|Product dimensions:||4.22(w) x 6.66(h) x 0.58(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
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By Bill Gutman
Turtleback Books Distributed by Demco MediaCopyright © 1995 Bill Gutman
All right reserved.
CHAPTER ONE: Beginnings
It's hard to say how greatness evolves. No one can really predict which youngsters are going to be nuclear physicists, astronauts, brain surgeons, artists, or presidents. The same is true of athletes. Where does the greatness come from? Even the offspring of many great athletes have failed to approach the skill levels achieved by their fathers or mothers.
In Michael Jordan's case, basketball greatness did not come overnight. But once it began, it was like a crescendo that never stopped. When he started his high school career, Michael was considered a fine' all-around athlete and a good basketball player. By his junior year he began showing the star quality that ultimately resulted in his being recruited by the University of North Carolina.
Not only did he crack the starting lineup at Carolina, but he also became the biggest hero in the state when his last-second jump shot gave the Tar Heels their first-ever national championship. Yet even with these heart-stopping heroics, he wasn't considered a superstar. That didn't come until the next year.
Michael achieved beyond expectations. He was voted College Player of the Year during his next two seasons, before deciding to forego his senior year for the professional ranks. Though he was the Bulls' first-round draft choice, no one expected Michael to make such a quick and complete transition to the pros. But once again he far exceeded everyone's expectations and began to become the dominant player of his time.
This was, however, not something that happened suddenly, and it certainly wasn't something that just "happened." There's little doubt that Michael Jordan was blessed with natural talent. If Michael hadn't dedicated himself to nurturing and developing that talent, he might still have become a very good ball-player, maybe even a star. But he would not have crossed that fine line that separates the good from the outstanding. In fact Michael Jordan may very well have crossed a line that no player before him has ever crossed.
Where does a person find the character and drive to become all he can be? In Michael Jordan's case, it's necessary to go back to the beginning, back to his parents -- James and Delores Jordan -- who had definite ideas about raising their family of five children.
When Michael was born on February 17, 1963, the family still lived in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City. The Jordans were concerned about raising their family on the mean streets of Brooklyn, where drugs and violence could become a way of life for those unable to resist the temptations.
Rather than fight that battle, James and Delores Jordan decided to move the family to Wilmington, North Carolina. They felt the small-town, laid-back atmosphere of a sleepy southern seaport with a population of just 56,000 would be a better place to raise a family. So Wilmington was where Michael and his brothers and sisters grew up.
Once established in Wilmington, Mr. and Mrs. Jordan began to set an example for their children, exhibiting a willingness to work and achieve that never diminished. James Jordan began as a mechanic at a General Electric plant in Wilmington in 1967. Over the years, he worked up to dispatcher, then foreman, and finally to supervisor. Delores Jordan became a teller at the United Carolina Bank in Wilmington. She, too, was goal oriented and eventually became the head of customer relations at the bank's downtown branch.
"It was always that way in our family," James Jordan said. "We have always tried to make things happen rather than wait around for them to happen. And we've always found that if you work hard you can make it happen the way you want."
Of course, children don't learn those lessons overnight. Michael was more of a recreational athlete as a young boy, sometimes lazy, usually discouraged because he couldn't compete with his older brother, Larry. He wasn't very tall during his early years and didn't have much hope of being tall. There were no men in the Jordan family over six feet. So before he reached high school, he gave little thought to an athletic career, especially in basketball.
During his childhood, Michael was always close to his parents, as were the rest of the Jordan children. He would often play ball with his father or help him with projects in their garage workshop. The youngster couldn't help noticing that his father would always curl his tongue to the side of his mouth when he was concentrating intensely. Before long, Michael had picked up the habit and brought it with him into his sports activities.
Whether he was playing baseball, basketball, or football, Michael would shoot his tongue out during an intense moment or when he was concentrating the hardest. It was something he began doing automatically and a habit that would follow him onto the basketball court in high school, college, and the pros. Photos of the airborne Jordan almost always include the mouth open and the tongue jutting outward. Coaches would tell him his tongue could be badly cut if he were hit at the wrong time or tripped up. But Michael always refused to wear a mouthpiece or protective device. To him, this was simply another way to express his delight in the game, and he didn't want to curtail it.
"I remember my high school coach telling me I was going to bite my tongue off and find it on the floor or in my pocket," Michael said. "He even tried to get me to wear a mouthpiece when I played. But I just can't do it. I've tried to play with my mouth closed. But if my tongue's not out, I just can't play,"
Baseball was the sport that Michael took to initially. At the age of 12 he was named the top player in his league and had his picture in the Wilmington Morning Star. He was extremely thin back then, but as a pitcher he could throw the ball hard. He also played the outfield.
By the time he reached D.C. Virgo Junior High School, Michael was a typical 15-year-old all-around athlete. He played three sports but wasn't really fanatical about any of them. Fred Lynch, who would be Michael's basketball coach at D.C. Virgo and his assistant coach later at Laney High, recalls meeting Michael for the first time.
"He liked to have a good time back then, but he also enjoyed playing sports," Coach Lynch said. "'And he was good. Michael was a point guard in basketball and did a lot of scoring for us. He was also a quarterback in football, and a pitcher and outfielder with the baseball team. He did a little bit of everything, but two things stand out when I think back to that time.
"One was that Michael was very competitive. He hated losing, even then, and that made him work extremely hard when he played any of the sports. The other thing was that his parents were always very supportive of him. They attended all the games and always looked for something positive, whether Michael played well or the team played well."
By the time Michael reached Laney High School as a tenth grader, he was already 5'10", two inches taller than his father and three inches taller than his older brother, Larry. But no one really expected him to grow much more. He was also a good, but not great, basketball player, and there were absolutely no indications of an airborne future after Laney. In fact, Michael was really no more than a solid, young three-sport athlete with the potential to be a fine high school player in each sport.
Michael was the quarterback for the Laney JV football team in the fall. Shortly after that, he moved right into basketball and was the starting point guard on the JV squad. Then, near the end of the season, something happened that would have a great impact on young Michael, something that changed his thinking about basketball and may have been instrumental in starting him on the road to court stardom.
Michael felt he was putting together a good sophomore season, when the word filtered down that the varsity was going to bring up a JV player for the stretch run, which they hoped would include the state tournament. Young Michael held his breath. He wanted to be the one, wanted it very badly. But when word came down from varsity coach Clifton "Pop" Herring, it was Michael's teammate Leroy Smith who got the call.
"It was a tough thing for Michael to take," recalls Fred Lynch. "Even back then he had the kind of ego that drives all great players. But at that time we still didn't know just how good he was going to be. So there were really two reasons that Michael didn't get called: One was that we felt he would be better off remaining with the JVs and getting his minutes rather than sitting the bench with the varsity; the other was simple -- Leroy Smith was about 6'5" and Michael was 5'10". What the varsity needed was height, a tall player. That made the choice relatively simple."
But that didn't make it any easier to accept. "I was disappointed," Michael admitted. "I was averaging over 20 points a game for the JVs, and with the state playoffs coming up, I thought I would get the call."
It got even worse than that. When the Laney team went to the regionals, Michael was allowed on the bus only because a student manager got sick. Once there, he didn't have a ticket to get in, so he had to carry the uniform of the team's best player, just as a manager would do. Then he had to sit on the bench, handing out towels during the game.
"I made up my mind right then and there that this would never happen to me again," Michael would say. "From that point on, I began working harder than ever on my basketball skills."
It was time to get serious.
Copyright © 1991, 1995, 1999 by Bill Gutman
Excerpted from Michael Jordan by Bill Gutman Copyright © 1995 by Bill Gutman. Excerpted by permission.
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