Michael Jordan – Competitiveness
Current basketball superstars were asked to describe Michael Jordan with one word. Dwayne Wade said “Champion”, Chris Paul said “Greatness”, and LeBron James said “G.O.A.T”, which stands for Greatest of all Time. You would be hard-pressed to find many educated sports enthusiasts who would disagree with these assessments. The man won an NCAA championship at the University of North Carolina. He won two gold medals for USA Basketball. He won six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls, earning the NBA Finals MVP six times. He was the NBA MVP five times and was a 14-time NBA all-star. The thing was, Jordan was good all around. He was both an offensive and defensive star. He led the league in scoring 10 times and was named to the all-defensive team nine times. So, when he left the Chicago Bulls they erected a statue of him outside their United Center and retired his jersey #23.
The question this chapter will address is how and why Michael Jordan has become considered the greatest basketball player ever. What separates him from so many who had come before and who are playing now? Many have laced up their shoes the same way. Many have strived for greatness. Many have even achieved greatness. But only one is recognized as the “G.O.A.T.”
Reason #1 – Physical Abilities
“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”
To be fair, Jordan had an ideal body type for basketball. He was 6’6” and weighed 215 lbs. He was athletic, quick, and possessed an insane vertical leap. This allowed Jordan to soar through the air, performing numerous acrobatics between takeoff and landing. He thereby earned the nickname “Air-Jordan.” Scottie Pippen, his long-time teammate remarked, “Even in a game and I saw him do something like that, I would just grab my face and be like, ‘oh my God, what did I just see?’” He won back-to-back NBA Slam Dunk contests with spectacular dunks that the world had never seen. Still, his physical description matches any number of athletes who have played the game. As Jordan once said, “Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”
Reason #2: Motivated by Previous Failures
“I know fear is an obstacle for some people, but it is an illusion to me. Failure always made me try harder the next time.”
Jordan was motivated by his own failures. When he was in 10th grade at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, he failed to make the varsity team. He was devastated. He went home and cried in his pillow. This could have been the end of Michael Jordan, the basketball player. However, young Michael used that experience to motivate himself. He worked hard to show the coach who did not select him how wrong he was. He became the star player on the junior varsity team. Two years later as a senior, he averaged a triple double on the varsity team (29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) and received a scholarship to attend UNC.
Reason #3: The Courage to Take the Big Shot
“I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot… When you think about the consequences you will always think of the negative result.”
When the big moment comes in a game, some hide and others shine. Jordan always possessed the courage to take the last shot. When he was a freshman at UNC, time was winding down in the national championship game. His team was down one point with 30 seconds to go against heavily favored Georgetown. His teammates were passing the ball around. No one seemed to want to shoot. As time dwindled, Jordan took a shot from the corner and made it. Fast forward 18 years. Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were trying to win a 6th NBA championship. The situation was almost identical. With time winding down and his team down one point to the Utah Jazz, the ball found its way to Jordan. He drove to the basket, stopped on a dime, and hit the pull up jumper from 20 feet to win the game. Jordan was always clutch. The Bulls coach, Phil Jackson said, “He loves to compete and rise to that moment that is presented to him.”
Between those two moments, Jordan took numerous last-second shots in his career. In a Nike commercial, Jordan reminded us that the shots did not always go in: “26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Reason #4: Turning Weaknesses into Strengths
“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
Jordan may be basketball’s “G.O.A.T,” but success didn’t come easy in the NBA. His first five years in the NBA ended with a playoff loss. Most of those losses were at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, the so-called “Bad Boys” of basketball. The Pistons instituted the “Jordan Rules” when playing against Jordan, at that time the league’s leading scorer. They double and triple teamed him and fouled him hard every time he took the ball down the lane. This technique worked for several years. However, Jordan began to understand that his physical strength was not equal to the pounding that he was taking. Working out in the weight room, Jordan altered his body so he could withstand the pounding that the Pistons provided. He turned his weakness into his strength. The Bulls went on to win the NBA championship in each of the next three years.
Shortly after his third championship, Jordan’s father was brutally murdered at a highway rest area. Jordan lost his desire to play basketball and announced his retirement. Needing a new challenge he signed a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox and played one year. Some divine intervention may have come the next year when Major League Baseball players went on strike. Rather than become a replacement player, Jordan quit baseball.
When Jordan came back to basketball, he was a little older and didn’t have the same explosiveness. So he added a turnaround fade-away shot to his game. Once again, he turned his weakness (long-range shooting) into his strength. The Bulls once again went on to win three more championships from 1996-1998.
Reason #5: The Ultimate Competitor
“Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”
No one ever wanted to win more than Jordan. “People have no idea how obsessed Michael Jordan is with winning at something,” said reporter Michael Wilbon. “Not just beating you, but humiliating you so that you were no longer a threat to him again.” When he played for the Chicago Bulls he yelled and screamed at his teammates during practice. He set the standard of excellence and demanded that everyone live up to it. The Bulls owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, refused to draft players that he didn’t think had the mental toughness to withstand Jordan’s standards.
Jordan competed at everything. He didn’t want to lose a game of horse with his teammates and he had legendary matches against friends on the golf course. He couldn’t handle losing anything. Buzz Peters, a friend of Jordan relayed a story, “It was my mother, Michael, and myself playing a simple game of Go Fish, and I caught him cheating my mother. I said, ‘Are you that competitive that you are going to cheat my own mother? You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Reason #6: The Love of the Game
“Heart is what separates the good from the great.”
Michael Jordan believes that the love for the game drove him to be the best: “The greatest thing about the game of basketball, to me, is the passion, the love that I have for it…When you have love for anything you will go to the extreme. It was truly the love of the game that kept me pushing to be the best that I could be.”
This love of the game fueled his competitive juices. It drove him to work hard. It drove him to uncover and remedy his weaknesses. It drove him to test the limits of his potential. And all of this is what it takes to be the G.O.A.T.
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