Threepeat. Retirement. Threepeat again. The legend of Michael Jordan has almost been forgotten because it has been 16 years since he was on the basketball court. Number 23 broke the barrier of impossible by going into uncharted territory of mass-accomplishment. The list of accolades that this one man collected over the years almost cannot be counted.
Kids still wear Jordans like he is still playing in the NBA today. Many still consider him to be the G.O.A.T. even though he retired a while back. But sadly under all of this umbrella of achievement, people forget about how success is merely the tip of the iceberg in sports — especially in Mike’s case.
The year was 1978, and about 50 kids were all lined up doing drills so that the coaches could evaluate them (Newsweek). It was the tryouts for the Emsley A. Laney High School Varsity basketball squad. Only about 15 spots were open on the roster — meaning that spots on the team were extremely coveted. I mean, it probably didn’t hurt in terms of popularity and credibility around the school if someone made the varsity squad.
Imagine the scene. A slightly crowded gym full of athletes showing their best game to the coaches. Alright, now imagine that all but one are blurred out of the picture. One person remains. At age 15, a 5’10” Sophomore steps up to do his drills for the tryouts. Not as skilled as some of the players, but certainly not the worst.
Towards the end of the practice, the coach begins to pull players aside to tell them that they made the team. Players showed excited energy and others hung their heads low. Unfortunately for Michael, he was not one of the happy ones. His good friend and fellow Sophomore, Leroy Smith, made the team and this couldn’t have been easy for him. I have been there and it is truly the worst. It is absolutely the worst — nothing else to it.
Michael Jordan shared much later that “It was embarrassing to not make the team.” And as the story goes, Jordan went home and into his room –locking the door behind himself — and cried. He did at least know that Leroy was 6’7″ and could dunk, but that was still an excuse. He probably thought something along the lines of “If only I would have worked harder and been the best, then I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Now what happens next is the most pivotal piece to the story. Instead of deciding to turn away and quit, he decided to take his disappointment head on and began to grind. No one really talks about this part of the story because there is little information, but I am going to guess that this is where Jordan became the G.O.A.T. — because of his work ethic and motivation. There is no time specifications on how much of the day that Jordan spent working on his game, but one could assume that he was pretty much grinding and adjusting his craft every single second that he could. Jordan said that:
“Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it… That usually got me going again.”
Jordan’s success came from the inner-motivation and personal choice to use his hardship and failure as an opportunity for growth. This is the most ultimate example of a growth mindset. It is extremely important to realize that Jordan wasn’t always good at basketball. That is where the opening scene of Space Jam got it so wrong! He had to work at his game with extreme perseverance to get to greatness.
During that year, Michael Jordan played JV. He could have quit and not played at all, but he was there to finish what he started. In that season that he played, Jordan would attract large crowds to watch him have multiple games where he put up 40+ points.
And of course, His Airness would become the varsity star and would grow taller as well. He would go to the University of North Carolina and win a NCAA Championship in 1982 and have, as many put it, the greatest basketball career of all time.
See, we all are going to encounter struggles and failures in our lives in whatever profession we choose. But Jordan has shown the world that the difference between being a failure and being the G.O.A.T. lies between our hard work ethics and a mentality that our shortcomings are truly the door to the best versions of ourselves and that the key in the process is to give it everything we’ve got. All we have to do is open the door.
By Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA – United Center, Michael Jordan Statue “Spirit”, Chicago, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56730609
By Emsley A. Laney High School – Emsley A. Laney High School Yearbook Editor (Ed.). (1980) Spinnaker 79-80 (Vol. 4). Wilmington, North Carolina: Emsley A. Laney High School., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40892580
By Cliff on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/4950349054