Michael Jordan wasn’t looking to make any friends on the basketball court.
“My mentality was to go out and win, at any cost,” said the NBA legend on an episode of the “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary about his meteoric rise and the dynasty he built in Chicago. And that meant holding his teammates to a high standard.
“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,” said former teammate Steve Kerr, who is now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. “And so he talked trash in practice. He went at guys, he challenged guys.”
Another former teammate, Will Perdue, didn’t mince words when recalling what it was like to practice with Jordan: “Let’s not get it wrong, he was an asshole. 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 were like, Yeah, he was a hell of a teammate.“
Jordan didn’t deny that he was tough on his teammates. If he didn’t think they were practicing to his standard, he wasn’t shy about letting them know that, “I’m going to ridicule you. … If you don’t get on the same level, then it’s going to be hell for you.”
His leadership style, though harsh, produced results — and his teammates recognized that.
Ultimately, “he was pushing us all to be better because he wanted to win,” said Bill Wennington, who played with Jordan and the Bulls from 1993-1999. “And guess what. It worked.”
Jordan, who was drafted by Chicago in 1984, turned a mediocre team into a dominant force. He led the Bulls to their first ever NBA Championship in 1991 and six championships overall, including two three-peats (1991-93 and 1996-98).
“Winning has a price,” Jordan acknowledged in the documentary, which ESPN and Netflix made in partnership with Jump 23, Jordan’s production company. “And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged.”
He set massive expectations for his teammates, but they were the same that he set for himself. “You ask all my teammates,” said Jordan, and they’ll all agree that “he never asked me to do something that he didn’t f—— do.”
Episodes nine and ten of “The Last Dance” will premiere on Sunday, May 17 at 9 p.m. ET. It will air on ESPN in the U.S. and on Netflix outside of the U.S.