My son and I walked from the dorm on the University of California Santa Barbara campus early one morning on his first day of camp. He was twelve, and I was…older. We heard the crashing of the early morning waves, and felt the ocean breeze that kept the California sun from being too hot.
As we neared the arena, we were all alone. A black car rolled up a few yards in front of us behind the arena, and out climbed all 6'6" of the GOAT, Michael Jordan. We were thunderstruck. Somehow it never occurred to us that either of us would see him that close-up at the camp.
My son urged me to go talk to him. “I can’t, Blake. I don’t have any makeup on! You go!”
“Mom, that doesn’t matter! Go on,” Blake urged. The urging went back and forth until Michael entered the back door to the arena. My son and I are chagrined and laugh about it even now.
Blake attended the camp for six years, every summer, from age twelve to seventeen. If I had to guess, I would say we were the ones there with the least money. The camp was filled with the children of celebrities and NBA players. The reason I was walking him to the arena that earty morning is because I had stayed in a dorm on the University of Santa Barbara campus with him. It was the cheapest option.
I had jumped on this opportunity with my usual lack of foresight and research. For instance, I didn’t know that Michael would sign a memento for each camper the last day. I frantically looked all over Santa Barbara, and finally found a regular jersey with Michael’s number. My son actually wore it one day of camp, and I had to wash it before having Michael sign it. Yes, I was that pitiful. We sold it the next year to a kind collector for $300 to help pay for the next camp.
Things got better for us after that, in many ways. I made more money, and Blake learned to play basketball, as well as other more valuable life lessons.
What did my son and I learn there that helped him in basketball and in life?
For one, he learned to ignore his middle school and high school coaches who told him he was too slow to play.
Mark Jackson, former NBA player and coach, spoke at one of the assemblies. It felt to my son as if Mark were looking right at him when he said, “Don’t let anybody tell you can’t do it. All my life coaches told me I was too slow.”
Mark played point guard from 1987 to 2004. At 6'1" he wasn’t really tall for an NBA player. That also meant a lot to my son, who at the time was 5"4" on a good day.
It also gave my son the courage to speak up to a toxic freshman team coach, when he told Blake he was the worst basketball player and human he had ever met.
Blake told him, “You’re just trying to get in my head, coach,” and kept practicing.
I went to school the next day to confront the coach. I told him many boys, like my son, didn’t have fathers at home to look up to, so what he said to them they took to heart and believed. The lessons from the Michael Jordan camp helped us both through this coach's abuse. He was fired the next year for drinking on the job.
Michael spoke to the kids every night. He always hammered on one thing. Learn the fundamentals of the game. Once you have that down, he told them, you build on that. Also, practice, practice, practice.
When asked by one camper how he managed to hit the basket on free throws with his eyes closed, Michael said, “I know where the basket is.”
Michael had practiced free throws until he could do them with his eyes closed. That’s a lot of practicing.
My son was offered the job of manager on his high school team at the end of his sophomore year. He was upset, said no, and left the team. I supported his decision because I knew it wouldn't be the end of his basketball journey.
Every day of his junior year, Blake went to the gym we belonged to and practiced. He practiced from three to six hours a day, every single day for a year. One day an older guy came up to him and asked what he was practicing for. Blake told him he wanted to play on varsity his senior year. The guy told him, “I played with your coach in high school, on the best team in the state. Don’t tell him, but I’ll coach you to make the team.”
That summer at the Michael Jordan camp, Blake was voted MVP.
First day of senior year, Blake showed up for basketball practice. An assistant coach asked what he was doing there. Blake answered, “I came to play.”
“Wait right here,” the assistant said, and went to tell the coach, who looked over at Blake dismissively, and looked back to the court. The assistant came back and said, “You’ll have to run a a 6 minute mile.” This to the kid who they had always told was too slow. They didn't think he could do it.
One of the players ran with him, urging him on. The assistant coach stood by with a stop watch. The seconds ticked by. He made it in just under six minutes.
Next, they told him he had to play Fall Ball. This is uncoached, and is where coaches watch the younger players to see if they’re ready for varsity. That almost did him in. He came home and said, “Mom, it’s an insult. I’m not doing it.”
Now, you have to know, I’m not a sports parent. All this basketball stuff was because he wanted it. Still, I said, “Oh yes you are. You’ll be the only senior on there, so you’ll make that YOUR team.”
He did it, even though he was made fun of for it. People made fun of Michael Jordan, too, when he didn't make his high school team. My mother always allowed me to quit. I learned from the camp not to let my son do that.
While playing, he broke his nose. Since it was “uncoached” no one even checked on him in the bathroom while he was cleaning up, or afterward. When I picked him up, his shirt front was completely covered in blood, but he went right back onto the court the next night.
I’d like to tell you he became the varsity star, and I’d like to tell Michael Jordan and Mark Jackson that, too. He didn’t. He injured his hip flexor in AAU play, and was on the bench when his high school team went to State competition.
However, he is the only player on that varsity team to go on to play basketball all four years of college at Southwestern University. It wasn’t a D1 school, but he was the star player. He was plenty fast enough.
Plus, at his final height, 6'5", he became a dunking legend at his school, and six years after graduating, still holds the record. That’s as close to flying as you can get if you aren’t Michael Jordan.
The best part of what he gained at Michael Jordan’s Flight School? No one can tell him he can’t do something. Or that he is too slow, or too short, or too tall, or too anything else. He goes after his dreams with a vengeance. As his mother, I support those dreams unequivocally.
Five years after graduation, he’d saved enough money to move from Texas to Los Angeles. He worked full-time while saving money and creating comedy content on YouTube. He writes, films, edits, sometimes acts in, and produces comedy videos. Find him on YouTube as Moonlair360, and on TikTok @Moonlair360.
Here’s how to put these life lessons from the Michael Jordan Basketball Camp to work for you.
1. Set goals.
2. Learn the fundamentals.
3. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice.
6. Always know where the goal is.