Michael Jordan is considered the greatest NBA player of all-time and rightfully so, winning everything imaginable from an individual and team perspective. He made a name for himself as soon as he got to the league and was a lot better than everybody initially expected. However, it took him several years, seven to be precise, to win his first championship, and for him, it was a tough road that had a lot of failures before achieving the ultimate goal.
In an older interview from 2004 with Ahmad Rashad that featured other great athletes from other sports, Michael Jordan talked about when he took his game to the next level. The notion is that exceptional individuals reach a certain point when it’s hard for them to elevate their game even further. Jordan understood that despite being one of the best and most talented players in the NBA wasn’t enough, and he’d have to work hard to get and stay at the top.
The first significant challenge Jordan often mentions were the Detroit Pistons that tested him in every way possible, mostly physically because of their aggressive style of play. When you are the alpha male in a league like the NBA, staying on top is a hard job, and you have to find the motivation to do it all over again, which Jordan did successfully in his career.
It’s a recognition that you have a talent that someone else wants or they wish they had. I’m getting up beating everybody to the gym. When I started lifting, I was tired of getting beat up. Detroit beat me up so bad I was taking a physical beating, and I had to get myself physically prepared to take the beating. If you want to be the best, you know they are going to come after you, and my work ethic improved because I knew people were trying to jump ahead of me or try to beat me or be better than me. I wouldn’t let that happen, not individually.Michael Jordan, via ESPN
Jordan always gave the Pistons their respect, even though they hated each other and were real rivals for years before the Bulls took over the reign over the eastern conference and the NBA. The Pistons challenged Jordan in so many ways, and it took him a few years before he matured and toughened up enough even though he was already the best player in the league. Sometimes being the best individual isn’t enough, and just like Jordan said, you always have to work hard on your game because the competition is way too fierce, and there isn’t a lot of room for mistakes.