Was Michael Jordan too hard on his team-mates? Heatcheck’s Ovie Soko and Mo Mooncey discuss Jordan's treatment of his fellow Bulls depicted in The Last Dance.
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Throughout The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary available on Netflix via Sky Q, Jordan was portrayed as a highly-demanding leader on court and in practice, using his physical skills to dominate his team-mates and his often-withering criticism of them to voice the need for them to improve.
In episode seven of the series, back-up Bulls center Jud Buechler revealed "we were scared of him". Current Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who won three NBA championship with the Bulls Jordan, recounted the story of a fight he had with Jordan in practice.
An emotional Jordan, asked to reflect on his style of leadership, was almost moved to tears when he said "Winning has a price. 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. I earned that right.
"Once you joined the team you lived at a certain standard that I played the game, I wasn't going to take anything less. I never asked my team-mates to do anything I wouldn't do. When people see this, they will say 'he wasn't really a nice guy, he may have been a tyrant'. That's you, because you never won anything.
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"I wanted to win but I wanted [my team-mates] to be a part of that as well. It is who I am. That is how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don't want to play that way, don't play that way."
Was Jordan's leadership essential to the Bulls' run of six NBA titles in eight seasons or was he too hard on his less-talented team-mates?
"The majority of people are not able to win at the level that Michael Jordan won," said Soko. "It is very tough for us to sit here and say someone who was able to consistently achieve greatness was wrong to expect greatness out of everyone around him.
"Would Jordan have achieved the things he achieved if he wasn't as hard on his team-mates? We don't know but we do know the formula he did use worked every single time he showed up in the NBA Finals. I find it hard to question his method of winning. It was 100 per cent flawless."
"Every great player has their own leadership style", said Mooncey. "The leadership style of Michael Jordan is very different to [that of former San Antonio Spurs franchise star] Tim Duncan, for example. You have to go with what works for you and your personality.
"What people are perceiving as [Jordan being] harsh towards with team-mates, it is not coming from the place of being a horrible person. It is coming from a place of wanting them to improve as well. He set the standard of greatness and expected his team-mates to elevate their games.
"You have got to remember they were playing in the 1990s where the game was a lot tougher. There were certain guys on that team that needed to become tougher. If he didn't prepare them in practice, they would not be ready to go up against the Pistons and the Knicks.
"People criticise Jordan for not going up against (Dennis) Rodman and (Charles) Oakley in practice but those guys didn't need toughening up. Look at a guy like Scott Burrell in episode eight of The Last Dance, Jordan took him under his wing to help him improve. It might not have looked that way to the viewer with Michael ripping him and making jokes, but that was his way of showing, 'I want you to be better, and I'm going to teach you how to be better'."
While it was impossible for Jordan's team-mates to match his physical abilities, Soko believes his mental approach is something each of his team-mates could emulate.
"When you are talking about professional athletes, physically everyone is gifted in different ways and bring different things to the table but, mentally, that is something everyone has the ability to work on. Everyone can improve their mental approach. There is no room for slip-ups in that area," he said.
"Physically, you can only be pushed to a certain limit. Mentally, I feel like we all have the capacity to improve every day. Ultimately, that is what Jordan was trying to pull out of different guys. He was trying to challenge guys mentally. To win championships, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of a tough battle, mental toughness [makes the difference].
"We saw that in The Last Dance when the Bulls faced the 'Bad Boy' Detroit Pistons. There was a point where the Bulls started complaining to the referees. That was the point the Pistons knew they had them. Once you break someone mentally, they are beaten."
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