You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, NBA fan or not, who hasn’t heard of Michael Jordan. However, while many people know about his never ending appetite for victory, not many truly knew how hard he pushed himself and those around him. In this article, we share how important winning was to Michael by looking at some key moments from Netflix’s docuseries, The Last Dance.
Many Bulls’ players were all about partying before Michael Jordan arrived
In The Last Dance, the interviewer comments that the Bulls were once referred to as a “traveling cocaine circus”, to which Michael couldn’t help but laugh and clap his hands. Through his chuckles, Michael replied that he’d never heard that one. When pushed on the accuracy of the statement, Michael recalls one of his earliest experiences.
“I had one event, pre-season, I think we were in Peoria. It’s a hotel, so I’m trying to find my teammates. So I start knocking on doors. I get to this one door, and I knock on the door and I can hear someone say ‘Shhhhh. Someone’s outside’.”
A voice calls out, asking who it is. Michael replies “It’s MJ.” Upon realizing who it is, his teammates open the door and let him in. He walks inside and finds almost the entire team in the room, along with a lot of things he’d never seen as a young man. “You got your lines over here, you got your weed smokers over here, and you got your women over here.”
Understanding the situation he found himself in, and being entirely focused on his career, Michael excused himself. However, his actions may have put a bit of a wedge between himself and the rest of the team. He describes, “And from that point on, I was more or less on my own.”
Winning was the most important thing to Michael Jordan
While Michael could have joined in on the fun once he had gone pro, he wasn’t playing the game to mess around. In the first episode of The Last Dance, UNC Assistant Coach Roy Williams reflects on Michael's attitude towards basketball:
"Michael Jordan told me he wants to be the best player to ever play here. I said 'You got to work harder than you did in high school.' He said, 'I worked as hard as everybody else.' I said, 'Oh, excuse me. I thought you just told me you wanted to be the best player to ever play here.' He said 'I'm going to show you. Nobody will ever work as hard as I work.”
This approach carried through to his professional career but didn’t stop with the amount of effort he put in. Michael was driven to win and was willing to push others to ensure that he had the best players by his side.
“My mentality was to go out and win, at any cost. If you don’t wanna live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside me, ’cause I’m gonna ridicule you until you get on the same level with me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s gonna be hell for you.”
His passion for the game and take-no-prisoners approach was also highlighted by some of his former teammates in the docuseries, some of whom also admitted that they wouldn’t have gotten where they were without Michael. But while some may empathize with Michael’s drive to be the best, there’s no doubt that others saw him as a bully.
When pressed on his harsh leadership style, he had this to say:
“Winning has a price. And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn't want to be pulled. I challenged people when they don't want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates came after me.”
“They didn't endure all the things that I endured. Once you join the team, you live at a certain standard that I play the game, and I wasn't gonna take anything less. Now, if that means I have to go out there and get in your ass a little bit, then I did that. You ask all my teammates, the one thing about Michael Jordan was, he never asked me to do something that he didn't f—ing do.”
“When people see this, they're gonna say, 'Well, he wasn't really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant.' Well, that's you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win and be a part of that as well. I don't have to do this. I'm only doing it because it is who I am. That's how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don't want to play that, don't play that way.”
Kobe Bryant recalls how Michael’s attitude influenced his success
On January 26th and several days after, the news that megastar NBA player Kobe Bryant passed away in a helicopter accident dominated the news and social media headlines. Tributes poured out from fans all over the world, highlighting how loved the former NBA player was.
So when basketball fans and players got an unexpected appearance from Kobe in The Last Dance, it moved many people, particularly with the way Kobe looked back on his relationship with Michael and how it helped him achieve greatness.
“It was a rough couple years for me coming into the league, ‘cause at the time the league was so much older, it’s not as young as it is today. So nobody was really thinking much of me, I was a kid that shot a bunch of air balls, you know what I mean? And at that point, Michael provided a lot of guidance for me. Like I had a question about shooting this turnaround shot, so I asked him about it. He gave me a great, detailed answer but on top of that, he said, ‘If you ever need anything, give me a call.’ That’s like my big brother.”
When Kobe brings up how fans discuss whether Kobe or Michael was the better player, he simply states “What you get from me, is from him. I don’t get five championships here without him, because he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.”
Michael Jordan’s competitive nature doesn’t switch off, even with his hobbies
Now that you understand Michael’s drive to succeed at basketball, it probably won’t surprise you that his competitive streak also appears in two of his other hobbies: gambling (which is discussed during The Last Dance), and golf. In fact, he sometimes scratches his competitive itch by doing both at the same time.
For example, former NBA player Charles Barkley describes how he and Michael used to play regularly together, and how they always played for money. But when certain players joined them on the course, friendly bets of a couple of hundred dollars became much larger. In one game, Barkley recalled how Michael had $300,000 dollars riding on a single putt!
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