Twenty-four years removed and he remembers like it was yesterday. "I fouled out early," said Otto Jett, recalling his senior year playing basketball for South Lakes in 1982. "So I was sitting on the bench."
The team had won the district tournament and was fighting for survival in the Northern Regional semifinals against perennial powerhouse T.C. Williams at Robinson High School.
Down by as much as 17 points with three starters fouled out, Michael Jackson, ala the King of Pop, proceeded to "put on a show" for the 5,000 spectators, said Jett.
"He was taking it to the hole, shooting jumpers, everything," said Jett. Despite a jaw-dropping 27 points in the final quarter, Jackson couldn’t overcome the deficit. The Seahawks lost 75-69. But Jackson ended his high school career with a 36-point performance that served as a clinic on how to take over a game.
"It was amazing, and that was before the three-point line," said longtime South Lakes assistant coach Irv Greene, who remembers watching the game. "Wow, it was impressive."
Jett agrees. "We probably would have won [with the three-point line]," he said.
After the game, a sports columnist for The Connection, Chuck Cascio, said Jackson was the best player he’d ever seen in Northern Virginia. "And I’ve lived here 33 years," he wrote.
In the next round, T.C. Williams claimed the Regional championship. Two years later as the starting point guard for Georgetown University, Jackson cut down the nets at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship.
MANY PEOPLE POINT to Jackson’s 1982 team as the start of a rich, star-studded basketball tradition at South Lakes, which opened its doors in 1979. "In my opinion, Michael Jackson was the one who started that tradition," said Greene.
Jackson, who was an all-Metropolitan guard for the Seahawks and The Washington Post's co-player of the year, set the bar high for future South Lakes’ basketball standouts like Jerome Scott, Grant Hill and Joey Beard.
"I remember playing with him at Twin Branches in the summer," said Hill, a 1990 South Lakes graduate, who is still playing in the National Basketball Association.
"He was a lot older. He was somebody from Reston that went to South Lakes who went on to Georgetown and eventually the NBA. To have somebody you knew from high school, it was good to see. It was a good example."
There were perks, too, said Hill. "Because of [Jackson] we had Georgetown season tickets." Jackson interned at Hill's mother's consulting firm.
Derek Lee, who graduated in 1984 from South Lakes and went on to play baseball in the majors, knew Jackson well. "I remembered thinking, if this guy is not an NBA player, then I can't imagine what an NBA player must be," said Lee.
LIKE MANY OF Reston’s local basketball stars, Jackson got his start on the local outdoor courts. "We played every day at Twin Branches [court]," said Jett, who first met Jackson playing youth football when he was seven years old.
Jackson, who grew up in the Hunters Woods area, played on a travel youth basketball team before high school. He also played football at South Lakes as a freshman. "But he dislocated his shoulder, and that was it," said Jett.
In basketball, Jackson quickly became known as a great passer and floor leader.
"He was a true point guard," said Jett. "He had eyes everywhere — I learned that at an early age when he hit me upside the head going to the hoop."
Greene couldn’t recall a more unselfish player than Jackson. "He was the man, but he made sure to get his teammates involved," said Greene.
Coaches and teammates agree that the 6-1 guard who led South Lakes to two District championships was the complete package. As a senior, Jackson averaged 23 points per game and led South Lakes to a 23-3 record, including a 19-game Great Falls District winning streak.
"He was a phenomenal scorer," said Wendell Byrd, South Lakes’ head basketball coach over the last 21 years. "You only saw a glimpse of it in college because they had [Patrick] Ewing and [David] Wingate. He could rack up some points very quickly on you."
Jackson often made it look easy, according to teammates. "He was quick as lightning," said Jett. "His crossover, his behind-the-back, and his spin move — they couldn’t be stopped."
A great ball-handler, the ambidextrous point guard forced opponents to play him straight up. "There was no team that could press us," said Jett. "Michael was a one-man press-breaker."
A top high school recruit, Jackson received offers from more than 100 colleges, including all the top basketball programs. "In our junior and senior years, it seemed like [Georgetown Head Coach] John Thompson was at every game," said Jett.
AT GEORGETOWN, Thompson threw Jackson into the fire, starting the freshman at the point guard position. Jackson rose to the occasion, averaging 10 points a game and five assists after four seasons.
In his junior year, Jackson passed his way into the team’s record books, dishing out a single-season high 242 assists – a record that still stands today. Jackson is also the school’s third all-time career assist leader.
But just like in high school, Jackson proved his ability to score in dramatic fashion.
"I remember one time [TV announcer] Dick Vitale pissed him off and said he couldn’t score," said Jett. "In his next game, he went on a scoring rampage."
Less than a year out of high school, Jackson dropped 31 points on Syracuse in front of a hostile crowd of 31,000 people known as the "Orange Crush" in the Carrier Dome.
The performance silenced critics. Some opposing players started to call him "Thriller," a nickname derived from the best-selling single by the music star with his same name.
YET WHAT MAY stand out about Jackson’s collegiate career is his steady and calm play down the stretch. In four years, he shot an efficient 47-percent from the field and 80-percent from the free-throw line.
In 1984, during the championship run, Georgetown barely made it out of a second round bout with Southern Methodist University. Jackson saved the day. With eight seconds remaining and the game tied, Jackson hit a free throw to give Georgetown a one-point victory, 37-36.
In 1985, Jackson helped lead Georgetown back to the championship game, but the Hoyas were upset by Villanova.
In 1986, the New York Knicks, who had made Jackson’s seven-foot teammate Patrick Ewing the first overall pick a year earlier, drafted Jackson in the second round. Jackson was cut a few months later, but he found a home in the pros from 1988 until 1990 with the Sacramento Kings, who were coached by Hall-of-Famer and Boston Celtic superstar Bill Russell.
Jackson, now 42, has traveled a similar road of success in life after basketball. He became an executive with Turner Sports and later became president of YankeeNets. He owns a Port City Java in Asheville, N.C., where he lives.
Additional reporting by BJ Koubaroulis
Michael Jackson is 55 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.