Stories of Michael Jordan’s intense nature and competitive fire, particularly in practice, have become legendary, and the hope when The Last Dance was announced was we would get a chance to see some examples of those with the footage from that season.
To this point, the practice footage of Jordan has been minimal, although the opening episodes did feature him berating Ron Harper for not being aggressive enough, but that changed in Episode 7. It’s the first episode to really dive in to Jordan, the teammate, starting with a section specifically on how he would go after Scott Burrell — a frequent punching bag of Jordan’s this season — and Jordan’s explanation of why he did that.
As the episode went along, he further explained his mentality and why he was so hard on his teammates, with some of those teammates reminiscing on the fear they had and how, while he crossed the line sometimes, what he did worked.
“My mentality was to go out and win, at any cost,” Jordan said. “If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me. Cause I’m going to ridicule you until you get on the same level with me, and if you don’t get on the same level, it’s going to be hell for you.”
“People were afraid of him. We were his teammates and we were afraid of him,” Jud Buechler said. “There was just fear. The fear factor of MJ was just so, so thick.”
“Let’s not get it wrong, he was an asshole, he was a jerk, he crossed the line numerous times,” Will Perdue said. “But as time goes on and you think back on what he was actually trying to accomplish, yeah he was a helluva teammate.”
B.J. Armstrong was asked if Mike was nice, and said that Jordan couldn’t really be a nice guy, even if he was “cordial” off the court, because his drive to win was so great and the demands he put on teammates were so high. When prompted on that same question, if his drive hurt his ability to be a nice guy or be perceived as a nice guy, Jordan offered a lengthy quote about the price of winning and how everything he did had that end goal in mind. By the end, was clearly emotional and on the verge of tears, leading to him to call for a “break” from the interview.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 11, 2020
“Well, I mean, I don’t know,” Jordan said. “I mean, look, 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 didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates came after me; didn’t endure all the things that I endured. Once you join the team you lived in a certain standard of how I played the game, and I wasn’t going to take anything less. Now, that means I have to go in there and get in your ass a little bit, then I did that. You ask all my teammates, one thing about Michael Jordan was, he never asked me to do anything that he didn’t f*cking do.
“When people see this, they’re going to say well he wasn’t really a nice guy, he may have been a tyrant,” Jordan continued. “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. Look, 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 way, don’t play that way. Break.”
It is maybe the best encapsulation of Michael Jordan’s mentality that I can recall ever being captured from the man himself. It’s raw, defiant, and even a bit vulnerable. He clearly doesn’t like the concept of him being a tyrant, but can’t even bring himself to consider that as a valid critique because those that would lob that at him “never won anything.” He’s brought to the verge of tears by the very concept that someone could not want to win as much as him and would be willing to not do everything in their power to tap into their full potential for that goal.
What he says is backed up by what Perdue says as someone who has been punched in the face by Jordan before, but still respects him not just as a player but as “a helluva teammate.” The thing about it all is, there are only a select few that can operate in this way. Jordan was one and Kobe Bryant was another, but you have to be so good and work so hard that when you do verbally berate your teammates or chastise them for what they’re doing, there’s nothing they can do to fire back that you’re being hypocritical. The deification of Jordan has at times led to this idea that his way is the only way to handle teammates, while Kobe’s success with a similar mentality has only furthered that concept. However, they are two incredibly unique examples of the type of person that can get away with that, and when people with lesser abilities or lesser work ethics attempt to emulate them it ends in disaster.