to watch him play a game his junior year and he played OK. But [Guthridge] came back and said ‘Yeah he’s athletic. But all he did was shoot a lot of long jump shots.’”
What happened next might be even more interesting.
As Williams explains it, North Carolina invited Jordan to its summer camp. At the time, the school was still optimistic that Jordan was good enough to play in Chapel Hill. But still there was never a preconception that he would one day turn into one of the best players of all time.
By the end of the weekend, that all changed, according to Williams.
“Michael came, I remember camp started on Sunday, and I was running Carmichael Gym,” Williams said. “[It was] just free play. Kids could stay for 20 minutes and then they would rotate back to Granville Towers [dorms] and another group would come in.
“I was so impressed by Michael in the first 20 minutes that I said ‘why don’t you just stay and go back with the next group.’ And so he played another 20 minutes, and I was even more impressed with him. So he went back with that group and the counselor, and then 45 minutes he came back with another group. And it was almost a mile walk between Granville Towers and Carmichael so I said ‘why don’t you just stay here and I’ll give you a ride back to Granville.’ So he rode back to Granville with me in the car.”
By the end of that third session, Williams was convinced: He didn’t just have a “player” on his hands; he had a bona fide future star.
“I remember it was an unusual thing,” Williams said. “[Fellow assistant coach] Eddie Fogler said ‘did you see any good players?’ And I said ‘Eddie I think I just saw the best 6-foot 4-inch high school player I’ve ever seen.’ That was Michael Jordan.”
As Williams tells it, North Carolina acted quickly and thank goodness it did. According to the now-Carolina head coach, Jordan went to the famed “Five-Star Camp” – which was held for the best high school players in the country – a few weeks later and won MVP, as well as every other major award handed out.
Thankfully, Carolina made its in-roads and the rest is history. Jordan enrolled in Chapel Hill in the fall of 1981 and in March of 1982 hit the game-winning shot in the NCAA title game against Georgetown. A few years later he was in the NBA, and by the mid-’90s he was a cultural icon.
But none of it would have happened – at least not at North Carolina – if it weren’t for that fateful afternoon at Carmichael Gym when Williams spotted the “best 6-foot 4-inch high school player” he’d ever seen.
To listen to the rest to the interview with Williams – during which he talks about the impact of Dean Smith, his 800th win and what his 2017 team needs to do to win the national championship –click here.
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