A lot of Michael Sorrell’s story involves basketball. It took him from Chicago to Oberlin College in Ohio, where he was a two-time captain and high-scoring forward for the school’s basketball team, fifth on the the Ohio college’s all-time scoring list when he graduated. It brought him to Paul Quinn College, after he met alums from the school playing in the competitive runs at the downtown YMCA, and he decided he wanted to repay the kindness shown to a newcomer in Dallas by getting involved. And it almost took him in a different direction, when he was involved in an attempt to buy the Memphis Grizzlies in 2007, as part of a group headed by former Duke standouts Christian Laettner and Brian Davis. In fact, the deal was so close that Sorrell was on his way to scout Kevin Durant.
It ultimately fell through, and, instead, Sorrell is the longest-serving president in the history of Paul Quinn College. And based on his success there over these past 14 years, I have no doubt that if he was the team president of the Grizzlies right now instead, they would be fighting for a top seed in the Western Conference playoff standings. If he could take a school that was on the verge of losing its accreditation and hemorrhaging students, on a campus that was literally crumbling, and turn it into a model for a new way of thinking about and approaching higher education, I can’t imagine what Sorrell would do with Ja Morant and millions of dollars to play with.
I spoke to Sorrell over Zoom in February, on the coldest day in Texas in a century, and this story is the result.