The Myth of Michael Jordan

Turns out MJ wasn't cut from his high school basketball team. But in America, we don't let facts get in the way of our myths.

At this point, Michael Jordan the basketball player is more myth than man.

His undeniably amazing playing career earned him induction to the NBA Hall of Fame this weekend. But his legend seems to have grown to Paul Bunyan-like status in people’s minds, to a point where he is beyond mortal. Unfortunately that analogy makes Scottie Pippin the Babe the Big Blue Ox, a role he is not thrilled about, but yet the legend of Jordan seems to grow every year.

The birth story in this myth is that Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity team the first year he tried out, and the sting of that rejection fueled the competitive passions that made him the greatest basketball player ever. President Obama even used this story as a lesson for how to overcome adversity in his speech to school children on Tuesday.

Except, Jordan was never cut.

“Back then, (most) 10th-graders played JV; that's just the way it was. Nobody ever ‘cut' Michael Jordan,” said (Ruby) Sutton, who still teaches physical education, said this month, shaking her head as she retold the story for at least the 100th time.

…when Jordan first arrived at Laney, it was his sub-6-foot stature that kept him off the varsity squad.

“Leroy (Smith) was not a better basketball player than Mike, he just had size,” (former assistant coach Fred) Lynch said. “We didn't have a lot of tall kids, and Leroy was 6-6, 6-7 … and (head coach) Pop Herring thought we had plenty of guards but needed size.

“The Hollywood version is that Mike got cut, came back the next year, and was great. That's not true. He played on the JV team, was our best JV player, and played on the varsity his final two years and scored more than 1,400 points (including a triple-double average his senior season: 29.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.1 assists). It was never a situation where Mike was ever a bad player.”

In the mind of a 14-year-old Jordan, maybe only being on the JV team was being cut. Maybe that did fuel his competitive passions.

Being a 10th grader playing on JV is not exactly cut. But this is America — we don’t let facts get in the way of our legends, our mythology. So when Jordan is enshrined in the Hall of Fame this weekend, and people tell the story about him being cut in high school, just nod along. The myth is a lot more fun than reality.

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