It may be because Sam played in the 1981 NCAA championship game as a freshman, and Michael, when he was a freshman, made the winning shot in the 1982 NCAA championship game, and because the two of them have already appeared in 21 NCAA tournament matches. It may be a result of both Sam and Michael being selected over the years to so many All-America teams and All-Tournament lineups and National Sports Festivals—and enough Junior World Cups and other international touring squads to qualify for diplomatic immunity. Or perhaps the explanation is simply that television has spotlighted Sam swinging those monster rubber arms down around his shoelaces and Michael wagging that tongue of his like a starving puppy so often that network execs might as well make them a weekly sitcom. Call it Chapel Hill Blues. Or, simply, Spam and Michel—as the official report on balondesto masculino (men's basketball) at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela spelled their names.
Whatever the reason, North Carolina's Sam Perkins, 22, and Michael Jordan, 20, seem to have been around college basketball forever and a day. And here come Perkins, finally a senior, and Jordan, still only a junior, one more time: Pan Am stars of summer past, probable Olympic heroes of summer future and the leaders of the Tar Heels. "They excel on all the levels," Coach Dean Smith says. "Sam and Michael are the kind of players and people you search for."
During his three seasons at UNC the 6'10", 231-pound Perkins, who plays both center and forward in Smith's multidimensional attack, has averaged 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game. Jordan, who is 6'6½", 201 pounds, emerged last season—only his second on the varsity—as merely the finest all-around amateur player in the world. "There is one phenomenon in college ball," says Tom Newell, a scout for the Golden State Warriors and the radio color man for the University of Virginia, "and his name is Michael Jordan."
Phenomenon meet Enigma. Perkins' on-court persona is as mundane as Jordan's is spectacular. Tales of Jordan's many and varied leaps and bounds are already prominent in Tar Heel lore, while Perkins' lefty jump hooks speak softly and fade from memory. Silent Sam disdains the dunk; his yeoman effort against Virginia's Ralph Sampson last Jan. 15, including four for four from three-point range, was the quietest 36 points on record. Perkins may have raised his fist once in excitement, though no one is sure.
Perkins is the product of a broken home. He was raised by his grandmother, Martha Perkins, a devout Jehovah's Witness, in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto. When Perkins was a high school junior, a job placement manager named Herb Crossman became his legal guardian and moved him to Latham, N.Y., a white suburb of Albany. Perkins says it was "sad because I'd spent my whole life in Brooklyn." But then: "Homesick? I didn't have anybody to be homesick about." Because his grandmother was adamant that Sam should uphold the tenets of Jehovah and attend Kingdom Hall classes regularly, Perkins came to basketball late; he didn't play high school ball until his junior year, 1978-79. Even today, Perkins' religious upbringing seems to affect his play. "Jehovah's Witnesses teach people to be meek and mild, and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me," Perkins says. "But I can't help it if I look nonchalant. When I play it may look easy, but it isn't. I sweat."
Off the court, he doesn't sweat the game at all. Last season this made for some embarrassing Perkins quotes, such as "Who's Wayman Tisdale?" prior to Carolina's meeting with Oklahoma and "Georgia? What league are they in?" before his team's NCAA clash with the Dawgs; Perkins knew all about Georgia after the game, an 82-77 victory for the Dawgs. On both occasions Perkins' posture was taken for arrogance, but he was only being sincere. He honestly didn't know. Five years ago Perkins didn't know who Dean Smith was. He still doesn't follow basketball. Perkins washed his car rather than watch the '83 ACC tournament final between N.C. State and Virginia.
However, Perkins' relaxed, insouciant style conceals a fierce competitiveness. Jack Hartman of Kansas State, the coach of the U.S. team in the Pan American Games, held back his impressions of Perkins for a long time, and even asked Jordan whether his pal "always seemed, uh, this lazy." Jordan's reply: "That's just Sam. He'll be there." As things turned out, Jordan led the scoring in Caracas while Perkins led in rebounding and was third in scoring.
Perkins has never been tested for catatonia—"Coach Hartman told me to pep up. Gee. I saw myself as already pepped up," he says—but sometimes he appears to have missed life's wake-up call. If there is such a thing as passive aggression, Perkins invented it. Of course, when a man has fire hoses for arms—Perkins chose his Carolina number, 41, because that's his sleeve length—he can afford to drift under the backboards impersonating Perry Como. "My arms are my talent," Perkins says.
Jordan's brilliance is somehow easier to pin down. The third son of five children born to James, a General Electric plant supervisor, and Delores Jordan, a customer service rep for United Carolina Bank, Michael grew up in the coastal town of Wilmington, N.C. in a warm familial atmosphere. The family is this close: Jordan's parents have never missed one of Michael's Carolina games, home or away, including Hawaii and Greece. Roslyn, 19, graduated from Laney High School a year ahead of her class and joined Michael at Chapel Hill. Larry, a senior at UNC-Wilmington, is a year older and 11½ inches shorter than Michael, who's the giant of the family, nobody else being over six feet. Larry is usually the recipient of the booty Michael collects in his award-winning travels. "Larry always used to beat me on the backyard court," Michael says. "His vertical jump is higher than mine. He's got the dunks and some 360s and most all the same stuff I got. And he's five-seven! Larry is my inspiration." Just as he did in high school, Michael selected his number, 23, in order to "halve" his brother's 45 when they were backcourt teammates at Laney.
Jordan started out a baseball player, shifted to basketball when he grew four inches between his sophomore and junior years and remains a fan for all seasons. He can recite names, numbers and stats for every facet of jockdom, including stock-car racing, for Petty's sake. And of course his basketball knowledge goes far beyond the ACC. "I had to tell Tisdale and [Georgia's James] Banks I knew who they were," Jordan says, alluding to Perkins' gaffes. "They understood Sam meant no disrespect."