Thanks to Bo Jackson (MSHOF 2005), the basketball world almost never knew about Michael Watson.

Watson admits that football and baseball, not basketball, were his first sports loves growing up in Kansas City. And the multi-talented Jackson was the reason why.

“Bo knows football, right?” Watson asked playfully. “I love football simply because you can get back at someone immediately and not get in trouble for it. It was also a sport my entire family grew up playing and it made me ultra-competitive as a young athlete.”

Eventually, Watson found basketball. And it changed his life. After starring at Central High School and spurning offers from bigger schools, Watson went on to become the all-time leading scorer at UMKC, finishing with 2,488 points. He followed up his stellar collegiate career with a 10-year run in the professional ranks, including a stint with the Boston Celtics. His efforts on the court are why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Watson with the Class of 2023.

In love with football and baseball, Watson needed something to do to keep himself busy during the winter. Enter basketball.

“So many of my friends started playing on basketball teams so I wanted to keep the fun going,” Watson said. “Since I was an athlete, I was able to keep up even though my skillset was far behind most kids my age at the time.”

It didn’t take him long to catch up.

Watson enjoyed a stellar basketball career at Central High, ultimately receiving some 40 scholarship offers from colleges around the country. Eventually, he chose to stay close to home. How close? UMKC’s campus is less than a mile from where he grew up.

“I chose UMKC because I’m a huge fan of Kansas City,” Watson said. “I loved everything about growing up in KC and wanted to do my part to make our city even more special. I also wanted my family and friends to be able to see me play college basketball in person.”

And what they saw was nothing short of spectacular. There was the 41-point win against Kansas State in 2003; the night he exploded for 36 points in a three-point loss to Colorado; his 40-point effort in a thrashing of Oakland. And then there was the Oral Roberts game.

On the night of Feb. 22, 2003, inside ORU’s Mabee Center in Tulsa, Okla., Watson took his game to another level, scoring a school-record 54 points in a double overtime victory. He was 19 of 35 from the field, made 10 3-pointers and played all 50 minutes of a 91-86 win.

After he finished up his collegiate career, Watson spent time in training camp with the Boston Celtics, surviving until the final days of camp. His time with the Celtics made quite an impression.

“There was nothing like it,” he said. “First class everything and you are playing alongside some of the world’s greatest athletes. It is an entirely different mindset at that level and there’s nothing that compares. The work ethic and attention to detail at that level is amazing.”

Over the next decade, Watson made stops in Poland, Turkey, Italy, France and his native Puerto Rico before returning to Kansas City. Since his return, Watson has turned his attention to serving his hometown in a variety of ways.

After spending time as the Athletic Director of Kansas City Public Schools and with YMCA of Greater Kansas City, he is currently the executive director of a pair of non-profits working with families throughout the Kansas City Area.

Basketball is just one chapter in the Book of Life for me,” Watson said. “It was always about being able to contribute to society and leave behind more than just a legacy on the court.”

In his spare time, Watson also started MENTALITY by Michael Watson, a non-profit youth sports program which currently caters to boys and girls basketball, and volleyball athletes.

Successful in basketball and in life, Watson didn’t reach this point on his own.

“First and foremost, my relationship with God has been the biggest influence,” he said. “I was literally given my talents seemingly overnight. My mom (Therssa Watson) was my first teammate, pitcher, back catcher, rebounder, tackling dummy (sorry mom), and super fan. Central High coach Jack Bush, former UMKC Athletic Director Carla Wilson, and my UMKC coaches, especially Rich Zvosec. He is more than a coach to me, he was a mentor, confidant, disciplinarian, and most importantly he was my real friend.”

And now the greatest basketball player in UMKC history takes his very real place amongst Missouri’s best.