I could bring up advanced statistics, finals records, individual accolades and more to prove my point, but most basketball fans already know all that. Today we are going to talk about the aura of Michael Jordan. Many of these stories have been forgotten by the casual fan but not true basketball nerds like me and you (I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this). Today we are talking about five crazy Michael Jordan stories that show why he truly is the greatest of all time.
1. The GOAT before even entering the league
The basketball world was incredibly different back in 1984. The game itself was played differently, the NBA was in its infancy as a global cultural force and NBA players were not allowed to play for team USA in the Olympics. At the time, only amateur collegiate athletes were allowed to participate in the games. It was not until 1989 when the international basketball federation (FIBA) started allowing professional players to represent their respective nations in order to promote a higher level of competition. The first Olympic basketball team to field NBA talent was the famous 1992 dream team which featured hall of fame legends such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Chris Mullins and college star Christian Laettner. Back in 1984, many of these players were still in college or had just been drafted into the NBA including an iconic 6’ 6’’ guard from North Carolina, one Michael Jeffery Jordan. Team USA at the time, led by renowned coach Bobby Knight, played in eight scrimmages with NBA all-stars (Team NBA) to prepare for the Olympics. This was meant to be overkill because no amateur Olympic team should have been able to rival top tier NBA talent, and push the college kids and help them learn a thing or two from the established professionals. These professionals represented what many call the golden age of basketball. These players include Magic Johnson, Kevin McHale, Isaiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Dany Ainge (yes this guy isn’t just the current Celtics owner), Robert Parrish, James Worthy, Larry Nance, Michael Cooper and more. Team USA was not supposed to win, except they did, repeatedly, without mercy, without stopping to think about what had just transpired. The first few scores were as follows, 96-90, 92-79, 96-85, 128-106. I think I’ve made my point. In fact, the squad of college kids and recent NBA draftees won all eight encounters with Team NBA, shocking executives and coaches alike. These weren’t laid back scrimmages or sad exhibitions without defense like the current NBA all-star game. They were playoff-game speed, full throttle, up and down physical basketball games with the Team NBA not holding back at all. But Jordan, in his classic Jordan fashion, clowned them, humiliated and asserted his dominance during these scrimmages before playing a single game for the Chicago Bulls. Coach Knight had praise of the highest order for Jordan, describing him as an all-time great as a twenty-one-year-old prospect. Jordan nearly doubled the leading scorer of Team NBA in many of these games and it was clear the chosen one had arrived.
2. A 50-year-old Jordan beats Michael Kidd Gilchrist one-on-one
One-on-one basketball is a lost art in the realm of the sport’s professional ventures. It is one of the most popular ways the sport is played but the NBA has no event to showcase the best displays of one-on-one basketball. However, NBA players, coaches and fans all acknowledge that nothing hones individual skills more than high-intensity game speed one-on-one matches. It’s a test of skill, endurance and most importantly will. Jordan used to instigate these one-on-one rivalries to motivate himself and showcase his prowess. Even the late great Kobe Bryant modeled his mamba mentality after Jordan’s unbreakable assassin-like mentality toward the game. This killer will has been demonstrated by Jordan time and time again throughout his career but especially on February 10th, 2013, a mere week before Jordan’s 50th birthday. Fresh off of starring in an NCAA championship run at Kentucky, Charlotte Hornets rookie first-round pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had the opportunity to play one of his idols as Jordan is the majority owner of the team. There is no video of the game but Kidd-Gilchrist has repeatedly said that Jordan won and that he would never go easy on his boss. This one-on-one match made serious headlines and had people speculating if Jordan would make a second return to the league at the age of fifty. While this did not happen, the fact that a fifty-year-old Jordan was still able to compete with peak athletic talent and even be considered for a return is insane and speaks to the greatness of his Airness.
3. The GOAT does not miss
Jordan’s competitiveness is famous and his mentality towards the game and life has transcended sports itself. The guy was even caught cheating in a game of cards with an old woman that had no stakes. Additionally. there is an anecdote that describes when Jordan had a ping pong table delivered to his room during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona just so he could practice and beat fellow dream team teammate Christian Laettner, who just happened to be skilled in ping pong (final score of the ping pong rematch was 21-4 in favor of Jordan). It seems that as time goes on, more and more anecdotes are uncovered that authenticate Jordan’s unique will to win but the most recent, and quite frankly funny, example of this occurred during Jordan’s Flight basketball camp in 2013. All-star point guard Chris Paul made a bet with Jordan in front of all the present campers saying that if Jordan missed three shots in a game of around the world (where one takes shots from various points on the floor ranging from in the paint to 3-pointers), the kids would get free shoes. He made every shot, including a free throw where Paul attempted to block his vision with his hand. The GOAT does not miss. Jordan even offered the kids a chance at redemption, saying that if Paul could do the same, they would still get free shoes. Paul missed one shot at the end and that was that. You do not challenge the GOAT, even at age fifty-three.
4. “I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do this time and see if you can stop it”
What is the most disrespectful thing you can do to someone in a game of basketball? Cross someone up and make them fall? Taunt them? Emphatically block their shot? All are disrespectful and sure-fire crowd-pleasers but one of Jordan’s most demoralizing competitive tactics was the mental mind game he’d play with opponents by telling them what he was going to do on the court in sequence and then following through while they watched helplessly.
We all know about ‘the shot’. This was when Jordain drained a series-winning jump shot over Craig Ehlo in the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs. But did you know that Ehlo was made to be a victim of the great one a second time? On March 28th, 1990, Jordan scored his career-high of 69 points on 62% shooting from the field against Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the damage didn’t end there. He didn’t just score on the Cavaliers. He told them where, when and how he was going to score on them.
His exact words were “Listen man, I’m hitting everything, so I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do this time and see if you can stop it,” Jordan told Ehlo. “You know you can’t stop it. You know you can’t stop this. You can’t guard me.” Then, Jordan detailed exactly what he was going to do, saying, “I’m gonna catch it on the left elbow, and then I’m gonna drive to the left to the baseline, and then I’m gonna pull up and shoot my fadeaway.” The rest is history.
5. The Jordan effect
The fans weren’t the only ones that idolized Jordan. Referees were just as guilty for getting starstruck in front of him. Now it is a well-known fact in the NBA community that superstars with cachet earn the right to get somewhat better treatment or atleast the benefit of the doubt from the referees, but during Jordan’s prime, referees seemed ready to bow to Jordan’s altar and give his team the win before the game started. While Jordan validated this respect and undoubtedly earned his wins through his greatness on the court, sometimes this blatant favoritism reached new levels of ridiculousness, to which opposing coaches dubbed the Jordan Effect. One such altercation between Jordan and all-star guard Reggie Miller epitomized this theory. This rivalry between the two started in 1987 during Miller’s rookie season when Miller’s constant on-court chatter resulted in Jordan scoring 44 points to Miller’s twelve in their first meeting. This included Jordan outscoring Miller 40-2 in the second half. This bad blood between the two boiled over in a 1993 matchup in Indianapolis that resulted in Jordan punching Miller, causing Miller to be ejected from the game. Jordan proceeded to taunt Miller as he was escorted out of the arena, saying “be sure you never talk to black Jesus like that again” and continued playing without even being given a foul. Later, the footage was reviewed and Jordan was ultimately fined and suspended for one game but the influence Jordan possessed on the referees was now undeniable to the public eye. So this begs the question, how did he do this?
Being the brilliant competitor that he is, Jordan made it a priority to develop personal ties with the major referees of the league to give himself a competitive edge during crucial regular season and playoff games. He would routinely make small talk with the referees in the middle games, asking about their personal lives and making genuine friendships. The key takeaway from this is that a little social nicety can go a long way. If the goat of sports can do it, why can’t you?
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.