Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You don't cut Michael

Ruby Sutton has a distinct pet peeve when it comes to the subject of her former pupil, Michael Jordan: the oft-told story of how he was “cut” from the Laney High varsity basketball team as a sophomore, spurring him to greatness.

“Back then, (most) 10th-graders played JV; that's just the way it was. Nobody ever ‘cut' Michael Jordan,” Sutton, who still teaches physical education, said this month, 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.”

Where Neher really appreciated Jordan's talent in the mid-1970s was on the baseball field – particularly the one off Kerr Avenue, which has been upgraded and re-configured since Jordan and his teammates helped build it.

“I don't care what you did with him, he wanted to be No. 1,” Neher said. “If we ran laps, he wanted to be the first one to finish them. When we laid down bunts, he wanted to do the best. … Between innings, after getting the third out, he'd be the first one in the dugout; that's just the way he was.”

“It's a tribute to his work ethic that he's accomplished all of the things that he has … and it's nice that some of that work ethic (showed itself) around here.”

Short stature, big outcome

Much of Jordan's sweat, though, was saved for the basketball court – be it playing pick-up ball at Empie Park, working out on the homemade basketball court behind his house (where the goal has long since been stolen) or meeting the janitors at Laney High every morning so he could practice before class.

“When I would arrive at school at 7 or 7:30, Michael was already here,” Sutton, his physical education teacher, said. “And he wasn't just working on shooting. He was working on the types of things kids didn't want to work on, like footwork.”


Related previous post: What it takes to be great