Was Michael Jordan Cut By His High School Basketball Team?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

SPORTS 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 good, even in high school.

However, while that story get repeated often, the admittedly 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 condition to that “true.”


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. While plenty of talented basketball players do, indeed, make varsity when they are sophomores, plenty of them do not. 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 was that it made 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’s best team in any sport is its “Varsity” team – it consists of its top players, usually. They could be taken from any grade level. The Junior Varsity team is the school’s secondary team. Generally, the Junior Varsity (or “JV,” as it is often called) 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 simply “cut from his high school basketball team.”

So I’m going with…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

4 Responses to “Was Michael Jordan Cut By His High School Basketball Team?”

  1. “However, he was cut by the team in his SOPHOMORE year, when most kids would not be playing varsity.”


    While I agree with most of your analysis, that line is just wrong.

    I don’t know where you went to school, but in 90%+ of schools, it is routine for Sophomores to be starters on the varsity squad, and most of them have most of the JV Team (even EIGHTH GRADERS from the associated middle school, in some states), on the bench for the varsity games. In a few cases, for girls teams, SIXTH GRADERS have played in state championship tournaments.

    It is VERY rare for a school to have a squad that isn’t about 1/3 Sophomores & Freshmen; especially if the school has a football team (as the high school football playoffs conflict with the pre-season practice of basketball – if not the first week or two of games, if they make it to the state championships).

    Now, you might find that situation you thing is the norm in an urban HS with 3000 students, with only 10th-12th graders (grouping 9th with Jr High), most HS in the nation are significantly smaller than that, and have 9th-12th grades present.

    I’d be still be inclined to think it as “false” – only becuase he wasn’t necessarily cut, but just didn’t make the team – which are two different things entirely. “Cut” implies you WERE on the team at some point (usually after the season begins); “making the team” in high school isn’t anything like college or pros, as Freshmen & sophomores are constantly playing both JV & Varsity if the schedule permits.

  2. Sure, you can add in “for a school with a lot of kids, like Laney” if you’d like.

  3. Any chance you could explain the difference between team, varsity team and junior varsity, for the non-US readers?

  4. Brian Cronin on May 19th, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Sure thing, Rhod.

    I edited it into the piece.

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