As a teammate, was MJ a bully? By Justin Trevisani
Hopefully every person that reads this has seen ESPN's masterpiece documentary "The Last Dance" that portrays the Chicago Bulls Dynasty, more specifically focusing on Michael Jordan and the club's pursuit of a championship in the 1997-1998 season. If you haven't already, get around to watching episodes seven and eight. Last night's episodes may have been the best and most revealing ones yet. The spotlight was once again on Michael Jordan, highlighting the unfortunate events surrounding his father's murder and his retirement from basketball that led to his brief journey on the baseball diamond. Another big sticking point of the latest episodes was Jordan's portrayal as a teammate.
With almost a dozen of his Bulls teammates being interviewed in last night's episodes alone, we as an audience were given an authentic look into Jordan's competitive fire and how that resonated with his team. Focusing on some of the more memorable clips from last night, Scott Burrell and Steve Kerr's truly stood out. Michael Jordan realized the potential and talent that Burrell had as a player. However, he noticed how he wasn't a fiery competitor like himself and was too nice out on the court. As a result, Jordan took the liberty of pushing Burrell to be better at practices. He trash-talked him. He scored on him. He guarded him. Burrell could have gotten extremely frustrated with MJ and let it ruin their relationship on and off the court. He took Michael's competitiveness in stride because he knew Michael wanted Burrell to be the best version of himself. Jordan just wanted to win at any costs, and Burrell quickly realized that fact.
Steve Kerr is another one of Jordan's former teammates who has stood out so far in this series. Last night, we got first hand accounts from Jordan, Kerr, and Phil Jackson about an memorable fight at practice between Jordan and Kerr. What started as competitive trash talking quickly escalated into Kerr and Jordan exchanging blows and Jordan being kicked out of practice. They were able to get on the same page and work things out just a few hours after the incident, but it was still an eyebrow-raising sequence of events. In fact, both of them thought it was the best thing that could have happened. Jordan wouldn't have to push Kerr so hard anymore because he knew he could count on him to play with the same intensity as himself.
Through the perspectives of two of Michael Jordan's teammates and significant contributors for the Bulls, we were able to see the drive that Jordan carried every single day. From his first days as a player in the NBA, it was noticeable. Three consecutive titles likely wouldn't have been won without that burning drive Jordan possessed. But, it became even more evident after his return to the sport following an 18-month break. Some viewers of this documentary may view Jordan as a mean-spirited player who used his standing as a player to be able to say and do whatever he wanted to his teammates. On the surface, Jordan seems to have been a pain to play with because of all he demanded. Compared to many players today, it doesn't seem like a typical way of being the leader of a team.
However, as many as his former teammates have said, Jordan was a great leader. He was a great teammate. In fact, everything he did was in the best interests of the team and the players themselves. They were grateful for the way Jordan pushed them to be better players. Even guys like Horace Grant and BJ Armstrong, who seemed to take a lot of solace in beating the Bulls once they left for other teams and grew tired of Jordan at times, have no complaints or regrets about their time with MJ. Sure, Jordan could have been over the top at times. But he wasn't a bully. A bully picks on those that are in vulnerable positions and makes their lives hell because they could care less about them. Michael Jordan yelled at his teammates to make them better. He pushed his teammates to win. Michael Jordan was just built different than anyone else we have ever seen. And it is a large part of why he was so great.