Michael Jordan cut from high school team? 'A lie' says former coach

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 12, 2012 

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Michael Jordan playing for Laney High School in Wilmington on November 27, 1980.

WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS FILE PHOTO

Sport Illustrated has a story this week about Former North Carolina and NBA legend Michael Jordan and his former Wilmington Laney High School coach, Clifton 'Pop" Herring.

Herring says he's still haunted by an urban legend regarding Jordan: In 1978, the story goes, Herring cut Jordan, then a high school sophomore, from the basketball team at Laney High.

In truth, Jordan was on Laney's JV roster that year, developing the skills that eventually made him one of the all-time NBA greats.

But the story that Herring cut Jordan persists.

“It’s a lie that you continue to tell,” Herring tells Sports Illustrated.

A story by Robbi Pickeral published in The News & Observer in 2009, just before Jordan's induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, was one attempt to set the record straight.

In that story Pickeral quoted Ruby Sutton, who called it her pet peeve to hear the story of Jordan being "cut" from the Laney High varsity basketball team as a sophomore, and of that event spurring him to greatness.

"Back then, (most) 10th-graders played JV; that's just the way it was. Nobody ever 'cut' Michael Jordan, " Sutton said then, shaking her head as she retold the story for at least the 100th time.

"Him not making the varsity that year was not his motivator - he was motivated well before that. He just always wanted to be the best."

Still, the story endures, in no small part because of Jordan himself. He referenced being cut from the varsity in 10th grade in his acceptance speech for the Basketball Hall of Fame, first in a list of slights he said motivated him.

Herring, the Sports Illustrated story says, later resigned as Laney's coach after displaying symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, which ran in his family. He has also dealt with homelessness.

Once and for all, maybe the Sports Illustrated piece will put the story, and the pain Herring feels in dealing with it, to rest.

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