The year is 1982. and Dean Smith just received a call from Bill Glass, a man once considered to be one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century. At the time, Glass, a devoted evangelist, was doing a rehabilitative prison tour called “Weekend of Champions” and was just stopping by in Carolina for another unique jail ministry.
The purpose of the tour was touching the hearts and minds of young adults trapped in the US prison system with the help of elite athletes, and so Bill Glass reached out to Dean Smith in order to have a famous Tar-Heel come and hopefully inspire some of these troubled convicts.
(Un)fortunately for Mr. Glass, the summer of 1982. was a busy one, so instead of getting a senior UNC star to come and beef up the act, Dean Smith sent him one of his freshmen. You might’ve heard of the guy, his name is Michael Jordan.
But Michael Jordan at the time was relatively unknown outside of the Carolinas, so how was this kid gonna headline the “Weekend of Champions” when he’s not a champion himself?
These were just some of the questions that must have been going troubling Mr. Glass while he was on that phone call with Dean Smith, but luckily for him, MJ hit a certain championship-winning shot in March, so when he arrived at Raleigh’s Triangle Correctional Facility in his U.S. All-Stars gear, the inmates knew exactly who he was. He then proceeded to cook the best basketball playing inmates in the facility, which instantly earned him praise and respect from the rest of the convicts.
Afterward, Jordan spent time with the inmates, shared stories, and tried to inspire them. But the “Weekend of Champions” was so much more than evangelism and sports, it was a full blow show. And so MJ decided to stick around for the following act, headlined by A Tennessee martial-arts expert by the name of Mike Crain. His act involved cutting a watermelon in half while it rests on someone’s belly. His idea was it would be MJ’s belly since the stakes are higher if a star is involved.
Michael was reluctant at first, but when Crain questioned his courage, and the inmates sounded off on the challenge, you know MJ couldn’t back out of it. He climbed up on stage and laid on a bench.
As Crain produced another black sash and began blindfolding himself, a panicky Jordan started to get up. Crain held him down lightly between the produce and the bench. In a scene that looked like a jailhouse staging of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, the brothers in the yard inched closer to the stage. Crain told Jordan to shield his eyes so stray rind and seeds wouldn’t blind him, but MJ’s eyes were already shut tightly enough to secure a home.“Gash Almighty” by Donnell Alexander
Crain drew back his sword and slashed into the juicy melon. But his blade traveled too far south, and the rail-thin Jordan’s protruding right hip slowed the blow. The watermelon was torn, not severed. The crowd was now hypnotized and drew even closer to the laid-out Jordan.
Down came the blade a second time, and now shards of watermelon went flying into the sky and across the stage. Crain knew from his audience’s reaction that he succeeded in dividing the fruit, but he had the queasy feeling that he might have gone too far. This whack was in the right place, but Crain had misjudged the amount of give in Jordan’s lean belly. After pulling off his blindfold, Crain checked to make sure his volunteer was OK. When he and Glass wiped away the juice, melon, and seed that covered the front of Jordan’s white jersey, Jordan spotted a tear in the fabric.
MJ was so mad about his cut-up warmups, a memento from his first international tournament, that he didn’t even notice his abdomen was cut. The person who did notice the cut, however, was his driver, who quickly got him to the ER where MJ received 3 stitches before getting back on campus.
When he finally got back to his dorm, MJ was mad and annoyed as his All-Star warmups had been ruined beyond repair. In the midst of all the frustration, he didn’t even consider how that whole day could have dramatically changed not only his fate, but the entire course of basketball history that we know today.