Michael Jordan rode Scott Burrell. Mercilessly. Getting into him physically, cussing at him, going at him hard.
“Scottie Burrell was a talented guy…” but he lacked a killer instinct Jordan said during Episode 7 of The Last Dance. “So he became my guy to kinda push — keep pushing, keep pushing. I tried to get him to fight me a few times — in a good sense, like I’m tired of you picking on me, that type of mentality. I could never get him. He’s such a nice guy.”
Sunday night The Last Dance delved into the legend of how hard Michael Jordan drove his teammates — to the point of trying to fight them.
“My mentality was to go out and win, at any cost,” Jordan said in the documentary. “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 as me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s going to be hell for you.
Not all of Jordan’s teammates backed down.
“I have a lot of patience as a human being, but I tend to snap at some point, because I’m extremely competitive too,” said Steve Kerr, describing the time he and Jordan got into it at practice. Things built up and built up throughout that practice with Jordan testing Kerr, Kerr not backing down, and Phil Jackson trying to control it by calling fouls tight.
Then Jordan fouled Kerr hard. Kerr punched Jordan in the chest. Jordan punched Kerr back in the face.
Later that day, Jordan called to apologize, and the two talked it out.
“In a weird way, the best thing I ever did was stand up for myself with him,” Kerr said. Jordan concurred.
Jordan’s ferocious style of leadership had the desired effect — motivation through fear.
“We were his teammates and we were afraid of him. Just fear.” Jud Buechler said.
“Let’s not get it wrong, he was an a*******. He was a jerk. He crossed the line numerous times,” Will Perdue said. “But as time goes on, you look back at what he was trying to accomplish, he was a hell of a teammate.”
“His theory was, if you can’t handle pressure from me, you’re not going to be able to handle the pressure of the NBA playoffs,” Kerr said. “So he talked trash in practice, he went after guys. He challenged guys.”
It worked for these Bulls.
“Winning has a price. And leadership has a price. I tried to pull 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, made me endure all the things I endured,” Jordan said, referring back to the Bad Boy Pistons.
In fan mythology, the intensity with which Jordan led became the only way to lead a team — “players today are soft.” The reality is there is more than one way to lead, and Kerr — along with Stephen Curry — proved that with the modern-day Warriors. Tim Duncan was able to lead the Spurs to five rings by getting guys to play with him, not feel like they played for him. LeBron James can be the same way.
There is not just one way to lead. It’s possible to lead and win without being an a******. It’s possible to play with joy and not anger.
That’s just not who Michael Jordan was or is. It’s not how he led.
“He couldn’t have been nice,” BJ Armstrong said during the documentary. “With that kind of mentality he had, you can’t be a nice guy. He would be difficult to be around if you didn’t truly love the game of basketball. He is difficult.”
“It is who I am,” Jordan said, tearing up when talking about how he was perceived. “It’s how I played the game. It’s my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.”