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The man who cut Michael Jordan in high school… sort of

Jan 11, 2012, 10:26 AM EDT

Michael Jordan dunk

It is one of the legends of Michael Jordan — that as a high-school sophomore he was cut from his high school team.

Jordan, ever the master at using slights real and perceived as fuel to drive him, took this insult as one of the things that pushed him through high school to North Carolina and beyond. He cried that night when he didn’t make the team and that was one of his first steps to being Michael Jordan.

So what was that high school coach thinking?

In a must-read interview and story in this week’s Sports Illustrated, Clifton Herring explained how he made a logical basketball decision — and that he never really cut Jordan.

There was no doubt that Mike Jordan could handle the ball, but his shooting was merely good and his defense mediocre. Mike Jordan was seven or eight inches shorter than Michael Jordan would be, only 5’10” at age 15, and at least one assistant coach had never heard of him before that day. If Jordan distinguished himself at all during the tryout, it was through his supreme effort…..

But the Laney Bucs did have one major weakness, and that was size. They didn’t have a returning player taller than 6’3″….. In those days it was rare for sophomores to make varsity. Herring made one exception in 1978, one designed to remedy his team’s height disadvantage. This is part of the reason Mike Jordan went home and cried in his room after reading the two lists. It wasn’t just that his name was missing from the varsity roster. It was also that as he scanned the list he saw the name of another sophomore, one of his close friends, the 6’7″ Leroy Smith.

Jordan wasn’t cut, like most sophomores he was assigned to the junior varsity team. Jordan was fired up as only Jordan could be and he dominated at that J.V. level then started to do the same at the varsity level later — at the same time he sprouted up to become a tall player but always having those guard skills.

Herring did what any basketball coach would do — he went big. Tall and good beats small and good every time. There were already about 10 seniors on the varsity team, only a few spots were open and the coach went with the size he needed on the roster. It’s why you take Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, even if that in retrospect seems foolish. (GMs who say now they would have taken Durant are doing some revisionist history, at the time they all would have taken Oden.)

Jordan developed more and faster on the J.V. And if Jordan had made that varsity team, would he ever have become “Air Jordan?” Maybe we should just say thank you to Herring and move along.

  1. jimbroney - Jan 11, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    This coming from a lifelong bulls fan. Nobody cares anymore about this story, it’s old and played out. Jordan is the fakest athlete I have ever seen, he knew how to put on a good showing with the media and the world thought he was perfect….far from it. Looking back I wish I would have appreciate what scottie pippen did more…minus the 1.8 seconds incident that is.

    • bozosforall - Jan 11, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      Dude, STHU…without Jordan, the Bulls have ZERO titles. Count your blessings that your team ended up with him instead of Sam Bowie.

    • troy10 - Jan 11, 2012 at 11:18 AM

      awww… Did Michael not give you the autograph you wanted when you were a child??
      I’ve heard things like that could scar a person for life.

    • tomtravis76 - Jan 11, 2012 at 12:52 PM

      Jordan was a kid kid who grew not far from the beach in Wilmington,NC in a simple life from a simple place, went to an excellent college, went to the NBA(not too many people get that chance-accomplishment by just doing that), became the Greatest player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers and put a ball through a hoop, created a clothing/sneaker line that is sold world wide and now is an owner of a professional sports franchise along with many other business ventures which employee people. That is one heck of story for any person to admire. So, you think he is fake because your bible beating morals and teachings aren’t what Jordan practices?

      And that is your fault that you hand blinders on when watching Pippen play, anyone who watched the Bulls knew Pippen was fun to watch, he is one of the 50 Greatest.

      • l0yalr0yal - Jan 11, 2012 at 2:56 PM

        “The greatest player ever to lace up a pair of sneakers and put a ball through a hoop”?

        Please. Let’s get a thumbs up for Detlef Schrempf*.

        * It’s a joke.

  2. diablito0402 - Jan 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I agree bozosforlife,, dude aint no bulls fan, he is calling the athlete of the century fake? Like chris carter would say” Come On Mannnn!

  3. gpatrick15 - Jan 11, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    Not all GM’s would choose size as the only factor. I’m no GM. But if faced with the option of taking the dominant scorer who shows more potential than the dominant big man in the same draft, I think I’d take the scorer every time, ESPECIALLY if I’m the trail blazers, who fell for that same trap with Bowie over MJ.

    • gpatrick15 - Jan 11, 2012 at 11:59 AM

      All you thumb downers, your logic is how you end up with Bowie over MJ, Oden over Durant, Milicic over Carmelo. You’d think with all of the prior occurences that teams would not fall for this. Unless the big men coming out had the potential to be Olajuwon, Shaq, Abdul-Jabar, Wilt, etc, then take the dominant scorer.

      • troy10 - Jan 11, 2012 at 12:40 PM

        no… I gave a Thumbs Down… because it’s easy for some Joe Schmoe to get on a website and say “if I was a GM.. I’d do this… or that”… that’s easy.. you don’t have the weight of an entire organization, or city for that matter, on your shoulders.
        The knocks on Durant when he came out was.. can he get his shot on the NBA level, will he get knocked around b/c he’s so ‘skinny’, will he be another Wesley Person type? Or the dreaded “tweener”
        Yes.. there were also knocks on Oden as well… but people saw him to have the potential of a modern day Bill Russell. Someone to dominate the boards and patrol the paint.. and develop a nice offensive game.

        Seems all those doubts were just silly when you look at how things turned out.
        So.. it’s sooooo EASY to sit here now and say, “Oh… I would have taken Durant over Oden” 5 YEARS after it happened!! Hell, anyone can do that.

        How many teams passed on a Scottie Pippen (drafted 5th), Karl Malone (drafted 13th) or John Stockton (15th pick) because of concerns?? And these are all guys that made the NBA 50 Greatest list. And you’re telling me you’re the one person that would have known to draft them number one in whatever year they came out?????
        You should just go be a GM then… you’ll have many championships!

        Oh.. and if you don’t like us “thumb downers” either don’t post… or don’t post something stupid like that.

      • tcclark - Jan 11, 2012 at 4:54 PM

        people were comparing Oden to Bill Russell…. and not because they’re the same age

      • redbaronx - Jan 12, 2012 at 2:36 AM

        I agree with you gpatrick. These people that have thumbs down don’t get it. Today’s NBA requires game changing scorers to win titles. Guys like Troy here like to think you’re using hindsight to make decisions, when it’s really quite simple. The days of having a defensive anchor in the middle that solidifies the team for championship caliber are over. You need top flight offense. Defense can be worked on, or you get a defensive specialist at the 4 or 5 spots. Look at how Tyson Chandler, not a superstar by any means, helped Dallas with solid fundamental defense and rebounding. But do you think Dallas wins a championship without Nowitzki??? All you guys that gave thumbs down on this need to understand. The premium is to get a scorer in today’s NBA, not defensive anchors. The last time this worked was Tim Duncan, and Tim Duncan is a once in a generation player who had the offensive scoring skills to go along with the defensive ones.

      • ashot324 - Jan 16, 2012 at 10:36 PM

        i suppose you would have chosen ben gordon, luol deng, and shaun livingston over dwight howard in 2004

    • dirtydavis - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      You would be the Matt Millen of the NBA if you were to be GM

  4. gpatrick15 - Jan 11, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Drafting talent trumps drafting for need, especially with free agency and trades.

  5. junebucket - Jan 11, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    All I can say about Jordan playing Junior Varsity, is that when I was a senior basketball player at Southern Wayne High, our jayvee came in the locker room, as we were about to take the floor, absoloutely shell shocked. One kid kept saying Mike Jordan is ready for the pros right now. Apparently, Jordan had scored 40 points. Even though we won the game handily, on the way back our coach, Marshal Hamilton, was upset and kept saying he didn’t think anbody on the jv would move up because they couldn’t guard anybody.

  6. shackdelrio - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Are they now going to reshoot the beginning of Space Jam?

  7. dirtydavis - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    MJ… When was the last time he picked up a basketball? You clowns act as if he can walk on water… Pssshhh!!!! Funny how MJ and two other hall of famers won all those championships after the legends retired.

  8. chitownmatt - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    So there is a lesson for all GMs to be learned in this story and even in Henlins review, although he obviously has not learned it….

    If you are ever faced with the choice, TAKE THE DOMINATING SCORER OVER HEIGHT!!!

    Iverson over Camby; Rose over Beasely; etc…etc..etc.

  9. keyshawn22 - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    Dirty, you say he won his championships after legends retired??? He only beat magic and Kareem in his first title appearance… Drexler in the 2nd… Barkley in the 3rd… Payton in the 4th… And Malone and stockton twice in the 5th and 6th….plus Ewing every year in the eastern playoffs. Get a clue or shut up

    He’s the greatest of all time period…

    • dirksimmons - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      Don’t forget Shawn Kemp was on that Sonics team. He was a beast at the time.

    • dirtydavis - Jan 11, 2012 at 2:01 PM

      @ Key… Get you facts straight, son!!! Kareem was already retired when Bulls beat the Lakers in 91 and plus we all know that Scottie was the guy guarding Magic. Who was Drexler’s sidekick??? Barkley?!?!? the guy is 6’4 playing the 4 spot and was allergic to defense. The Sonics were the only real good team during the Mid 90s. MJ shot 40% during that series.

      Be real with yourself…Do you consider any of those players in your top 10 greatest of all time??? or maybe top 15?

      • trueballs - Jan 11, 2012 at 4:35 PM

        I would definitely rank Magic, Bird, & Kareem in their primes over Malone, Stockton, Kemp, Drexler, and Ewing. So yes…the greats were gone when Jordan began his reign.

        It’s tough to compare because Jordan won with much less help then Magic/Bird/Kareem, but he also won against easier competition than what Magic/Bird/Kareem faced (mostly each other).

    • redbaronx - Jan 12, 2012 at 3:22 AM

      I’m not even a Bulls fan, but I have to set the record straight. Dirty is way off here, but Keyshawn made one mistake. Michael did NOT beat Magic AND Kareem in his first Finals appearance. Kareem retired in 88. Michael played Magic and the Lakers with Vlade Divac at center in 91. So now that we have that corrected….

      Lets see which legends Mike beat: Magic Johnson and the Lakers in 91. And lets not forget who the bulls beat on the WAY to the Finals. The prior, year before champion Detroit Pistons and Isaiah Thomas. Patrick Ewing and some really devastating, Pat Riley coached Knicks teams in the 90’s. If it weren’t for Michael and the Bulls you would probably be counting one or two Knicks titles in the 90’s. Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trailblazers who had been to the Finals vs. the Lakers. And yes if you want to count legends, then he beat Larry Legend and the Celtics too. Also, lets not forget that Utah wasn’t just John Stockton and Karl Malone. They also had Jeff Hornacek, the Manu Ginobili of the time. The same Jeff Hornacek that he had to beat in 93 along with Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson’s Phoenix Suns. And yes, the Sonics in 96. For those of you who didn’t see them at the top of their game, the 96 Sonics were one of the scariest teams you ever laid eyes on. Shawn Kemp was a monster like you’ve never seen in today’s NBA, and Gary Payton was considered the best 2 way point guard at the time and his nickname was the glove for shutting people down defensively. Plus you had Nate McMillan and Hersey Hawkins on the wing, Sam Perkins, Eric Snow, and Detlef Schrempf bombing three pointers.

      The reason the Bulls and Michael are one of the greatest teams of all time is that they beat the legends. If you judge teams by who they play, then you have to give them credit. The Lakers were the best. NO ONE thought the Bulls were going to win before the series. 4-1 Bulls.

      In 1992 everyone thought that Portland, a team that reached the Finals in 1990 vs. Detroit would show the Bulls what a real team would do vs the ‘individuals’ of Michael and Pippen’s ‘team’. People thought Drexler was the West Coast version of Michael. Game one of the Finals, Michael hits SIX threes in the FIRST HALF. 4-2 Bulls.

      In 1993 Phoenix looked like world beaters with the addition of Charles Barkley, to an already powerful Phoenix team that had Kevin Johnson, Danny Ainge, Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers, Richard Dumas, Thunder Dan Majerle, Oliver Miller the paint clogger, and Mark West. This was the year the Bulls weren’t going to win. They had the burden of a three peat. Phoenix had three All Stars and a roster chuck full of great players in their own right. Silly us for thinking the Bulls might lose! 4-2 Bulls.

      I could go on….but seriously. I can’t imagine that anyone watching the Bulls in the 90’s and lived through the 80’s could think that the Bulls were anything less then one of the greatest teams ever, right up there with the Celtics teams of the 60’s. I wasn’t alive in the 60’s, but I sure as hell saw games in the 80’s. Magic and Bird would be the first to tell you that they had never seen anything like MJ, and that the 1996 70 win Bulls that beat the Sonics are without a doubt one of the top five champs of all time.

      The only thing that could explain such ignorance of Bulls/MJ detractors is that they weren’t there to see it. This comes from a Knicks fan. We hated MJ, but we know basketball. Give Michael, Scottie, and the rest of the Bulls their due. They beat the best.

      • dirtydavis - Jan 12, 2012 at 1:43 PM

        Q: Are any of those guys ranked in your top 20 greatest of all time?

  10. goforthanddie - Jan 11, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    This is ancient history, we’ve already heard it repeatedly. And, yeah, the whole “MJ retired years ago” thing.

  11. jimbroney - Jan 11, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    I knew I could get all you losers riled up. Never said he wasn’t the greatest player of all time. Just think he is a royal p?n:s.

    • jaakkrt1 - Jan 11, 2012 at 3:47 PM

      So, you just said that stuff to get people riled up huh? The people that gave you a thumbs donw because they disagreed with you are losers huh? Interesting, you sound like a true dirtbag to me. And since we’re sharing….looks like you’re the royal pain…

  12. tomtravis76 - Jan 11, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    Explain why he is such a bad person in your eyes?

    • trueballs - Jan 11, 2012 at 4:39 PM

      MJ could’ve been the reason his father died….idk man…Dad get’s killed in his car while taking a nap at a rest stop? Jordan happened to owe a lot of people money around that time. Not the kind of people you want to owe money too.

      His performance as an athlete is why we think he’s god. And he was…ON THE COURT.

      • trueballs - Jan 11, 2012 at 4:40 PM

        owe money *to.

  13. mrheavychevy - Jan 11, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    Who cares!! Soo what he has 6 rings Russell has 11 & no one says anything

  14. t16rich - Jan 11, 2012 at 6:08 PM

    Space Jam was good, but Con Air is way better. Thought I would mention that

  15. jimbroney - Jan 11, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    A true dirtbag because I think jordans phony? Wow, you gonna sleep tonight?

  16. jollyjoker2 - Jan 13, 2012 at 11:02 PM

    I thought though that Jorden was the best scorer I ever seen in the NBA. Awesome. If I had to pick the best all around player I would take m johnson of the lakers because he could play center or guard. He won a few championships himself M Jorden couldn’t play center but then again he didn’t need to.

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