Before Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time, he was just Mike Jordan, a sophomore hopeful at the E. A. Laney High School varsity basketball tryouts in November of 1978. He did not yet posses the jaw dropping aerial maneuvers that would make him the idol of basketball fans everywhere, the patented fade-away jumper that would become a dagger through the hearts of so many vanquished opponents, or the ice water coursing through his veins that enabled him to be a steely eyed assassin capable of launching last second shots without any trace of fear. What he did posses was boundless energy, a decent handle, an inconsistent jump shot, and shaky defensive fundamentals wrapped into a skinny 5 foot 10 inch frame. What he would have after these tryouts were over is the desire to show anyone who doubted his ability that they were wrong. Dead wrong.
This Saturday, Nike drops the Air Jordan 5 Retro "Laney", named for the blue and gold school colors of Laney High School, which accent this all white silhouette. The story of MJ getting cut from the varsity squad in his sophomore year at Laney is a cornerstone in his legend. The last spot on the varsity came down to two players: Jordan, and his friend, the 6'7" Leroy Smith. The coach decided to go with the taller Smith, as the team lacked any other players who were over 6'3". When Jordan saw his name on the junior varsity list, he ran home, curled up in a ball on his bed, and cried. Yes, the great one cried like a little girl with a skinned knee. Then he dried his eyes, grabbed a ball, and worked nonstop on his game. He would have the coaches open the gym at 6 A.M. so he could practice before school started. Any weakness that was pointed out to him, he would then work maniacally to improve it until it became a strength. People started coming early to the varsity games just to see MJ tear it up with the j.v. team. He grew five inches over the next year, made the varsity, and became one of the top players in the state. The year after that he was one of the top players in the country, and earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina. The rest is history. But he never forgot the disappointment of getting passed over, and he never let it stop motivating him to be better.
Can you pick out the person in this photo who became the greatest basketball player of all time?
Throughout his career, Jordan would use this incident of getting cut from the varsity as a source of motivation. While the reality of the situation is that the coach made the right call by putting Michael on the j.v., where he could receive valuable playing time rather than being buried on the bench behind the returning starters at his position on the varsity team, the perceived sleight that Jordan interpreted it as serves a far more useful purpose. In Jordan's world, any shred of doubt, disrespect, or disbelief in his ability, whether real or imagined, is fuel for his competitive fire. He is legendary for his competitiveness, be it a game of basketball or a game of checkers, and will use any psychological edge he can to win. He never forgets anything that can be interpreted as negative about him and uses it to increase his already limitless desire to win. It is what pushed Jordan from being just great to being the greatest. He never let go of the belief, in his mind, that someone thought Leroy Smith was a better basketball player than him. In fact, he uses the name Leroy Smith as an alias when checking into hotels or making dinner reservations. That is the type of obsession it takes to be the best.
The legacy of that fateful basketball tryout lives on in the Air Jordan 5 Retro "Laney". With the blue and gold of the Laney Buccaneers on the midsole and tongue, as well as the 23 on the heel, this release pays tribute to the roots of MJ's greatness by honoring the school where it all started. Stop by the City Blue nearest you on Saturday to cop your pair in men's, grade school, preschool, and toddler sizes. Bonus Halloween treat: Here's a commercial Nike put out in 2009 when Michael was inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame. It stars Charlie Murphy from the Chappelle Show as Leroy Smith: The Master Motivator. If you don't already have a costume, I would strongly suggest dressing up as this: