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Troup coach met a legend

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It was her brush with greatness.

Carla Thornton, the girls’ basketball coach at Troup High, was in the midst of her playing career at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla. when she and a teammate visited a local establishment.

Thornton and her friend spotted someone that looked like Michael Jordan, and sure enough, that’s who it was.

“Me and a friend, one of my teammates, we went out that night. We saw him, and he was in the MVP (section), and he was hanging over the back rail,” said Thornton, recalling that moment from the early 2000s. “We were like, is that Michael Jordan? And she said no, that can’t be him. We got close and he was still standing there, and we said, oh my God, it is him. For a while we just stood there standing at him in awe. And then he looked at us and smiled.”

Thornton and her friend worked up the nerve to talk to Jordan, and they shared their appreciation for his best-selling Nike sneakers.

“My teammate said I have all of your shoes, and I said me too, me too,” Thornton recalls. “And he started laughing. We went over and shook hands, and we asked for a picture but he doesn’t do that, and he didn’t want too much attention. A lot of people didn’t even know he was in there. It just happened to be the route we took to the bathroom, and he was hanging over the banister.”

Jordan was in Daytona Beach for Bike Week, and although he was no doubt approached constantly by those who recognized him, Thornton appreciated the kindness he showed.

“He was real cool, and nice and sweet,” Thornton said. “He chit-chatted with us a little bit, and shook our hands, and went on about his business.”

Thornton, like millions of others, has been glued to the television on Sunday nights for the airing of “The Last Dance” documentary that details the Bulls’ dynasty featuring Jordan.

When Thornton was growing up and on into her days as a prep basketball star at Callaway High, she watched Jordan win six NBA championships and become the biggest sports star in the world.

“My brother was a big Michael Jordan fan,” Thornton said. “He’s nine years older than me. My mother used to take him to watch Michael Jordan play. I learned to love Michael Jordan from being around my brother, and I wanted to be like my brother.”

After graduating from Bethune-Cookman, Thornton went into coaching, and she has led the Troup High girls’ program for the past decade.

Last season, Troup advanced to the Class AAAA state-championship game before losing to Americus-Sumter.

Thornton has shown her players videos of Jordan before as an example of how to play the game the right way.

“I make them watch You Tube clips,” Thornton said. “He played on both ends, and he was fundamentally sound.”