Hearing Michael Jordan talk is a rare occurrence. “The Last Dance” aside, he’s been very selective about appearing in media ever since hanging it up in 2003. Whenever MJ decides to do it, it’s an expression of the utmost respect for the one he’s showing his face for – Kobe Bryant’s memorial is the perfect example, as well as his Hall of Fame induction.
So when Michael agreed to do an interview for the Australian Story documentary “Luc Longley: One Giant Leap,” one thing became clear – No. 23 has the utmost respect for the first Australian in NBA history. However, the fact he showed it now doesn’t mean Jordan squandered it while the two were teammates in Chicago. Because if you think he took it easy on Luc, you have another thing coming. Here’s just one example.
He may not like this story. In ’98, we’re playing the Utah Jazz. The first quarter ends, Luc has 12 points, four blocks, and four rebounds. And I go to Luc, and I say, ‘That’s how you fu–ing play, man. You do that, we dominate.’ We’re up by 16. At the end of the game, Luc had 12 points, four rebounds, and four blocks. We were winning by 16, we lose by 15. And I just looked at Luc, and I said, ‘You know what, Luc, that is the last time imma give you a compliment in the middle of the game.’Michael Jordan, Luc Longley: One Giant Leap
MJ’s compliment turned into a lesson on consistency. You can’t just play for one quarter and allow yourself to become complacent. You have to push yourself for 48 minutes, night in and night out, always keeping your eyes on the ultimate prize. That was the standard MJ had set for the Bulls, and the game against Utah showed him Luc had the potential to get there but couldn’t get there alone.
It was like, ‘OK, I got to keep encouraging him. Even when he’s doing well, I got to keep encouraging him. Because he needs that reinforcement.’ Once I learned that I understood how our relationship was going to be established. A hug is probably more than a yell. A pat on the back is probably more than a punch.Michael Jordan, Luc Longley: One Giant Leap
What does this say about MJ’s leadership? It turns out he was much more adaptable than people think. The principle was always the same – do whatever it takes to win, and hold everyone to the highest possible standard. But his approach obviously wasn’t as universal as others make it seem.
To some guys, MJ was a jerk. And I’m sure in some instances, Longley would say the same thing. But had that always been the case, the two of them would have a much harder time coexisting on and off the court. It takes a great leader to recognize something like that and adapt. MJ obviously had that ability.
Mr. Nice Guys who lead the locker rooms will never be labeled as jerks, nor will there be someone to say playing for them is hard. But guess what, most of them will never match what MJ was able to do with the Bulls. Putting up with Michael was challenging, but being a part of the greatest dynasty in NBA history made it worthwhile. It’s just good to know that’s not the approach he used for all of his teammates.