Those of you who know me know that my favorite basketball player is Michael Jordan. A couple years ago, I read a comprehensive biography about Jordan called: Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby. What fascinated me was not his college-level or NBA-level stories, but those from his childhood and teenage years. It’s easy to say now that Jordan was destined for success. But the path to success can be winding and uncertain.
Achieving audacious goals isn’t easy, and it’s difficult to see a path to success while you’re going through it. It’s especially hard if you haven’t selected a path or vocation that suits your natural personality and gives you a competitive advantage.
Hopefully these eight facts about Jordan’s formative years will inspire you to overcome setbacks and give you the patience to achieve your goals.
#1. His dad thought he was lazy.
When Jordan was fifteen years old, his dad said:
“That’s the laziest boy I’ve ever seen . . . if he had to get a job in a factory punching a clock he’d starve to death … he was always broke.”
According to Jordan in his autobiography Driven From Within, his dad only stopped believing this when Jordan got into the University of North Carolina:
My father more or less thought: At least this guy isn’t going to be home for the rest of his life. He may just get out and do something.
#2. He was never actually cut from
his high school basketball team.
Everyone knows Jordan was cut from his high school team. The real story is this: When he was a sophomore, both he and his friend Leroy were considered for varsity. However, only Leroy made the team, because he was a big man, and the varsity squad already had too many guards. Jordan still made the junior varsity team, which–according to his JV coach–turned out to be a blessing:
We thought he’d be better off playing on the JV team . . . Being on the varsity would have meant a substitute’s role, with little playing time, little development, Lynch explained.
Jordan probably would never admit this but it’s probably true. In his autobiography, Jordan wrote about the importance of not having the burden of being labeled a future star:
There were no expectations for me . . . no one expected me to become the player I became. I came in under the radar to a certain degree . . . so I didn’t have to be concerned with looking over my shoulder, or trying to live up to the expectations created by a marketing campaign.
#3. He dunked before he was tall
Jordan dunked for the first time during one of his junior varsity games. At the time he was about 5’10.”
#4. He was obsessed about getting taller.
MJ didn’t think 5’10” was tall enough–he wanted to be taller to take his game to the next level. So he did a bunch of things only an obsessed basketball player would do:
He spent hours hanging from a bar in the backyard, hanging anywhere on anything that afforded a good grip, trying to make himself taller. [He and his mother] prayed together about it, and Jordan prayed alone at the end of each day … At five ten he already towered over the males in his family. His parents counseld him to think about growing in his heart and his mind … in addition to hanging from the bar, Jordan would put salt in his shoes before going to bed and praying again.
His mom told him putting salt in his shoes would help him grow taller. It was something she made up just to get him to stop bothering him.
#5. He initially flew under the radar.
Jordan’s lack of height early on caused him to go unnoticed by local powerhouse college teams. It wasn’t until his next year (and after he’d grown to 6’3″ or so) that UNC noticed him. According to the legend, Roy Williams (who was then a graduate assistant) was assigned to find out more about Jordan. Williams sent his friend to go check out the kid:
[Williams] told me “There’s this kid named Mike Jordan at Laney . . . He does 360-degree dunks like it’s nothing.”
#6. The Five Star Basketball Camp changed everything.
Jordan attained local fame and the attention of recruiters after he played at the Five Star basketball camp. But because he was a late bloomer, he didn’t get there completely on his own merit. Roy Williams–who at the time was one of the few people who knew about MJ–tried to build up trust with Jordan and his family by recommending him to the Five Star camp. This was his recommendation to one of the camp organizers:
You know, there’s a kid from North Carolina who may be a great player. We’re not sure. He came to our team camp this summer, but we don’t have a lot of great players there and he didn’t play against a lot of great competition . . . can you get him into your camp so he can play against the best players in the country?
As a result of this recommendation, the camp created an extra spot for Jordan.
#7. His camp coach had buyer’s remorse at first.
The Five Star camp had teams that were formed by coaches who chose players. Jordan’s team was coached by a guy who instructed his assistant to choose a rising star named Aubrey Sherrod. But the assistant chose Jordan instead, which led to this exchange:
[The head coach] says “Who the hell is Mike Jordan” … He goes beserk. “What did you do to me?” [The assistant] told him “relax, relax, he’s a great player.”
#8. UVA wasn’t interested in him because
they were trying to recruit someone else
Jordan ended up killing it at Five Star camp. His performance gave him the confidence to believe that he could play basketball at the highest levels. Afterwards, he contacted the University of Virginia, telling them that he wanted to play for them, alongside their star freshman player Ralph Sampson. But UVA wasn’t interested in MJ at all because they were saving their athletic scholarships for a kid named Chris Mullin.
Readers: What do you think about Jordan’s formative years? Have you encountered similar obstacles? How did you overcome your setbacks?