Episodes 7 and 8 of “The Last Dance” were filled with memorable quotes giving the world a glimpse into Michael Jordan’s psyche and how he motivated his Chicago Bulls teammates.
Detailing MJ’s retirement from basketball, his baseball sabbatical, his father’s murder, his return to the Bulls and most of all, his relationship with his teammates, this week’s episodes were chock-full of intriguing tidbits, eye-opening stories and memorable quotes that paint the picture of who Jordan was both on and off the court.
We’ve already covered the summary and reactions for this week, as well as five new things we learned, so just like we did for Episodes 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6, it’s time for the five best quotes from Episodes 7-8.
“How can I phrase this delicately? Total bulls**t.” — Brian McIntyre, former NBA senior VP of PR, on rumors of Jordan’s “secret suspension” (Episode 7)
After a season riddled with stories about his gambling habits, Michael Jordan’s decision to walk away from basketball in October of 1993 fueled speculation that it was somehow a secret suspension from the league. Even worse, the death of his father in August was also connected to rumors about MJ’s gambling.
“When his dad was murdered, all the articles and the speculation that came out, it was not journalism’s finest hour,” McIntyre said.
In his moment of grief, losing his father, mentor, hero and friend, Jordan had to deal with muckraking attempting to connect his gambling to his father’s disappearance and murder.
“There isn’t a thimble’s worth of evidence to connect that horrible incident to Michael Jordan’s gambling or any other aspect of Michael Jordan’s behavior,” Bob Costas said.
When Jordan announced his retirement a few months later, people couldn’t understand why the world’s greatest athlete was stepping away in the middle of his prime. Between James Jordan’s death, the strain of winning three straight titles, not having enough motivation to keep playing and the lingering desire to play basketball, it made sense, but none of that stopped people from believing commissioner David Stern had actually suspended him for gambling.
“You’re telling me that David Stern, the ultimate capitalist, takes his No. 1 player on his No. 1 franchise and unilaterally decides to lower the value of the rest of the league’s franchises by taking him out and the Bulls out, effectively, for some secret penalty … and no one ever finds out about it?” Mark Vancil, author of “Rare Air,” asked.
Getting the scoop on a juicy story is one thing, but feeding misinformation — especially when it’s of such a harmful nature regarding someone in mourning — is downright shameful.
“Let’s not get it wrong, he was an a**hole, he was a jerk, he crossed the line numerous times. But as time goes on and you think back about what he was actually trying to accomplish, you’re like, ‘Yeah, he was a hell of a teammate.'” — Will Perdue (Episode 7)
As a public figure and role model to kids around the world, Michael Jordan was a nice guy. As a teammate? Not so much, and Will Perdue hasn’t been the only one to say so in The Last Dance.
“My mentality was to go out and win at any cost.” Jordan openly admitted. “If you don’t want to live that regimen or mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me, ’cause I’m gonna ridicule you until you get on the same level as me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s gonna be hell for you.”
From the behind-the-scenes footage to “The Jordan Rules” to dozens of other firsthand accounts, everyone knows Jordan could be cruel in the way he challenged his teammates. He did it as a way to push them, but as Scott Burrell points out, he also never realized a lot of those guys could never hope to get to that same plane as Air Jordan. Even so, the results were undeniable, and very few of his Bulls teammates seem to have problems with how everything worked out in the end.
“He was pushing us all to be better because he wanted to win,” Bill Wennington said. “And guess what? It worked.”
“This dude was like a vampire. For real.” — Reggie Miller on Jordan’s summer of ’95 (Episode 8)
Coming off a second-round playoff defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic in 1995, Jordan’s baseball body needed to become a basketball body again. He needed to improve his conditioning and reassert his status as king of the NBA hill after only just returning from a 21-month baseball sabbatical.
“I honestly think one of the best things that could’ve possibly happened, as much as everyone hates losing, is that we lost to Orlando,” Wennington said. “Because Michael came back with a vengeance.”
The problem was, he was also supposed to film for his movie Space Jam that summer. Luckily, Warner Bros. helped him out by building a facility with weights and an indoor court where he could continue to train on the lot while filming. As more and more NBA stars started to attend those pickup games, the Warner Bros. court became the place to play over the summer.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Reggie Miller said. “I don’t know how he filmed all day and then still had the energy to play three hours. We would play until 9 or 10 at night, and he’d still have to get weightlifting in, and then his call time was at like 6 or 7 in the morning, so I don’t know how.”
“By the time camp started, he was in incredible shape, but he was also, like, frothing at the mouth,” Steve Kerr recalled. “That’s how angry he was from losing. So every day in training camp was just a war. Every day was a battle, and he talked a lot of s**t.”
“When you play as long as he did, at the level he did, he constructed reasons why to play hard that night. These little slights were deep indignations to him. That’s all he needs. That’s like throwing meat to a tiger.” — Mark Vancil, author of “Rare Air” (Episode 8)
MJ was a guy who was used to being on top, but when you’re that good, sometimes you have to be creative in finding ways to stay motivated. Nobody was better at that than Jordan, who often exaggerated perceived insults to his status as the game’s greatest player in order to maintain that edge.
“He’d find a game to keep him interested, but it was all in his mind,” Vancil said.
In this week’s episodes, the unfortunate tale of LaBradford Smith comes to light thanks to David Aldridge, who recounts how Smith lit up the Bulls for 37 points on a night where Jordan didn’t shoot well. The following night, in the second game of their-back-to-back, MJ personally torched Smith for 36 points by halftime, and 47 total for the game, because he said Smith had told him, “Nice game, Mike” after the first meeting.
Years later, Jordan admitted he had made that whole encounter up.
“There’s nothing he would not to do get himself to the place where he’s going to beat you,” Michael Wilbon said.
“Winning has a price. And leadership has a price.” — Michael Jordan (Episode 7)
To this point in The Last Dance, no moment has provided an unequivocal, unflinching gaze into Michael Jordan’s psyche as much as this mic drop moment at the end of Episode 7.
We’ll let Jordan’s tirade of cascading emotions speak for itself:
“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 gonna take anything less. Now if that meant 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’re gonna 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 and be a part of that as well. Look, I don’t have to do this. I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t wanna play that way, don’t play that way.”
For better, worse and everything in between, that quote captures the essence of Michael Jordan. That mindset is what made him the GOAT, a jerk of a teammate and one of the greatest NBA winners ever.