“I went to my room and I closed the door and cried,” Michael Jordan said. “For a while I couldn’t stop. Even though there was no one else home at the time, I kept the door shut. It was important to me that no one else hear me or see me.”
In a sense, Jordan owns the world. To me, though, perhaps the most remarkable part of the Jordan story is the fact that, as a sophomore in high school, he was cut from his school’s basketball team. I kept wondering about how it affected him at the time it happened. He wanted to play with the others, and was told that he wasn’t good enough.
One evening, as we sat and talked before a Bulls game, he spoke about it. I wasn’t surprised that Jordan remembered every detail.
“For about two weeks, every boy who had tried out for the basketball team knew what day the cut list was going to go up,” Jordan said. “We knew that it was going to be posted in the gym in the morning.
“So that morning we all went in there and the list was up. I had a friend, and we went in to look at the list together.
“We stood there and looked for our names. If your name was on the list, you were still on the team. If your name wasn’t on the list, you were cut. His name was on the list. He made it. Mine wasn’t on the list.
“I looked and looked for my name,” he said. “It was almost as if I thought that if I didn’t stop looking, it would be there.”
Jordan, as if envisioning the list anew, said: “It’s alphabetical. I looked at the H’s and the I’s and the K’s, and I wasn’t there, and I went back up and started over again. But I wasn’t there.
“I went through the day numb. I sat through my classes. I had to wait until after school to go home. That’s when I hurried to my house and I closed the door of my room and I cried so hard. It was all I wanted — to play on that team.
“My mother was at work, so I waited until she got home, and then I told her. She knew before I said anything that something was wrong, and I told her I had been cut from the team. When you tell your mom something like that the tears start again, and the two of you have an after-cry together.”
At the end of that basketball season, Jordan said, he asked the coach if he could ride the bus with the team to the district tournament. Just to watch the other boys play.
“The coach told me no.” Jordan said. “But I asked again, and he said I could come. But when we got to the gym, he said he didn’t know if I could go in. He told me that the only way I could go in was to carry the players’ uniforms. So that’s what I did. I waked into the building carrying the uniforms for the players who had made the team. What made me feel the worst about that was that my parents had come to watch the tournament, and when they saw me walking in carrying the uniforms, they thought I was being given the chance to play.
“That’s what hurt me. They thought I was being given a chance.”
He is very likely the best basketball player who ever lived. If you ever wondered why he continues to work so hard, the answer may lie in this story. It must be so rare for a professional athlete to have once been cut from a high school team. The men who make it to the pros have always been the best on every playground, the best in every class, the best in every school.
“It’s OK, though,” Jordan said. “It’s probably good that it happened.”
“I think so,” he said. “It was good because it made me know what disappointment felt like,” he said. “And I knew that I didn’t want to have that feeling ever again.”
~ Bob Green – Chicago Tribute (An Interview With Michael Jordan)