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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As schools across the state try to figure out how to handle budget cuts, New Hanover County’s Laney High is getting a little boost. A new ad campaign built on the legend of one of Wilmington’s most famous sons and Laney’s most famous alum is giving the school some global exposure and some extra cash.

We explore the fact, fiction and the gray area in between.

You probably know the story of Michael Jordan’s journey from Laney High to the Basketball Hall of Fame. But a new Nike ad campaign tells part of the Air Jordan story you may not know; maybe because it is not totally true.

There is a real-life basis for the character Leroy Smith in Harvest Leroy Smith Jr. – Jordan’s best friend in high school.

"We were connected at the hip," Smith said during a phone interview with WWAY.

Smith has long been the answer to the trivia question of who beat out Jordan for the final spot on Laney’s varsity team their sophomore year.

"No. That was not the truth," said current Laney coach and athletic director Fred Lynch. Lynch knows, because he was an assistant for that 1978-1979 team. He said it is true coach Pop Herring put Smith on varsity and sent Jordan to JV, "because Michael was a sophomore, and he had some pretty good guards on varsity, that it would be better for Mike to play JV. That way he’d play all the time."

It also helped that Smith was 6’6".

"I was the tallest kid in the school, so I guess the coach’s decision was, ‘Hey, let’s go with the real tall kid,’" Smith said.

Lynch and Smith said not making varsity likely did motivate Jordan, who they said hates losing, but they said it probably did not play the large role the farcical Nike commercials and website http://getyourbasketballon.com portray.

The real Leroy Smith is not just an entertainment executive in California. He is also a motivational speaker for high school kids.

"I talk about just the value of having goals, setting goals and working through other people to achieve those goals," Smith said.

As for the character Nike created, Lynch said actor Charlie Murphy’s over-the-top performance is fitting.

"Leroy was a character," Lynch said. "Leroy was very outgoing."

And Smith, who said Nike contacted him about the ads last fall after Jordan told the company about his old friend, said there are elements of him in the character. But what about the online petition that if Jordan belongs in the Hall of Fame, so does his motivator?

"That’s a true statement. And I jest right now," Smith said.

Smith is serious, though, about being able to help his alma mater, which a school district spokeswoman said will get $5,000 from Nike for using the Laney name.

"To know that the school is getting some funds out of this and really helping the program, whatever they’re doing with the money, it’s a good feeling," Smith said.

Neither Smith nor Lynch know for sure what Nike plans for this ad campaign, but Smith said there has been talk about a new shoe and clothing. Lynch said he would love to see a resurgence in sales of Laney merchandise, including Jordan’s Laney jersey, which Lynch said has brought the school about $150,000 over the years.

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3 Comments on "Nike ad campaign gives Laney High a boost"

2015 years 10 months ago

When was the last time Mike recognized Laney, or Wilmington at all? I was a huge MJ fan growing up, and always been a huge sports fan, and I had no idea he was from Wilmington until after I moved here just a few years ago.

gym class hero
2015 years 10 months ago

too bad Laney didnt use that money to remodel that awful gym…if I were Mike I’d be ashamed to have my name on it…I’ve seen better looking gyms at local elem/middle schools.

2015 years 10 months ago

While I was at laney, I met MJ. He practiced with the varsity team. He also gave a speech to the school a couple times.


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