“The Last Dance” wrapped up its five-week, 10-episode run Sunday night on ESPN.
We’re better for having seen it and worse that it’s over.
What will we do with our Sunday nights now?
It was fine documentary filmmaking.
The arc covered Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ journey to winning six NBA titles during the 1990s, including the last championship in 1998.
It covered a lot of ground, but there was plenty left on the editing room floor.
Director Jason Heir told The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch that if there were one area of Jordan’s life he wanted to explore more, it would be his high school years.
The News-Times tried to offer a tiny slice of those prep seasons in our Sunday issue. Jordan scored 45 points in a 71-58 junior varsity victory over East Carteret on Dec. 5, 1978.
According to basketball-reference.com, it was Jordan’s third game of the season after he was famously cut from the varsity as a sophomore. He seemed to take his frustration out on the Mariners.
According to the site, it was Jordan’s highest point in his high school career.
Laney, which was in its infancy as a program after it was established in 1978, started with the 10th grade.
He went over the 40-point mark once more that season, going for 44 on Jan. 29, 1979 in an 88-67 win over Southern Wayne.
He grew 5 inches and went over 40 twice on the varsity, hitting 40 in a 72-64 loss to Goldsboro on Jan. 2, 1980 and going for 42 on Feb. 14, 1980 in a 73-60 triumph over Eastern Wayne.
He averaged 24.8 points per game as a junior.
Jordan didn’t score 40 in a game during a senior year that saw him average 26.8 points per game.
However, a Sports Illustrated piece on Jan. 16, 2012 chronicling the life of the coach who cut Jordan – Clifton “Pop” Herring – notes that Jordan scored 51 points in a game as a senior. This isn’t documented anywhere else.
Laney failed to make the state playoffs in each of Jordan’s varsity campaigns, losing in the divisional round each time.
He scored 26 points but struggled against New Hanover in the 56-52 divisional final loss in 1981, according to the Wilmington Morning Star. With 33 seconds remaining, he missed two free throws that would have given the Buccaneers a four-point lead. Seconds later, he missed a long jumper and then committed an offensive foul, his fifth, and the resulting free throws gave New Hanover a lead it never gave up.
According to the SI story by Thomas Lake, Herring cut Jordan because there were about 10 seniors on that year’s varsity. And while the team was long on experience, it was short on size – they didn't have a returning player taller than 6-3. Jordan was 5-11 at the time.
Of the 50 boys competing for 15 spots on the varsity and 15 more on the junior varsity, Herring put just one sophomore on the varsity, Leroy Smith, who stood 6-7.
Smith went on to UNC-Charlotte where he averaged 10.1 points and 9.8 points as a senior in 1984-1985 before carving out a professional career in Europe.
According to a Jan. 11, 1998 story by Kevin Sherrington in the Dallas Morning News, instead of “Air Jordan, guys at Laney called him “Peanut” or “Shagnut,” for the shape of his head, though he answered to neither.
Kevin Edwards, a senior and backup point guard on the Laney varsity in 1978-79, said there was no reason to think Jordan would be special as a sophomore. He’d been known mostly as a pitcher and outfielder until junior high.
Heir told Deitsch that Jordan’s ninth-grade year was “fraught with behavioral issues. No Jordan kid had ever missed a day of school ever when Michael went into high school. No sickness, no suspensions, nothing … I think he was suspended three times that first year.”
Heir said Jordan didn’t get on recruiters’ national radar until he shined at summer camps after his junior season, including those of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Howard Garfinkel’s famed Five-Star Basketball camp near Pittsburgh.
Street and Smith magazine didn’t include Jordan in its Top 600 high school recruits. He wasn’t even listed in the Top 20 juniors for North Carolina.
(Send comments or questions to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jjsmithccnt.)