While the upcoming 10-part documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season, The Last Dance, is highly anticipated, the star of the series, NBA icon Michael Jordan, is concerned that the series doesn’t paint the prettiest picture of him as a teammate. Jordan was notoriously competitive, and just as he held himself to an extremely high standard during his playing days, he did the same with his teammates. And while he did win six NBA titles leading the Bulls with that style, it could seem a bit extreme or excessive to an average observer.
“When people see this footage I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said,” Jordan said, via director Jason Hehir in an interview with Richard Deitsch of The Athletic.
“When you see the footage of [me riding with Scott Burrell], you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy. But you have to realize that the reason why I was treating him like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs and we’re facing the Indiana’s and Miami’s and New York’s in the Eastern Conference. He needed to be tough and I needed to know that I could count on him. And those are the kind of things where people see me acting the way I acted in practice, they’re not going to understand it.”
The way Jordan saw it, once a player joined the Bulls, there was a certain standard that they had to live up to, and if that standard wasn’t met, it was his job to step in, as he explained during the seventh episode of the documentary.
“Look, winning has a price,” Jordan said in the documentary. “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 who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured. Once you joined the team, you lived at a certain standard that I played the game. And I wasn’t going to take any less. Now, if that means I had to go in 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–king do.
“When people see this they are going 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 to be a part of that as well. Look, I don’t have to do this. I am 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.”
Say what you want about Jordan’s methods, but you can’t argue with the results: six championships in six trips to the Finals, and six Finals MVP Awards. He may have been rough around the edges, but he got the best out of the teams that he was on, and for that reason — along with many others — he is widely considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time.