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Michael Jordan stories from the 1984 Olympic trials

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Our sports drought is over. Sort of. ESPN will debut the multi-part, mega-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary Sunday night.

Months before Jordan began his NBA career, he—along with 71 other American players—auditioned for a spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team. A dispatch from the event, adapted from the forthcoming book “Glory Days: the Summer of 1984 and 90 Days That Changed Sports” by L. Jon Wertheim.


It was as if the circus had come to town. Only the attractions weren’t animals, clowns and tightrope walkers but, rather, abnormally tall men in their early 20s. In the spring of 1984, Bob Knight was tasked with putting together the roster of the U.S. men’s basketball team he was going to coach in the Los Angeles Olympics. So he invited six dozen of the top amateur players to the site of his kingdom and my hometown—Bloomington, Ind.—for auditions.

As Karl Malone, then a burly forward at Louisiana Tech, put it to SI at the time, “They said they was gettin’ the best 72 and they wasn’t tellin’ no stories.” Malone wouldn’t survive the cuts.

In keeping with Knight’s sensibilities, the players were not exactly coddled. Joe Kleine, then a forward from Arkansas, recalled flying into Indianapolis—you went to Knight; he didn’t go to you—and getting the no-frills treatment as soon as he landed. “We all picked up our own bags and then piled into these buses. It was like going to Camp Wong-a-Monga or whatever. Except you’d look around the bus, and it was Michael Jordan across the aisle and Charles Barkley in the row behind you and Patrick Ewing in the row ahead of you.”

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