Throwback: Read this dope Michael Jordan article from an 1983 issue of The Sporting News magazine

Scrolling through social media, we came across this awesome Michael Jordan article from an 1983 issue of The Sporting News. The issue was their NCAA Player of the Year issue and was a such a great read that we decided to transcribe it.

Published almost exactly 37 years ago to the day (March 28, 1983), read this long read on how the GOAT developed his jumping ability, approach to the game, work ethic, and being a pool hustler with multiple quotes from Jordan himself, his father, James Jordan Jr.., coaches and opponents. Enjoy.

All He Lacks Is Capital ‘S’ On His Chest


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – James Jordan advises that if you ever get a chance to cue up a pool stick with his son, don’t.

“If you think Michael does OK in basketball, you should see him in pool,” said James Jordan, a supervisor at General Electric in Wilmington, N.C. “We have this pool table at home and I thought I was pretty fair with the stick until we had a challenge match and he wiped me out.”

All part of the game, replies Michael. “Eight-ball is my favorite, and I sorta have the reputation of being a hustler.”

That reputation, in its most flattering form, also applies to young Jordan’s other sport, in which the object is to put the ball into the hole. Only a sophomore, the 6’6 guard-swingman is touted as perhaps the best player to bounce a basketball at the University of North Carolina, the school that has produced such superstars as Charlie Scott, Billy Cunningham, Walter Davis, Phil Ford, Al Wood, Mike O’Koren and James Worthy.

The way most people tell it, Michael Jordan can shoot your eyes out in the side pocket or from the foul line. He’ll talk about his pool game, but don’t count on Jordan, THE SPORTING News Player of the Year, to toot his own horn or compare himself to Tar Heel basketball ghosts.

Mention of the word “greatest” causes him to wince.

“Maybe one day I’ll justify that kind of faith in me,” he said, “but I’m not going to try to do everything by myself. I’m going to do it within a team concept, do the best I can in the system that Coach Smith teaches.”

The system that Coach Smith teaches…

It goes something like this: Team concept, or a tight family unit, with graduated recognition, preferences for seniors, then juniors and so on; an all-for-one and one-for-all regimen.

Sometimes the recognition plan goes awry. For example, last year Dean Smith campaigned vigorously to gain post-career honors for guard Jimmy Black, but there were few takers. Otherwise, outside the seniority traditions, Smith never favors one of his players, current or past, over another. And he certainly is not going to focus on Jordan, a sophomore, over Sam Perkins, a junior, and both All-Americas.

From an impartial viewpoint, however, it is obvious that Michael Jordan is something special. If he were a cartoon character, he’d have a capital S on his chest.

“There were times when I looked up and saw Jordan over my head,” said Georgia Tech center Tim Harvey. “It was like watching Superman There’s nothing you can do but stand and look at him.”

He soars through the air, he rebounds, he scores (more than 1,100 points in two years, a school record), and guards two men at once, he vacuums up loose balls, he blocks shots, he makes steals. Most important, he makes late plays that win games. Call it what you may, court sense or court presence, he has it.

It was not always so. Michael didn’t make the Laney High School (Wilmington) varsity until his junior year. By then he’d poi pitched two no-hitters for his Little League team and had had a line brief stint as a safety in football.

“But,” said his father, “Michael set goals and worked hard to achieve them. He was never one who thought he could get by without working.

How Michael Jordan learned How to Jump

“His leaping ability didn’t just happen. He worked at it. When he was 13, I built a backyard court and he, his brother Larry and some other kids played almost every day. Michael was a fierce competitor. (He was called Rabbit because he always hustled.) Still, he knew that to be good at winning, you had to be good at losing, though he didn’t like losing.”

His high school coach, Clifton Herring, admitted that Jordan was “outstanding” at Laney, but added, “I never realized he was that good; he developed more after he got to college. He has a fine family. I’d classify them as hardworking people who raised a good family.”

The family was middle class and hard workers. His mother, Delores, is a supervisor at a business firm; a brother, Larry, plays basketball at UNC-Wilmington; another, Ronald, is in service, and there are two sisters, Delores and Roslyn, a fellow student at UNC.

“As a youngster, Michael was a happy-go-lucky, unselfish type,” said James Jordan. “He wasn’t hard to please. As I recall, outside of fast foods, his favorite meal was chicken and biscuits at his grandmother’s.”

Then, as now, Michael was into music. These days, when you watch the Carolina players arriving at their dressing room, he’s the one with the cassette player in his hand.

And then, as now, James Jordan never missed an organized athletic game played by Michael, whether it was a Little League baseball game or the NCAA finals.

“When he was recruited by North Carolina, he wasn’t promised any playing time and I think his greatest surprise came when he was in the starting lineup for the first game of his freshman year,” said James Jordan.

(Jordan was only the second freshman to start in his first game under Smith. The other was Phil Ford)

Added James Jordan, “Michael is just not the type to insist he be ahead of someone else. He likes the system at Carolina and is not hung up on independent playing.”

From the way he plays, however, there are those who swear he’s hung up on a low-hanging cloud; a sky walker and a master of the improbable. Consider the spectacular moments of the season.

Item: Carolina is trailing Tulane by two points and the Green Wave has the ball out of bounds on the sideline with only four seconds to play. A cinch, right? Wrong.

Two Tulane players run into each other, the ball bounds loose, Jordan picks it up, shoots and makes a basket at the buzzer. UNC wins in overtime to break a two-game losing streak.

“I just reacted,” Jordan said. “You do what you have to do.”

Item: Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, his team trailing by a point, sets up a final play with his son Chuck driving the base line. The opening is there.

Or was. Out of the air comes Supermike with an in-your-face block and the game is saved.

Item: Having lost all but a few points of its 23-point lead, UNC looks on as 7-4 Ralph Sampson goes up for a late, five-foot hook to close the gap for home standing Virginia. It’s blocked by the 6-6 Jordan, who left his man to help out.

“Michael set goals and worked hard to achieve them. He never thought he could get by without working.”

Item: Second Virginia game, at Chapel Hill, and the Cavaliers hold a 63-60 lead with 1:07 to play.

Jordan tips in a missed shot, then picks Rick Carlisle‘s pocket, makes a steal and turns it into a spectacular dunk. If that isn’t enough, he takes the last rebound away from Sampson.

That game, incidentally, marked the Tar Heels’ third straight victory over the Cavs, stretching back to the ACC tournament final of ’82 when Jordan scored eight straight points at the finish in a 47-45 UNC victory.

The ultimate Jordan big play, of course, was his 15-foot corner shot that beat Georgetown in last year’s NCAA final.

“That had to be my proudest moment,” said James Jordan. “At one point, I thought winning was impossible for Carolina and I would have been happy for any of the guys to turn it around, but I can’t tell you how much of an impression it made on me for Michael to do it. A lot of people have forgotten that he also scored the first basket in that game.”

There is, of course, more to Jordan’s game than heroics and leading the ACC in scoring (20 points a game). When Smith says he is three times better than he was his freshman. Michael translates that into defensive improvement.

“Last year I didn’t win the defensive game award one time, not once,” he said, “and that’s something Coach Smith grades in films to measure your absorption of fundamentals. This year I’ve won the game award 12 times and, to me, that’s improvement.”

You might say that Jordan advanced so much he was assigned not one but two men to guard. He plays his assignment and freelances, doubling on the ball or the “hot hand.”

“I keep in touch with my man, know where he’s at, and I’m double-teaming the ball at all times,” he said. “When there’s opportunity to steal, I go for it.”

(Jordan already ranks second to Dudley Bradley in the UNC record book for single-season steals with 78.)

At that furious pace, even Superman needs some rest time.

“When you see me give a lot of rest signals, it’s because I fed like I need a short rest to do my job better,” Jordan explained, “I’m going out, coming back in and doing the same job. I freelancing and if a shooter’s starting to score and we’re having problems with him, that’s where I’m going to go over as help out.”

In his 22 seasons at UNC, Smith has given this freedom to only three players. The other two were Dudley Bradley and Walter Davis, pretty quick company for a sophomore.

This license to steal, so to speak, has paid off. For example, in the regular-season-ending game with Duke, Jordan left his man, blocked a shot and passed off to Jim Braddock, who re turned the ball for a three-point goal by Michael.

Such plays prompted NBC analyst and former Marquette coach Al McGuire to say. “Michael Jordan is the No. 1 player in the country.”

Maryland guard Adrian Branch put it in more basic terms. “Guarding Michael Jordan is dirty, dirty work.”

Smith gave his players a few days off after they’d won their final regular-season game. At home on a Sunday, the day after the regular-season finale against Duke, Jordan did something he might do perhaps half a dozen times a year. He did not touch a basketball all day long.

“My mother wouldn’t let me,” Michael said. “She took my car keys and took the phone off the hook. I stayed home and rested up, but the next day I ran and played some.”

It isn’t likely Jordan will change, even with the Player of the Year award.

“T’m going to try my hardest every game, whether I’m Player of the Year or not,” he said. “I’m not going to base anything or my career on being player of the Year this year, next year or my senior year.”

And, yes, he said, his current plans are to be around for his senior year. Would he guarantee he won’t go NBA?

“I don’t guarantee anything. But I’m not thinking of anything but planning to be back. And any agent would have to talk to Coach Smith before he approached me.”


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