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The Unlikeliest Homeboy
Curry Kirkpatrick
December 23, 1991
For all his fame and fortune, Jordan is, at heart, just a Carolina kid called Mike
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December 23, 1991

The Unlikeliest Homeboy

For all his fame and fortune, Jordan is, at heart, just a Carolina kid called Mike

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"You're pretty fresh," she said.

"Could be. But someday I'll marry you," he said.

She was all of 15, but someday came surely enough a few years later after Deloris, homesick at Tuskegee (Ala.) Institute, returned to the Wilmington area and to James, then on leave from the Air Force. The Jordans had "two sets of children" (Deloris's term): James Ronald, now 35, an Army sergeant working in communications at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and Deloris Chasten, 34, a homemaker in Philadelphia, compose the first set; Larry, 29, Michael, 28, and Roslyn, 27, the second.

The Jordan parents, along with Larry and Roslyn, now work for companies associated with their famous son/sib and live in Charlotte, N.C. Oddly enough, Mike was born at the Cumberland County Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., while his father was in Air Force training. Upon returning to North Carolina, the Jordans moved from tiny Wallace to Wilmington, where James built a large, split-level tan brick and clapboard house on Gordon Road with 12 acres of fields out back and the St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church across the street. The mostly black Weavers Acres neighborhood lies about halfway between downtown and the beach, three miles away, where the Jordans used to buy fresh shellfish or just sit at night on a dock and listen to the ocean.

Jordan takes his sense of humor from his dad, who used to do work around the house with his tongue hanging out (sound familiar?), his sense of business from his mom and his work ethic from both. "The Jordans are from the old school, where education and teachers and administrators meant something to parents," says Laney High principal Kenneth McLaurin. Young Mike got in trouble in school only once, when he skipped class to go across the street for some junk food at the minimart. Suspended, Mike was made to accompany his mother to her job at the United Carolina Bank, where he studied all day. "The first year I had him, he was scared to death," recalls Janice Hardy, who taught Jordan algebra and trigonometry at Laney. "I liked that. The next year he wound up in the front row. He'd laugh at my jokes and muss my hair. I must have been a pretty good teacher—he's worth, what, a trillion a couple of times over?"

Jordan's legacy in education and finance seems to have been grasped only partly by his six-year-old nephew, Corey Peoples, who, when editorializing upon some recent problems at school, announced, "I don't have to do no work; I got the richest uncle in the world." Jordan's response was to promise Corey $20 for every A he earned—a bribe, perhaps, but one with a worthy message. Maybe this is what Mike meant when he told NBC's Maria Shriver last August that "even my mistakes have been perfect."

But, as even his mother allows, Michael hasn't always been perfect. "Way back when I came crying home from Tuskegee, my mother should have put me right back on the train," she says. "I wanted to correct that error with our kids. Mike wasn't the easiest to bring up. We had to be stern. But if I'd had to pick one of the children who would turn out this way, yes, he would have been the one."

In fact, Michael was the laziest of the Jordan offspring. "Never knew him to hold a job—or want to," says Larry, only semilaughing. Larry is the storied Jordan brother whom Mike credits with motivating him to much of his success in basketball, the 5'7" brother who teased Mike about his big ears and then fought him and dunked on him and beat him all the time in the backyard until Mike couldn't take it anymore and decided to grow nearly a foot taller.

"We grew up one-on-one," says Larry, who played in the 6'4"-and-under World Basketball League two years ago. "But the last time we competed, he just looked down at my feet, and he said, 'Remember whose name is on your shoes.' "

While the eldest Jordan brother, who's known as Ron, drove a school bus and worked at Shoney's before leaving for his life in the military, and while Larry is mechanically oriented, quiet and thrives on privacy, Mike seemed allergic to toil anywhere but on athletic fronts. He bribed his brothers and sisters to get out of doing errands. He was the ultimate jock, the social animal. "He could never be in his room by himself," says his mother. "He always had to go out, spend the night with a friend, go camping." Jordan quit his only high school job, at a Wilmington hotel, posthaste. "Mom!" he explained. "What if my friends saw me? The boss had me out on the sidewalk, sweeping!"

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