MJ’s concerns about him being portrayed as a “bad guy” peaked after the airing of the seventh episode of “The Last Dance.” The episode is centered around Jordan as a teammate. How do you perceive Michael after watching it is totally up to you. But the fact of the matter is Jordan wasn’t a pleasant teammate to be around, just because the standard he had set for all the other players with whom he shared a locker room. It resulted in one of the greatest dynasties we’ve ever seen, but the process has been tedious for some individuals.
Coming out of the University of Connecticut, Scott Burrell was a young promising basketball player. Instead of having regular rookie duties like carrying funny backpacks or bringing donuts for vets, Burrell got the pleasure of being MJ’s “guy to push.” It wasn’t for wrong reasons, though. Jordan recognized the talent Burrell had and did it to bring out the best of him. He wanted to ignite the fire in him. A fire he knew he possessed and the one that would pay dividends for the team over the long haul.
“What Scotty was lacking was a commitment, determination, seriousness. So he became, you know, my guy to kinda push, keep pushing. I tried to get him to fight me a couple of times, in a good sense. To get him, ‘All right. I’m tired of you picking on me.‘ You know, that type of mentality. I could never get that. He’s such a nice guy. But I know we were going to need him at some point in time. And he’s going to remember this, and he’s going to get out there, and he’s going to fight.”Michael Jordan, The Last Dance
That was Jordan’s way of leading. It became a blueprint for other superstars after MJ. At least for ones who didn’t care about the public perception of them as people but were laser-focused on getting the job done. The prime example was Kobe Bryant. According to some of his teammates, Kobe also wasn’t fun to be around. However, his being hard on his teammates had different reasons behind it. There were guys like Smush Parker, whose lack of professionalism and laziness never sat well with Bean. And then there were guys who Kobe saw as the vital piece of a championship puzzle, but they didn’t see themselves as one. Just ask Sasha Vujacic, a Slovenian sharpshooter. Kobe once made Sasha cry during practice and sought Jordan’s opinion on whether he went too far. But when the lights were the brightest, during the game 7 of 2010 NBA Finals, Vujacic, who played a total of five minutes in that game, hit two biggest free-throws of the game, sealing Kobe’s fifth championship.
Other than having the same unmatched competitive drive, Kobe and MJ also were the same as leaders. They were both at times ruthless towards their teammates, but all in favor of a greater goal. It was all to bring the best out of them. The ones who couldn’t understand it weren’t the guys Kobe and Jordan were going in a war with. They weren’t worth the trouble. That’s not a bad thing to say. That’s just a fact.
When you hear and read about the players who went through the “torture” of being under their wing and seeing them being appreciative and understanding about the whole process, it instantly puts the end on the conversation about Mamba and MJ being bad people because of it. They earned the right to demand greatness out of everyone because they were both the epitome of greatness. They put in a countless number of hours in a gym and held everyone by the same standard. All they demanded is for everyone to love the game of basketball nearly as much as they did and to have the same respect for the game as they both did.
At the end of the day, Sasha became an NBA champion and will always be remembered as Phil’s go-to guy to hit the biggest pair of free throws in a season. Burrell also won a championship and made all of Jordan’s harassments worth it. Today he is appreciative of it and understands the reasoning behind it. It wasn’t an easy task to be a Chicago Bull during the 90s, and MJ was preparing him for it.
“I hope people don’t get a bad view of Michael after this movie. What he said and what he did in practice, the way he pushed me, was all in motivation, to motivate me to be a better player, to be mentally prepared for any tough challenge that might face me during that year. There’s nothing like playing for the Chicago Bulls. You have to be ready every day, and that’s what he wanted me to be to make myself better and make the team better.”Scott Burrell, NBC Sports
Both Jordan and Bryant did their parts as leaders, and it’s another parallel drawn between the two. They were ruthless, but I’ve never considered Kobe a bad man for it, nor will I see Jordan as a bad man after seeing some behind the scenes footage showcased in the episode. The ones who couldn’t take it broke down—the ones who could now have championship rings on their fingers. There isn’t a better validation in the NBA.