By Adena Andrews, NBA.com
Posted Sep 3 2009 6:44PM
It has become common basketball knowledge that one of greatest NBA players ever, Michael Jordan, encountered the first roadblock in his basketball career when he was cut from his varsity team in high school back in North Carolina. But what everyone doesn't know is, who the man is that beat out Michael Jordan for a spot on the varsity team. Well wonder no more, his name is Leroy Smith, "The Man Who Motivated Michael Jordan" and he has created a motivational empire through his "Get Your Basketball On" motivational DVD's. Smith taking Jordan's spot on the team lit the fire in Jordan that helped motivate him to become the phenomenal player he is today. Smith has been pretty quiet most of Jordan's career but since Jordan received his call to The Hall, Smith has decided to make his presence known and petition his way into the Hall of Fame as "The Greatest Motivator Ever". NBA.com caught up with the great motivator to discuss his feelings surrounding Jordan's Hall of Fame induction.
NBA.com: Before we get started on your campaign into the Hall of Fame. Tell me what happened when you and Jordan were trying out for the varsity team?
Leroy Smith: Well, it's pretty simple. It came down to me and MJ for the last spot on our Varsity team. And they decided to go with the taller, faster, better-looking player -- me. But I made sure to pull the coach to the side afterwards and tell him to keep an eye on this Jordan kid. I was able to see the talent in little MJ before anyone else could. I was also able to see the collapse of Milli Vanilli before anyone else could.
NBA.com: Wow! Milli Vanilli that's interesting. In recent news, you have been quoted as saying you are the most influential figure in Jordan's life. Is this true and why?
Smith: Of course it's true. I gave him the motivation to succeed and my motivation doesn't wash off easily. It's like a ballpoint pen that bursts open in your pocket. Once you've been motivized, you will always bear the stain of my greatness. I was there with him at UNC when he won the championship. I was with him in '91-'93 for his first three-peat and there in '96-'98 for his second. I mean I wasn't actually "there," but he was definitely thinking about me like you'd think about a virus in your brain
NBA.com: I've never had a virus in my brain, but I understand what you mean. So are you trying to say without you, Jordan wouldn't be the great player he is today?
Smith: Without me MJ would never have felt what it was like to lose. To fail. Me beating him out for that final varsity spot sparked a fire in him he'd never forget. A fire only I could have lit, that pushed him to never accept becoming anything less than a basketball player so wonderful that he sweats greatness (which Michael does, by the way). I was like a fireball of motivation that incinerates dreams and small, unoccupied vehicles.
NBA.com: If it wasn't for you where would Michael be?
Smith: Probably in Boise, Idaho, in the midst of a successful second term as City Comptroller. Don't ask me why. It's just a feeling.
NBA.com: I've read on your website that you are currently petitioning your way into the Basketball Hall of Fame. What have the responses been?
Smith: The responses have been amazing. Just the other day I ran into a small boy who said, "Thank you, Leroy, you are the best human/basketball hero/motivational genius to ever walk this planet and without you there probably would not be any joy or happiness in the world. I will definitely vote for you to be in the Hall of Fame." This meant a lot to me because something like that doesn't happen every day -- it's a bi-weekly occurrence at most -- and it proves that when people see something that they can believe, in then what they see should be in the Hall of Fame.
NBA.com: I am shocked at the responses because normally the Hall of Fame is meant for the greatest icons of the game. So why exactly do you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
Smith: Why does a star deserve to shine? Why does a fish deserve to swim? Why does a really tall man deserve pants that fit him properly and won't cause him embarrassment? Because it's just the way it's supposed to be. I motivated Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, to become the greatest player ever and because of that I deserve full credit for every ounce of his success.
NBA.com: I guess that is a perfectly good reason. But if you were inducted what would your plaque say since you have never coached or played professionally?
Smith: Well, I'm not really sure what you mean by professionally. I played in Italy for three years with the Valle San Giovanni Fighting Cypress Trees. Averaged a quadruple double there. They called me "Quello fastidioso forte" -- I definitely regret not asking them what that meant. After my third year, I hyper extended my elbow dunking and decided to come back to the states to begin my motivational career.
NBA.com: What is your next step if you don't get into the Hall of Fame?
Smith: I don't like to think about the "dont's" in life. "Don't eat that." "Don't listen to that." "Don't go into that room because it's actually a freezer and you'll get stuck in there." I don't listen to the don'ts. If I did I would have a lot less "do's" in my life. And what really is "don't" anyways? Just a "do" and an "n't" together, and I never heard anyone say "I wish I had more 'n't's' in my life." Think about it.
NBA.com: That is a very optimistic way to look at life. The one thing that still perplexes me is, Jordan had a long career, and you never showed made yourself known. Why are you telling your story now?
Smith: It was a conscious choice. For the longest time, I've refused interviews and shunned any publicity. I wanted to make sure my contribution to the game would be recognized as a gift to the world and beyond. But after getting ignored by the Hall of Fame, I decided that I could stay silent no longer. Plus, it took me a while to transfer my drills from VHS to DVD.
NBA.com: Where were you when MJ retired twice and even took to doing a horrible job at baseball? Why didn't you motivate him then?
Smith: Let me answer this question with a little story. One day me and MJ were walking on the beach leaving two sets of footprints in the sand. However, at one point in the hardest part of our journey, MJ looked back and noticed only one set of footprints. MJ then said to me, "Leroy, my friend, why did you leave me in the hardest times?" And I responded, "Oh, MJ, in those tough moments when there is only one set of footprints I actually ran up ahead of you and made sure everything was cool for when you got there."
So see even when it seemed I wasn't there. I was. I was just already a little ways up ahead making sure everything was going to be alright when MJ got there.
NBA.com: You are currently selling your Get Your Basketball On DVD's where you demonstrate some of your motivational techniques. What kind of techniques can one find on the DVD?
Smith: I have countless techniques. "The one-armed backwards motorboat", that one is only allowed in the Philippines though. It teaches patience and understanding. Then there's "The Blind Irritated Spanish Legume". A very tricky technique, but one that can motivate even the most irrational players, however, has usually leaves a rash. Oh, and "The insightful 360 Moccasin leg press." Let's just say this one motivated an entire country to stop eating beets.
NBA.com: Do you think MJ will pay tribute to you in his speech at the Hall of Fame? If so how?
Smith: Of course. The real question is, "Will I pay tribute to MJ in my speech?" Who knows? The jury is still out but I have a feeling it will rule in favor of Motivization.
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