Gateway coach Alvis Rogers squared off with Michael Jordan long before his ‘Last Dance’

Saturday, May 2, 2020 | 5:15 PM

Each time Alvis Rogers sits down to watch another episode of “The Last Dance,” the 10-part ESPN miniseries about Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, he is time-warped back to his college days at Wake Forest when he and the Demon Deacons went against Jordan and North Carolina.

Rogers, the boys basketball coach at Gateway, was a talented, 6-foot-9 big man who patrolled the paint against the ACC’s best in the early 1980s.

He was a senior when Jordan was a fast-rising freshman. While he went against Jordan only twice, Rogers said “MJ” did not exactly stand out and grew into a better player as the 1981-82 season stretched out.

He said Jordan was not the focus of opposing defenses.

“He was a good player, and I think he was still finding his way,” said Rogers, who averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds over 114 games (108 starts) at Wake Forest. “Our gameplan was to stop James Worthy and Sam Perkins. (Jordan) got better as the season went along, as evidenced by their national championship in 1982.”

Jordan swished in the winning jumper to beat Georgetown in the NCAA final.

As the Sunday night documentary has shown, Jordan took the NBA by storm, inherited the moniker “Air Jordan” and went on to cement his place as perhaps the greatest talent the game ever has seen.

His popularity is timeless, and he is an global icon.

Rogers, an All-ACC player, did not see Jordan that way in the beginning.

“I didn’t guard him,” Rogers said. “I do not recall anything exciting or spectacular thing he did. He did not guard me, either. He didn’t want any of me. I played on the wing and in the post. He was not big or strong enough.”

Rogers, a sixth-round NBA Draft pick of the Kansas City Kings in 1983, went on to play professionally in Australia, Sweden, Greece and Belgium before joining the coaching ranks.

He has come around on Jordan.

“I was very impressed with his athleticism,” Rogers said. “I could see that he was going to be a very good player in college and at the next level. But I never thought he would be the megastar that he turned out to be.

“I became a fan once he got into the league, not while he was in college.”

Rogers, who was partial to players such as Julius Erving and David Thompson, said a number of the game’s greats came out of the ACC around the time he played college ball.

“I played against a lot of those dudes in the league in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Rogers said. “You have to remember that the ACC was (constantly) putting players in the league.”

But Jordan formed a legacy that has been unmatched with his fandom, awards and six NBA titles.

Rogers was on one of the top high school teams to come out of North Carolina, and that is saying something. He played at Washington High alongside eventual NBA star Dominique Wilkins. A younger Gerald Wilkins, who also played in the NBA, was on the junior varsity team when Rogers and his older brother were varsity starters.

Washington, nicknamed the “Pam Pack,” had five Division I recruits, including Dominique Wilkins and Rogers, who led the team to a state title in 1978.

Wilkins went on to play at Georgia before entering the NBA and rivaling Jordan as one of the league’s premier dunkers.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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