Every summer, both past and present UNC players used to return to Carmichael Auditorium to play pick-up games. Naturally, the level of greatness garnered in the same gym is through the roof. It was no different in 1985.
Coming off his Rookie of The Year campaign with the Bulls, Michael had already announced himself as the next big thing in the basketball world. But Jordan that made his return to UNC wasn't the same Jordan that left the college a year earlier. That Jordan had an obvious flaw in his game - a lack of ball-handling skills. This Jordan, the 1985 version, didn't.
That's why Kenny was no longer looking to defend Michael during pick-ups - his "whack handles" used to make him predictable on offense. The one thing he could exploit while guarding Michael was no longer there. So instead of taking up the challenge of going head to head against MJ, "The Jet" wanted to play alongside him. And more often than not, he did, starting the summer before.
At first, Kenny was the kid picked last. But as time went on, he proved himself, so much so that Michael started picking him first.
"The Jet" on MJ's dominance during pick-ups
"The pros go on one end, and the college players go on the other," Kenny said about juniors and seniors (Michael and Sam Perkins) picking the teams. "But you can crossover."
"As a freshman, you're just sitting," Smith continued. "They're not picking you, and you get on the court at the end. But about a week later, Michael is picking and he's like, 'I got New York,' -- they used to call me New York. I was like, 'Oh sh*t, I got picked first, and there's 20 pros in the gym.' So my confidence was boosted."
Kenny and MJ went on to dominate the pick-ups. But once again, MJ stole the show. His unmatched competitive fire was always there, but that's the first time Smith saw its manifestation.
"Every time we win, you go get water, and I'm watching Mike and he's standing in the middle of center court. I walk up and I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He's like, 'I want them MFs to know that I'm not leaving the court. I'mma be the first to stand here and last.'"
Kenny "The Jet" Smith, ALL THE SMOKE
Kenny joined him, and the two continued to dominate the legendary UNC summer pick-ups. And for the first time, he realized that Michael's domination would also transfer into the NBA. He also knew there would be a lot of trash talking to go along with it. But from that moment on, "The Jet" knew MJ would always back it up.