Carolina's Favorite Son

On March 29,1982, in suburban Washington, D.C., a sleepy, pudgy 15-month-old sat propped against the pillows on his parents’ bed dressed in Carolina clothing from his booties to his pajamas gazing at a television screen. His name was Michael, and while he didn’t realize it at the time, before the night was over another Michael would bring joy to Tar Heel fans everywhere with “the shot heard around the world.” Michael Dibbert has never met Michael Jordan ’86, but like millions of fans around the world, Michael Dibbert and his brother, Brian, are grateful for the joy and excitement he has provided through his basketball over the past 16 years.

My wife, Debbie, and I were fortunate to enjoy the last two years of Michael Jordan’s collegiate career. We have many wonderful memories including a dramatic comeback over Virginia when the noise level was so great we could almost feel the roof of Carmichael about to come off. Sadly, through Michael we learned that the best team doesn’t always win as we also witnessed Michael’s last collegiate game in 1984 when the Tar Heels lost to Indiana in the NCAA Southeast Regional Semifinals in Atlanta.

A few weeks later, on a Saturday morning, I wandered into a small room in Fetzer Gym for a press conference at which Michael Jordan announced that he would pass up his senior year at Carolina to make himself available for the NBA draft. I recall thinking then that he looked so young and uncertain. I learned many years later from the voice of the Tar Heels, Woody Durham ’63, that when the Jordan family and UNC Head Basketball Coach Dean Smith left Coach Smith’s office in Carmichael Auditorium to walk over for the announcement, from the expressions on the faces of all the Jordans, one would think they were on their way to make an announcement about some tragedy.

Michael’s mother, Deloris, volunteered that her dream was that both her son and her daughter Roslyn ’87 would graduate together from Carolina. She went on to acknowledge that it was time for Michael to follow his own dreams, but she also insisted that “Michael will get his degree.”

When a friend who I met during my Capitol Hill days purchased the Chicago Bulls, I called to tell him I thought it was great that he now owned Michael Jordan. Jerry Reinsdorf quickly responded, “No, Doug, now Michael Jordan owns me!”

Jerry brought his son to visit Chapel Hill as part of his college tour. I took Jerry and his son to see the Smith Center and briefly to visit Coach Smith. Always a gracious host, Coach Smith didn’t miss the opportunity to encourage Jerry to renegotiate Michael Jordan’s contract because he was greatly helping the Bulls. Jerry did renegotiate Michael’s contract before he was obligated to just as years later the Bulls would continue to pay Michael as if he were still playing basketball when Michael ” retired” to pursue another childhood dream — professional baseball.)

While in Chapel Hill in October 1996 to announce a generous $1 million gift to help establish the Jordan Institute for Families at our School of Social Work, on behalf of the GAA, former Chair Tom Lambeth ’57 and I presented Michael with the GAA’s Distinguished Young Alumnus Award. For once, Brian and Michael Dibbert understood and envied some of their dad’s job. Of course, they were particularly pleased when they looked over to see Michael Jordan sitting in the athletic director’s box at a Carolina game in the Smith Center.

It is unlikely that Carolina has ever had a graduate who was as well-known around the world. Many were introduced to The University of North Carolina by Michael Jordan. That he spoke with such genuine enthusiasm about his time in Chapel Hill and his experiences at Carolina gives pride to each of us associated with Carolina. That he wore Carolina gym shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls uniform inspires all who have or may one day wear similar shorts.

While we are disappointed not to have the option of being entertained by Michael Jordan playing professional basketball, we celebrate his legacy. As often has been noted, simply put, Michael Jordan was absolutely the best at what he did. He captured the hearts and minds and earned the respect and admiration of our campus, our state, our nation and the world. We may never see his likes again, but oh, how wonderful it has been to have him to watch and to enjoy for so long. Who knows-in his retirement, maybe we’ll see more of Michael Jordan here in Chapel Hill.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature




Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

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