Talking Jordan’s competitive fire with Roland Lazenby, author of “Michael Jordan: The Life”

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You can’t think of Michael Jordan without thinking about his competitive fire — it was the cornerstone of who he was as a player and what the Bulls became with him leading the way. Jordan wore that competitiveness on his sleeve (well, if jerseys had sleeves back then).

That competitive streak is one of the central, running themes in Roland Lazenby’s new biography, “Michael Jordan: The Life” which was released Tuesday. Lazenby is one of the best, most thoughtful and thorough people writing books on the NBA today, which makes all his books fascinating reads and great looks at the psychology of teams and great players. His stuff is must read.

Lazenby said that Jordan’s fire was something of a family trait, one honed in Michael’s case by family experiences. He talked about it with PBT (the full interview will be available in the PBT Podcast to drop later this week.

On Jordan’s family history and how that was the foundation his competitiveness: “I went back and started with the birth of his great grandfather in 1891. His great grandfather was 5’5” and crippled, but a really bad guy. Jordan was descended from a bunch of hard-core moonshiners on the coastal plain in North Carolina, and they were tough customers. They had a hard life, but corn liquor was their cash crop…

“His great grandfather, who died when Michael was 14, ruled over the whole family and his great grandfather was the original ‘Jordan tongue.’ And Michael’s father James idolized this old man and picked up the tongue from him, and of course Michael picked it up from his old man, and from his great grandfather.”

Jordan’s family and him playing baseball: “His parents were the original ‘helicopter parents.’ They were the kind of parents, and this was back in the ‘70s before people did a lot of this, that they were at every practice, they were everywhere, making sure their son was involved. Baseball was a largely white sport yet they were very much involved and cared deeply, yet they were never the kind of people to say something to the coach or to complain about something. They were just involved all the time….

“Michael, before he didn’t make the varsity team (as a freshman) in basketball, he was a state Little League player of the year in North Carolina. He almost took them to the Little League World Series as a pitcher and a hitter. He was a fabulous, fabulous player as a 12-year-old. Then the next three years of Babe Ruth League, particularly the next year, he hardly got off the bench. He batted four times the whole season. The base paths had lengthened and he didn’t have the arm to play. You know youth sports could be cruel like that and they were very cruel to Jordan. “

How Michael playing one-on-one with his brother shaped him and the Bulls: “His father put up a hoop in the back yard, then put up two facing hoops in the back yard of their house, right out side of Wilmington…

“The battles he had with his brother — and his brother beat him every single day for about a year and a half — were fierce. Michael was taller but his older brother was a lot stronger. But these were not fun battles. George Mumford, the great psychologist who worked with Phil Jackson at the Lakers but before that he worked with Jackson at the Bulls, he said Michael related to his teammates the same way he related to his brother in childhood. He just battled his teammates and it was always about dominating them.

“James Worthy was a junior at North Carolina when Michael Jordan came in as a freshman, and in the interviews for this book Worthy told me ‘Michael was a bully and he bullied me.’”

Michael Jordan’s ability to get into “the zone”: “The thing that George Mumford found, the psychologist working with Michael, is that most people want to be in the zone but they can’t get there, but Jordan could access it on a regular basis. And he had all these devices for pushing his psyche into the zone of really high levels of performance. And if he didn’t have something to get him there, he would just make up things to get himself going, then he would take umbrage at things he had made up, but it didn’t matter as long as it got him into that state of high performance.”

The flip side of that was that Michael held himself accountable to the same standards.

“Michael laid his heart on the line every single night. (Former Bulls GM) Jerry Krause, who loathes Michael — in his interviews for the book he was always pointing out this or that — but when you hear Krause talk about Michael the player and how much he cared and how hard he played, you know if there was anything negative Jerry could say about it he would say it, but he said ‘I have no complaints about how he played for the Bulls.’”

Jordan and Scottie Pippen: “He was brutal on Pippen, but that’s what toughened Pippen up as a young player. They would have fierce battles. Phil liked to pit them against each other like two pit bulls in practice.”

Jordan’s reluctance to take political stances: “North Carolina had more (Klu Klux) Klan members than all the other Southern states combined and African-Americans in North Carolina were violently barred from politics…. Michael Jordan didn’t come from the kind of culture where people felt comfortable getting involved in politics, that was a quick way to real trouble. Once he got older he was willing to do his share, but boy people were all over him as a young player.”

Jordan’s gambling (and why he was never suspended for it): “No one, at any time, had the slightest allegation that Michael bet on basketball or bet on his own team. Michael’s gambling was either in a casino or on the golf course, or playing a card game at his house in Hilton Head. And if they were going to suspend him for that kind of gambling I’m not sure they could have an NBA, because the NBA is filled with people who gamble.”

Michael Jordan the team owner: “He goes to Charlotte and some of his draft picks are called into question. But as time goes on, everybody looks back at Michael the owner, or Michael the executive, and they see that his learning curve is and they see his worth ethic is much more than they realized. He has gone into Charlotte — which is the Chernobyl of the NBA, the old Hornets with George Shinn trashed the place, then the roll out of the Bobcats, which was a horrible roll out, and thanks to that Charlotte was a horrible market.

“I’m sure you saw some of those crowds with Charlotte playing Miami, that place was packed again. It was like the old Hornets. The longer people look at Jordan the owner the more they are going to realize he is there and he is doing a lot better. He is making something happen. People have underestimated him again.”

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.