Chapter 1: The wonder years
New York City is one of the top basketball cities in the world, and the birthplace of many legendary NBA players. Many of these players grew up on the blacktop basketball courts around the city, where they honed their skills during the scorching summers and harsh winters. There was much talent to be found in New York, and many players went on to achieve NBA stardom. A few of the most notable names from the list are Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Julius Erving, Pat Riley, Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens, and Red Holzman. It is interesting to note that Riley, Brown, Wilkens, and Holzman all returned to New York after their playing careers to coach the New York Knicks towards the dream of championship glory.
However, a fact that few people seem to know is that the greatest player to have ever played the game of basketball was also born in New York. And the irony is that it was this New Yorker who would repeatedly shatter the Knicks’ championship dreams all throughout the 90’s.
That player was Michael Jordan.
Here is a Air Jordan commercial, and what looks like rare footage of a young Michael in middle school at the very end of the commercial.
MJ as a child
Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born in Cumberland hospital in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn on February 17, 1963. Although born healthy, the doctors kept little Michael in the hospital a few days to make sure his lungs were clear of mucus, obviously making sure that he would have the lung capacity to reach the altitude he would later visit on a nightly basis in the NBA.
Michael’s parents had moved to Brooklyn in 1962 with his older brother Larry. His father James Jordan came to New York to get mechanic’s training on the GI bill and studied airplane hydraulics, while his mother Deloris Peoples found work at a local bank. James and Deloris had left their two eldest children with James’s mother in Wallace, N.C. Michael was the fourth child out of five. He has two older brothers James and Larry, an older sister Delores and a younger sister Roslyn.
The drug and gang culture was beginning to take hold in the streets of Brooklyn, making it a less than ideal place to raise a family. So when James finished his traning, he decided to moved the family back down to Wilmington, N.C. while Michael was still a toddler. The family stayed in New York for only 18 months
Family had a very strong influence in Michael’s life. His mom would often get tired of having young Michael underfoot and send him out to help his father and brothers. James enjoyed working on cars and engines, and tried to get Michael involved. However, complex machines and getting his hands dirty was never something Michael never took an interest in. So he returned to his mom, who eventually taught him to cook, sew, and take care of himself. Despite learning those skills, Michael was still a mischievous child. He always tested the boundaries and even got his friends to do his chores for a cut of his allowance money.
Much of Michael’s character came from his disciplinarian mother. One day when he was 12, Michael was suspended from school for fighting. Instead of letting Michael stay home and watch TV all day, Deloris brought Michael with her to work and made him stay in the car all day to read. She kept an eye on him from her window at work. That evening, she brought Michael to a nearby library where he was made to read some more. Michael quickly learned not to get into trouble again after that. Today, Michael jokingly calls his mom’s form of punishment “child abuse”.
The young athlete
Interestingly, Michael’s first love was not basketball, but baseball. At the age of 12 he was named the best player in his league, playing both as pitcher and outfield. He then attended D.C. Virgo Junior High School, where he played baseball, football, and basketball, without committing to any. At one point he even became the quarterback of the Laney high school football team.
Michael’s love of basketball, as we will see next, was actually inspired by his brother Larry.