Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever live (sorry, LeBron fans), and he is arguably the most famous athlete to ever live. With how well-known His Airness is, there are very few facts about his career that have not become common knowledge. But did you know that Michael Jordan was almost a member of the South Carolina basketball program?
It’s true. The Hall of Famer who hailed from the University of North Carolina almost never donned the “Carolina” blue uniforms of the Tar Heels. In his photographic autobiography Rare Air, Jordan spoke about his high school recruitment.
“I was going to South Carolina,” recalled #23. The Jordan family was very familiar with former Carolina headman Frank McGuire as they lived in New York when the legendary coach recruited the Big Apple better than almost any other coach in the country.
When the Jordans moved to Wilmington, North Carolina when Michael was a kid, they actually followed the Gamecocks (and the North Carolina State Wolfpack) more closely than they followed North Carolina.
As Jordan’s recruitment heated up in high school, he wanted to go somewhere he could play basketball and baseball. The Gamecocks, coached at that point by Bill Foster on the court and June Raines on the diamond, were happy to oblige. He also was considering Mississippi State and Clemson.
From a basketball standpoint, in addition to South Carolina, Jordan started to consider Virginia (playing with Ralph Sampson was appealing to him), but the Cavaliers didn’t recruit him very hard. The same story was true for UCLA. Eventually, he decided to take a visit to Chapel Hill to check out the home state Tar Heels.
As Jordan put it in Rare Air, he “fell in love” with the school and the basketball program during his very first campus visit. All thoughts of heading to Columbia (or Starkville, Clemson, Charlottesville, Los Angeles, Raleigh, or anywhere else) melted away.
The rest is history. Jordan went on to become just the 4th freshman to ever start immediately for a storied North Carolina basketball program and hit the game-winning shot in the national championship game. South Carolina basketball struggled through most of the ’80s but had a great 1982-1983 season that would have certainly been even better with a sophomore Michael Jordan.
In the end, as much as Michael Jordan was considering the Gamecocks, he ended up at the other Carolina, and South Carolina basketball fans can only sit back and think: “What if?”