Smith noticed that while Jordan had been wildly competitive before he had been cut, after the cut he seemed even more competitive than ever, as if determined that it would never happen again. His coaches noticed it, too. “The first time I ever saw him, I had no idea who Michael Jordan was. I was helping to coach the Laney varsity,” said Ron Coley. “We went over to Goldsboro, which was our big rival, and I entered the gym when the jayvee game was just ending up. There were nine players on the court just coasting, but there was one kid playing his heart out. The way he was playing I thought his team was down one point with two minutes to play. So I looked up at the clock and his team was down twenty points and there was only one minute to play. It was Michael, and I quickly learned he was always like that.”
Between the time he was cut and the start of basketball in his junior year, Jordan grew about four inches. The speed had always been there, and now he was stronger, and he could dunk .His hands had gotten much bigger, Smith noticed. He was as driven as ever, the hardest-working player on the team in practice. If he thought that his teammates were not working hard enough, he would get on them himself, and on occasion he pushed the coaches to get on them. Suddenly Laney High had the beginning of a very good basketball team, and its rising star was Michael Jordan.
It was the worst day of Jordan’s young life. The list was alphabetical, so he focused on where the Js should be, and it wasn’t there, and he kept reading and rereading the list, hoping somehow that he had missed it, or that the alphabetical listing had been done incorrectly. That day he went home by himself and went to his room and cried. Smith understood what was happening — Michael, he knew, never wanted you to see him when he was hurt.
The summer after ninth grade, Jordan and Smith both went to Pop Herring’s basketball camp. Neither of them had yet come into his body, and almost all of the varsity players, two and sometimes three years older, seemed infinitely stronger at that moment when a year or two in physical development can make all the difference. In Smith’s mind there was no doubt which of the two of them was the better player&mda_____ was Michael by far. But on the day the varsity cuts were announced &mda______ was the big day of the year, for they had all known for weeks when the list would be posted — he and Roy Smith had gone to the Laney gym. Smith’s name was on it, Michael’s was not.
There were already signs that he had a good deal of talent. Harvest Smith, a classmate and close friend who in those days played basketball with him practically every day, thought he was the best player on their ninth-grade team — he was small, but he was every quick. “You’d see him get a shot off, and you’d wonder how he did it, because he wasn’t that bit,” Smith said, “but it was the quickness. The only question was how big he was going to be — and how far up he would take his skill level.”
“We knew Michael was good,” Fred Lynch, the Laney assistant coach, said later, “but we wanted him to play more and we thought the jayvee was better for him.” He easily became the best player on the jayvee that year. He simply dominated the play, and he did it not by size but with quickness. There were games in which he would score forty points. He was so good, in fact, that the jayvee games became quite popular. The entire varsity began to come early so they could watch him play in the jayvee games.