The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis described it as “The Mother of All Woj Bombs.” And that’s exactly what “The Jordan Rules” was. But when Sam Smith published the famous book in ’91, it echoed like nothing ESPN’s NBA Insider has dropped since.
It’s hard to imagine any sports nonfiction shaking up the NBA landscape to the same extent as Smith’s chronicles of the Bulls‘ 90-91 NBA season. The stuff he wrote about – the make-up of locker room sanctity – gets leaked daily, and very few pieces of information today’s fans find shocking. But three decades ago, it wasn’t like that.
So when Chicago Tribune’s writer issued 378 pages of behind-the-scenes controversies surrounding the NBA champions, focusing on the team’s best player, people loved it. But its protagonist, portrayed as a ruthless, jerklike teammate, didn’t.
I think a lot of misconception was coming from that book. With all the different encounters that we supposedly had or I had with certain players, you never saw the recovery from those incidents.Michael Jordan
Many episodes Smith described in the book – Jordan’s rebellion against the triangle, his mockery of the Bulls forward Stacey King, his fight against Will Perdue during practice – despite the Bulls collective success, made it seem the team was on the verge of downfall. But internally, guys didn’t allow it to become a distraction.
If Horace (Grant) and I get into argument, hey, when we stepped on the basketball court, we were teammates. I passed him the ball; he passed me the ball, we smiled, we complement each other.Michael Jordan
That’s what allowed the Bulls to eventually become a dynasty. Controversies, no matter the initiator, are unavoidable when working your way to the top. When they are overshadowed by talent, their negative impact is postponed — we’ve seen it with the Warriors. But when players have the ability to sweep them under the rug, their effect is annulled.
Out of all the controversies surrounding the greatest NBA dynasty of the ’90s, “The Jordan Rules” may have been the biggest one. But its characters found the way around it.
We as a team have grown to just push the book aside and say, ‘hey, we’re a team that was very successful last year. Turbulent season? No. If it was a turbulent season in terms of what we’ve accomplished last year, please, let us have another one.’ I think we’re all united to the point where we will not let that book affect our personal relationships as basketball teammates.Michael Jordan
In the short run, Michael Jordan and the Bulls did it, lifting five more Larry O’Briens in the span of seven years. Over two decades later, in one of the episodes of “The Last Dance,” MJ called out Horace Grant for being Smith’s main source of information for “The Jordan Rules.” So, in the long run, the book caught up with the Bulls. But when it mattered the most, they never allowed it to become a distraction.