This is the fourth in a series of examinations of basketball-related legends and whether they are true or false.
This installment is a re-format edition, so these legends have already been posted on this site, just not in this format.
BASKETBALL LEGEND: Michael Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team.
One of the greatest piece of “motivational speech” related to a pro athlete is the story about how Michael Jordan was cut by his high school basketball team. You know, “If Michael Jordan, probably the greatest basketball player of all time, could be cut by his high school team, then you shouldn’t let setbacks in your life get you down.”
It’s a good story.
Now is it true?
Well, first off – “Michael Jordan was cut by his basketball team” is false. Jordan played high school basketball. Obviously. The guy was really good, even in high school.
However many times THAT story gets repeated, admittedly the more accurate “Michael Jordan was cut by his high school VARSITY basketball team” gets repeated just as often.
And yes, Michael Jordan was, indeed, cut by his high school varsity basketball team.
HOWEVER, there is a major major major condition to that “true,” and in fact, it’s SUCH a major condition that I think it makes the answer effectively false.
Jordan was cut by his high school varsity team at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. However, he was cut by the team in his SOPHOMORE year, when many kids would not be playing varsity ANYways. In addition, Jordan was not cut because he was not talented enough to make the team. He was – he just was not good enough to play big minutes (do note that Jordan also grew FOUR inches from his sophomore to junior year, going from five foot eleven to six foot three), and the theory is that it makes little sense to have a talented player sitting on the bench on the varsity team when he could be starting for Junior Varsity.
Reader Rhod wanted to know the difference between Varsity and Junior Varsity. A high school main team in any sport is its “Varsity” team – its best players, usually. The Junior Varsity team is the secondary team. Generally, it is made up of first and second year players (freshmen and sophomores). Third and fourth years players (junior and senior) usually make up the Varsity team, because, as you might imagine, juniors and seniors are more physically mature. However, occasionally, a very mature freshman or sophomore can make the varsity team. It is definitely not unheard of for a sophomore player to be a major player on a Varsity team. More often than not, though, the younger players who make it to Varsity for a school with a good sports program are going to be back-ups to the older kids. That was what would have happened had Jordan not been cut by his Varsity team – he would have been a back-up to the older kids.
So yeah, Jordan was cut by his high school basketball varsity team, but not in the way that the story gets discussed, and he was definitely NOT “cut from his high school basketball team.”
BASKETBALL LEGEND: There was a quota in the NBA in the 50s and early 60s of how many black players could be on a team.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
The NBA took about three years before the league was integrated. Earl Lloyd was the first black player to play in the NBA. He suited up for the Washington Capitals in October 1950 for the 1950 NBA Opening Night (two other black players also suited up for their teams opening games in 1950 – they just played the next day, so Lloyd gets to be known as “the first”).
Black players were accepted a great deal more in the NBA than the were in baseball. There are likely a number of reasons why that is – for instance, the league was newer and it was mostly based in the northeast and college basketball was already integrated. Lloyd has said in the past about how sorry he felt for Jackie Robinson, because while both men were integrating their respective leagues, Lloyd got just a fraction of the abuse Robinson received.
Okay, now as to the idea of a quota system.
First off, as many many people over the years have noted, I do firmly believe that there never was a concrete agreement between owners (under the table, unwritten or whatever) to only have a certain amount of black players.
However, just because there was not any official unwritten agreement does not mean that the effect was not the same as if there was one.
For instance, no NBA team had more than four black players on their team until 1963!
From 1956 to 1962, all but one of the NBA’s Rookies of the Year were black, and yet no NBA team had more than four players during that whole stretch.
The St. Louis Hawks won the title in 1958, becoming the last NBA team to win a championship with an all-white team (the Hawks had a black player on the team for a few games that year, but he did not play in the playoffs).
It cannot be a coincidence that every team in the NBA just HAPPENED to have exactly four players, right?
However, I think it is more likely that everyone just had the same basic attitude, that it was not “good for the sport” to have too many black players on a team. Along that lines, players with “bad attitudes” also did not last too long, and almost always, it was a bit of a code for “playing while black.”
Woody Sauldsberry is a great example of this.
Sauldsberry came out of Compton High School and after a couple of years at Texas Southern University, he went straight to the Harlem Globetrotters. While the NBA was not willing to play mostly black players, the Globetrotters were thrilled to take all of them, and pay them well.
However, most competitive athletes want to play with the best of the best, and not in an exhibition league like the Globetrotters.
So Sauldsberry came to the NBA and the Philadelphia Warriors and won the Rookie of the Year in 1958.
In 1959, he made the All-Star Team.
However, in 1960, Al Attles was a promising rookie trying out for the Warriors. The Warriors already had Wilt Chamberlain, Andy Johnson and Guy Rodgers on the team along with Sauldsberry, so adding Attles would give the team five black players. Soon after Attles’ tryout, Sauldsberry was dumped from the Warriors. Two years removed from the Rookie of the Year and he was gone.
In 1963, the Celtics were the first team to have five black players.
In a couple of years, the American Basketball Association started, and they took everyone, and that basically was the death knell for the quota system in the NBA as it was, as they had to fight the ABA for the better players, so teams began taking more and more black players.
Still, for a number of years, the NBA certainly did appear to have a shameful quota system.
BASKETBALL LEGEND: The Harlem Globetrotters began in Chicago!!
It’s really amazing some of the marketing ideas that people can come up with, but few people could top the idea by Abe Saperstein of inventing the hometown of a team!
The Globetrotters have been around in some form or another since the early 20th Century, but the team as we know it today was formed as the “Savoy Big Five” who would play basketball before performances at Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom (which was named after the famous Harlem Jazz Club of the same name) in the late 1920s.
Members of the Savoy Big Five were organized by Abe Saperstein into becoming a traveling barnstorm team known as the Globetrotters.
However, Saperstein figured that a traveling team would be more interesting if they were out of towners.So he went to figure out a place where the team could be “from,” and he settled upon Harlem, because of the great Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. And in 1929, the New York Harlem Globe Trotters began playing!
And the rest, as they say, is history!
The Globetrotters’ first “home” game was in 1968, nearly four decades after taking the name!
As mentioned in an earlier legend, Saperstein’s only intention with the Globetrotters was to make as much money as possible, this shouldn’t be THAT much of a surprise, I suppose.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com