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Michael Jordan Hated When The Bulls Made Him Do Load Management In 1986

Michael Jordan missed just a handful of games during the peak of his NBA career, and built a reputation for being among the league’s iron men, both due to the fact that his off nights were few and far between and he prided himself on shouldering a monstrous load for the Chicago Bulls.

Early on in his career, though, Jordan’s desire to play all the time hit a bit of a bump in the road. As a sophomore in the league, Jordan suffered a broken foot three games into the 1985-86 campaign. He was able to eventually return to the team under a remarkably strict minutes restriction, one that we learned during episode two of The Last Dance served as a source of major source of frustration.

Jordan used a portion of his time off to return to the University of North Carolina, where unbeknownst to (and eventually to the chagrin of) the Bulls, he played basketball. At one point, the franchise had to explain to Jordan that even though he had a 90-10 chance of being OK playing on the injury, that 10 percent indicated the odds that his career would come to an end if he played on the bum wheel, something far too high for the team to risk.

“So I said to Michael, ‘You’re not understanding the risk-reward ratio,’” former Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf recalled. “’If you had a terrible headache, and I gave you a bottle of pills, and nine of the pills would cure you, and one of the pills would kill you, would you take a pill?’”

“And I look at him and I said, ‘Depends on how f*ckin’ bad the headache is,’” Jordan said in response.

Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement on Jordan playing reduced number of minutes (seven per half) to ease his way back in, as Jordan became suspicious that the Bulls were trying to tank for a better pick in the draft. In an old clip, Jordan was asked about whether he thought that was the case, telling the press that he thought it reflected a “losing attitude.”

This still was a source of major frustration for Jordan, as he was essentially placed on a hyper-strict form of load management.

“At the time, the coach was Stan Auerbach,” Jordan said. “So I said, ‘Stan, f*ck these guys. Give me the most important seven minutes that you could think about.’”

Jordan went on to tell a story about a game against the Indiana Pacers that Chicago needed to win as they fought their way into the playoff picture. At the time, his minutes restriction was pushed to 14 minutes a half, and with the game on the line, the Bulls were down by one with 31 seconds remaining. Prior to the game, however, Auerbach was warned that going a second over would lead to his firing on the spot, and at that moment, Jordan had hit his allocation of minutes.

“I’m begging Stan, ‘Put me in the game, come on,’” Jordan recalled. “‘It’s only 14 f*cking seconds, Stan, 13 seconds. Put me in for 13 seconds.’ He says, ‘MJ, I can’t put you in, I’d lose my job.’ It fueled the whole theory that here we’re trying to not make the playoffs so we can get a better draft pick, but I vowed to make the playoffs every year and this is a chance for us to make the playoffs.”

Things worked out for Jordan — John Paxson hit a shot and the Bulls made the postseason. Still, the saga planted distrust in Jordan towards the team’s management, both ownership and the front office, that never quite went away.