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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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In high school Mike's friends ranged across the board, from ballplayers to members of the student government to debaters to guys in the band (in which he once played the trumpet).

"Laney seemed like a family back then," says Leroy Smith. "It had about a 60-40 white-to-black ratio, but it was really cool. No tension or anything. It was a new school. For there to be no real 'sides'—that was unusual. Mike being Mike, he was unusual too. We all were searching for an identity. But Mike...it was like he'd already found his."

Pre-high school, Jordan's close friend Bridgers, the son of a taxi driver, had moved to Wilmington from South Dakota. But after his parents were divorced, James Jordan became a surrogate dad to this white kid from another planet who shared with Mike a passion for baseball. The two alternated pitching and playing centerfield on a Little League team that made the district playoffs and fell one game short of making the Little League World Series (Jordan pitched a two-hitter but lost 1-0 in the last game). "Before every pitch, I'd look at Mike in center, and he'd give me thumbs-up," says Bridgers. "With him on the mound, I'd do the same."

While riding bikes one summer afternoon, they jumped into a neighbor's swimming pool. The owners weren't home, but Bridgers knew the babysitter. What he didn't know was that the owners would return right away.

"They saw Mike and threw us out," Bridgers says. "The rest of the bike ride he was very quiet. I asked him if he knew why they threw us out. He said yes. I asked if it bothered him. He said no. Then he just smiled. I'll never forget it. He said, I got cooled off enough. How about you?' Mike taught me a lot about dealing with prejudice.

"I got called nigger lover and white trash, but he showed me how to ignore it. Once when I was visiting Mike up at a party in Chapel Hill, a fight broke out along racial lines. He got me out of there quick. Mike always said, 'Don't worry about race unless somebody slaps you in the face.' He's so positive. Every time I see him, it's a natural high."

Jordan's gravest burden may have come in high school when he was compelled to handle a "situation" in which his two best friends nearly came to blows over remarks Shiver made to Bridget's girlfriend. Bridgers had gone for a stick, but Jordan stopped him from using it and went after Shiver himself. "Mike didn't exactly mediate," says a man who remembers the day. "He threw Adolph up against the wall and threatened to kill his butt if that happened again. It was the only time we'd ever seen him lose his cool."

Somehow Shiver and Bridgers both still take part in Jordan's golf outings, coexisting peacefully, perhaps out of respect for their mutual pal. But, oh, those gimmes.

Ordinarily, though, the young Jordan was reluctant to confront emotionally charged situations. While he was away at college, a high school friend named Cynthia Canty died of kidney failure. Jordan went to Wilmington to pay his respects, but he didn't go to the funeral. Likewise, when his grandmother Rosa-bell Jordan died, he couldn't bear to attend the ceremony. Last Christmas an interviewer asked Jordan what gift he would cherish most. He said one more visit with Rosabell. Says Deloris, "Mike carries a lot inside him. I read that, and I knew."

There weren't always easy times on the basketball court either. The Laney Buccaneers won 19 games in Jordan's senior season, but they were eliminated by New Hanover in the conference tournament when Jordan fouled out against the Wildcats, a team that featured Kenny Gattison (currently of the Charlotte Hornets) and Clyde Simmons (of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles).

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