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Curry Kirkpatrick
November 28, 1983
No other pair in the college game is at the level of Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan of North Carolina
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November 28, 1983

A Towering Twosome

No other pair in the college game is at the level of Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan of North Carolina

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The day after Carolina's season-ending loss to Georgia last March, Jordan was spotted in Carmichael Auditorium on the UNC campus toiling away for hours on his shot. "I couldn't wait for the next game," he says. Then, after an endless summer of basketball camps, pickup scrimmages and then the Pan Am Games, Jordan returned to Chapel Hill and started playing immediately. "The freshmen were already talking trash. I had to see what they had," he says.

Smith says Jordan is the hardest worker he's ever coached. In high school Jordan hustled so, he was nicknamed The Rabbit. Rabbit, run. When he enrolled at Chapel Hill, Jordan ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. This fall he ran a 4.3. By running and lifting weights he has substantially built up his upper body and gained 12 pounds in two years, most of it in the shoulders.

As a freshman Jordan didn't especially like playing defense. By the end of last season—after he had pulled off some miracle finishes with deflections, steals and blocks against Tulane, Maryland and Virginia—he was easily the best defensive guard in the land. "Jordan always seems to know where the ball is and where it's going," said Maryland Forward Mark Fothergill. "He roams around like a madman, playing the whole court and causing all kinds of confusion."

With his notable hunger for offensive rebounds, Jordan plays frenzied scavenger to Perkins' sloe-eyed Sluggo, all the while whipping his tongue around the premises and causing Smith considerable anguish. The coach was so appalled at the prospect of Jordan chomping the wayward tongue clean off in a collision at the rim that he went to a dentist in search of a mouthpiece that would enable Jordan to "talk on defense." No luck. Mpfshwdbl-switch-bkldsmcyx.

While Jordan is a social butterfly, Perkins is the consummate loner—"hanging out with himself as senior Forward Matt Doherty puts it—who spends much of his time in an off-campus apartment where he cooks for himself and irons as well. His intimidating size and solitude would be off-putting were it not for his easy manner and glowing cherub smile, which makes him look all of 10 years old. As a result, Perkins may be the most popular Tar Heel of all time among the young set across the state. When Perkins heard that Chris Blue, then a sixth-grader in Southern Pines, wore a UNC basketball shirt with number 41 and "PerBluekins" across the back, he sent him a picture signed "Sam PerBluekins."

Perkins has not always had such a happy life. In BedStuy, Perkins never knew his father and was somewhat estranged from his mother and three sisters, who were "pretty much on their own." Martha Perkins sent her grandson to Tilden High rather than the rougher Boys and Girls High School. The youngster's off-hours were spent going door to door spreading Jehovah's word. Still, after Perkins quit the jayvee basketball team, he was on his way to a life in the streets. "I went to school every now and then, but I wasn't interested," he says. "It was a point of no hope. I can't see myself robbing, stealing or killing anybody, but if I'd stayed out of school I'd have caused problems. I definitely would have been in a lot of trouble."

Perkins was known as Kareem on the playgrounds, and Crossman enlisted him for the local age-group team, convincing Martha that an interest in basketball wouldn't lead him away from religion. When Crossman relocated to the Albany area, Perkins helped him look for a place to live. Later it was decided Sam would be better off moving upstate as well. Now Perkins calls Latham home; for four years he has lived with a white family, the John Elaquas, who first met him when their daughter, Susan, brought her Shaker High School classmate home for dinner. Guess who stayed for the duration?

Perkins' averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds his two years at Shaker and was the object of a hot recruiting war among UCLA, Syracuse and North Carolina. But his friendship with James Worthy, formed at the 1979 Junior World Cup tournament in Brazil, may have clinched it for the Tar Heels.

Since coming to Carolina, Perkins' role has undergone some changes. As he gained confidence in his outside shot and as Worthy and then Brad Daugherty took the pressure off inside, Perkins flashed out on the floor to assume the more natural role of big forward. The sweet southpaw J hook remains his bread 'n' butter, but he's a scoring computer around the key; his career shooting percentage is 57.2 from the field and 77.5 from the line. Defensively, Perkins is so quick that Smith has had him guard everyone from 7'4" Sampson to 6'5" Vince Taylor, a former Duke guard.

Perkins says he takes to each task, big and small, with the same enthusiasm. "I try hard," he says to those who have had their doubts. "I take all the games seriously." Nevertheless, Smith has made certain Perkins will not fire up anymore enemy locker rooms. "I told Sam, this year everyone's going to be great," says Smith. "So and so? He's great. Joe Palooka? Great. Everyone's great. Everyone."

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