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    1982-83 Michael Jordan Game Worn University of North Carolina Tar Heels Jersey from First "NCAA Player of the Year" Season-Photo Matched to The Sporting News Cover!

    One of the core tenets of mathematical chaos theory has been playfully termed "the butterfly effect." It refers to the principle that the tiniest event at the start of a non-linear system can set massive and unpredictable change into motion, as the flapping of a single butterfly's wings could initiate a cascade of weather events that would conclude in a destructive typhoon halfway around the world. But destruction is not the only possible terminus of the butterfly effect. How many great love stories have begun by random encounters that would have been rendered impossible if somebody didn't accidentally spill a drink on the future mother of his children, or simply muster the courage in a fleeting moment to say hello? There are moments that change everything that occurs afterwards, and we seldom recognize them when they happen.

    We can never know who Michael Jordan might have been without the early guidance of the Tar Heels' sage leader Dean Smith, but Jordan himself acknowledged his immense personal relevance upon the Hall of Fame coach's passing in 2015. "Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach - he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life." Michael Jordan was a skinny kid from a middle-class neighborhood when Smith came into his life, and a billionaire global icon when he left it.

    All the premier collegiate basketball programs had recruited Laney High School's top basketball talent--Duke, Syracuse, Virginia--but Michael Jordan would end up at the University of North Carolina, where fellow future Hall of Famer James Worthy was the star of the team, and Coach Smith was entering his third decade at the helm. In the final thirty-two seconds of Jordan's freshman season, Smith was rallying the troops in the 1982 NCAA Championship Final at New Orleans' landmark Superdome, the Tar Heels down by one and looking like deer caught in the headlights of the moment's immensity. Assistant coach Roy Williams recalled the scene:

    "Coach Smith looked up at them and said, 'Ok guys, we are in great shape. We are going to determine who wins this game. We are exactly where we want to be." Williams admits he took a second look at the scoreboard to make sure he had seen it correctly.

    "[Smith] said, 'I doubt they'll be pressing; they'll probably be playing a zone. So, let's run two and look for the lob. James [Worthy] you'll be going for the lob, let's look for that, and if we don't get that, let's penetrate and go on the weak side. James, if you don't get the lob, make sure you get weak side rebound position. Sam [Perkins] you'll be coming down from the foul line, you'll get middle rebound position. Even if we miss the shot, we'll get the rebound. And even if they happen to get the rebound, we are going to foul them immediately, and there is no way they are going to make a free throw in this circumstance.' All of a sudden, everyone's expression changed dramatically," said Williams.

    Knowing that Worthy, the game's most dominant player with twenty-eight points, would likely be doubled, Smith changed Jordan's life forever with a heartfelt expression of faith in his freshman guard. "As they left the huddle," Williams recalled, "Coach Smith patted Michael on the backside and said, 'Michael, if you get the ball, knock it in.'"

    We all know what happened next.

    "Up until that point, nobody knew who I was," Jordan told a journalist years later. "I was a college kid, and I was just known as Mike Jordan. When I hit that shot, my whole name became Michael Jordan. I think it resonated with a lot of people outside of UNC. I started piling on that name itself from the successes that I endured throughout the rest of my career. It wasn't about Mike, and it was more about Michael."

    That's the name that would appear on the cover of The Sporting News almost exactly a year later, under bold text trumpeting, "Player of the Year." And the jersey Michael is wearing in the cover photograph is presented here, arguably the most significant artifact of Michael Jordan's basketball career ever to reach the hobby's auction block.

    The story of that jersey's journey from the shoulders of a twenty-year old Michael Jordan to the Heritage Auction block is another miracle of happenstance. The bulk of its wear dates to that historic sophomore campaign that saw Jordan's first coronation as the best in his league. The Sporting News "Player of the Year" honor is widely considered the equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy. Since the venerable periodical began the tradition in 1943, it has been bestowed upon such hardcourt icons as George Mikan, Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor and Pete Maravich.

    Jordan would average twenty points per game during that brilliant sophomore season, then recycle this garment for the earliest contests of his junior year, his final collegiate campaign before transitioning to the National Basketball Association. As a trio of letters of provenance (viewable at our online listing) details, the transfer of the jersey from Jordan to the private sector happened on the evening of December 3, 1983 after the Tar Heels downed the hosting Cardinal at the Stanford Invitational tournament. It was not unusual for the Tar Heels to use the previous season's gamers for the early, non-conference games and debut new ones when the ACC contests began, and it would be a week before UNC would play their next game, in Syracuse. If there was ever a time to make a play for Jordan's jersey, this was it.

    A local high school student by the name of Chris Williamson had the enviable job of visiting team manager for Stanford basketball games at Maples Pavilion, ensuring good hospitality for visitors in the form of towels, water, snacks and any other necessities. "It was after the game," writes fellow team assistant and longtime friend Steven Cauchi, "and Chris had completed his job for the night when he informed me that he had traded some Stanford gear for some North Carolina game jerseys, shorts and socks. He showed me the stuff on the way home from the game and that was when I saw that he had obtained MICHAEL JORDAN'S jersey. The jersey was still soaking wet with sweat. I made the comment to Chris that maybe if he rubbed a little of Michael Jordan's sweat on his shoes, he might be able to jump like Michael Jordan. When we got to my house, he gave me Sam Perkin's shorts and a pair of the Tar Heel game socks." A letter from Stanford assistant coach Ron Close likewise confirms the tale, as does another letter from Williamson's sister, each document dating to 1999 when the jersey was originally sold at auction (an included 1999 newspaper makes reference to its then-record price of $63,500).

    Williamson was so profoundly affected by gaining ownership of the jersey of the most celebrated figure in collegiate basketball that he made reference to it in his own senior yearbook, where text beneath his photograph reads, "Thanks Mom and Dad. Thanks Dawn. Hey Michael, where's your jersey?"

    Nearly four decades later, it's here, a glorious, picture-perfect specimen that leading Jordan collectors have only ever seen in their dreams. The Carolina blue mesh garment is trimmed in white, with the most famous digits in basketball sandwiched between 2.25" block lettering announcing "North Carolina" on the chest. The text on back reading "Jordan" shrinks to a diminutive 1.75", arching above another number "23." Lower left front tail is properly tagged, "Medalist Sand-Knit [size] 42." Strong, consistent wear is apparent throughout, every tackle twill identifier and the maker's label supple to the touch from a repeated cycle of sweaty wear and laundering.

    The very best of sports collectibles do far more than document or recollect--they inspire. This garment memorializes the season that Jordan dropped the Mike and became Michael, the living embodiment of basketball greatness, a builder of empires. This cornerstone of Michael Jordan's towering influence over global basketball and culture is profound in its historical significance, the vibrant flutter of butterfly wings that set Air Jordan on a course to the stars. LOA from Resolution Photomatching. LOA from Heritage Auctions. Three letters of provenance and related documents.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2021
    6th-8th Thursday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 40
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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