Quashing Michael Jordan’s Lionel Messi Like Presence in AIR, Retired UNC Coach Reveals Bulls Legend Was ‘Third Choice’ on the Team

Published 09/27/2023, 1:50 PM EDT

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Before Michael Jordan entered the NBA, he had already become a big name at the college level. He went to college at the University of North Carolina, where the coach was the legendary Dean Smith. He played for three seasons there before turning professional and entering the NBA.

In a recent podcast interview, a retired UNC coach revealed that the Bulls legend was the ‘third choice’ on the team.

Recalling Michael Jordan’s iconic game-winning shot


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In his freshman year at UNC, Michael Jordan was a part of UNC’s 1982 National championship team. In the final 30 seconds of the 1982 NCAA finals, George Town was up one point against UNC. With the score at 62-61, Jordan hit a smooth jumper with 15 seconds left on the clock. Despite being a freshman at the time, he looked like a seasoned veteran with nerves of steel. In a recent podcast episode of “Chin Music”, retired UNC coach Roy Allen Williams talks about how Michael Jordan was the ‘third pick’ for the last shot.


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The host mentions, “In the movie that come out earlier this year “AIR”, the Matt Damon character who’s trying to pitch the idea of going all-in on Michael Jordan uses this play (his college game-winning shot) as the sales tactic to convince his boss (Owner of Nike) that MJ is going to be the best player ever.”.

He then asks Roy Williams, “His (Matt Damon’s character) rationale behind it is that, on the ‘play’, as the play is evolving, Michael is standing still. It’s almost like Messi in the MLB right now. Michael is so calm and so present. It was like Michael knew he was going to get the ball the whole time. Can you confirm if that was the game plan?”.


The retired UNC coach replied, “Well, you’ll do anything to make money in the movies.”. He laughs as he explains, “We were going to through the ball to James or Sams first or second and so, Michael was the third option. But here’s the good thing, as we are leaving the huddle and I’m standing right beside Coach Smith. Coach Smith patted Michael in the butt and said, “Michael if you get it, knock it in.”. That’s all he said.”. The host adds, “You could say that Coach Smith instilled that belief in him that allowed him to be so calm and so present.”.

Michael Jordan’s relationship with Coach Dean Smith

Michael Jordan was blessed with a very good basketball program at the University of North Carolina. Coached by the legendary Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball team was taught discipline and the team above everything else. They also taught him more than just one thing. Coach Dean Smith did not let the more offensively gifted players focus only on their shooting. He’d make them improve other aspects of the game they’re lacking in.


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Dean Smith always supported Michael Jordan’s ambition to win everything. He allowed Michael Jordan to be himself, even when the odds were stacked up against UNC. Dean Smith was one of the most successful NCAA coaches of all time. He had the most number of wins by a coach when he retired. Even after his tragic passing in 2015, he still remains in the top 5 ‘most number of wins’ by a basketball coach in NCAA history.

The 6x NBA champion mentioned that Dean Smith was one of the most influential people he had ever met in his life, other than his parents. MJ stated, more than a coach — he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father..

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What are your thoughts on Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA finals? Let us know in the comments below!



Written by:

Akhil Chakravarthy


One take at a time

Akhil is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. He has been following the NBA for more than a decade and represented his state at the National level. To hone his understanding of the inner workings of the game, he closely follows the analysis of popular NBA insiders and reporters like Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania.
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Edited by:

Caroline Joseph