Skip to main content

"You were just like everyone else"—Kenny Smith on the genesis of Michael Jordan's competitiveness

Kenny Smith and Michael Jordan were teammates during the latter's junior season at UNC
Kenny "The Jet" Smith reveals Michael Jordan stole all of his quotes from Dean Smith

Kenny "The Jet" Smith, Michael Jordan, Dean Smith

There’s much discussion on where Michael Jordan’s competitiveness originated. Many say that he was born with it, while Jordan claims it was instilled in him by his father. Commentator Kenny Smith, who was Jordan’s college teammate at North Carolina, has an interesting say on the matter. He knows exactly how Jordan’s competitive fire was kindled.

North Carolina

According to Smith, the legendary head coach Dean Smith sparked that flame in Jordan. Smith recalled that the iconic North Carolina head coach had various ways to push his players to the limit. Smith, who joined North Carolina when Jordan was a junior, said that Mike was your average basketball player.

"That's why I really think all of that competitive nature comes from coach Smith. The way he psychologically got us to go at each other as well as the other team, to keep us both sharp. All of those things I hear Michael says he does, I'm like 'Yeah you got that from coach Smith. You didn't think of these things. You weren't that competitive. You were just like everyone else.' But coach Smith kind of put the seed in him," Kenny said.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

It is an interesting comment, especially since Kenny was teammates with Jordan for just a year. After his junior season, MJ declared for the NBA draft and was picked third by the Chicago Bulls. Meanwhile, Smith stayed for four years at UNC before entering the league as the sixth overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft.

Against the grain

Smith’s reading of Jordan’s aura goes against the other narratives about the Bulls legend. Jordan himself claimed that his competitive fire was sparked in high school.

Jordan was “cut” from his high school basketball squad not because of a lack of skill but because the team needed someone taller than 6-foot-3. The guy that made the team was Leroy Smith — one of Jordan’s good friends. In his Hall of Fame speech, his Airness admitted that Smith was one of those responsible for unleashing the competitive beast in him.

"And then there's Leroy Smith. Now you guys think that's a myth. Leroy Smith was a guy when I got cut he made the team - on the Varsity team - and he's here tonight. He's still the same 6'7" guy - he's not any bigger - probably his game is about the same. But he started the whole process with me, because when he made the team, and I didn't, I wanted to prove not just to Leroy Smith, not just to myself, but to the coach that picked Leroy over me, I wanted to make sure you understood - you made a mistake dude," Jordan said.

Perhaps it’s a trivial point to trace the moment Jordan suddenly turned into a competitive madman. Kenny’s opinion is intriguing. But we have to note that he’s a commentator whose job is to hype up topics, including going against popular myths and beliefs. But we can all agree that Jordan experienced several key moments in his life that made him the man who won six titles.

Los Angeles Lakers forward A.C. Green

“You only missed 3 games in 15 years?!” — Byron Scott sits down with ironman A.C. Green

It's been two decades but Byron Scott still can't fathom former teammate A.C. Green's iron man streak.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach George Karl and Anthony Mason

“The huddles were the worst” — Ray Allen on chaotic Milwaukee Bucks with George Karl and Anthony Mason

It didn't take long for Ray Allen to realize bringing in Anthony Mason was a terrible idea

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

“I can tell you the truth and it won't sound like false modesty” — Michael Jordan on what made him a special basketball player

Tony Robbins asked MJ what made him the greatest player of all time, and he loved Jordan's answer.

Philadelphia 76ers forward P.J. Tucker

“As long as we’re winning, it doesn’t matter” — P.J. Tucker on his lack of shots on the Philadelphia 76ers

Tucker acknowledged the absence of James Harden is impacting his offensive output.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley and Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut

“He has zero technical fouls in 15 seasons, that’s amazing” — Andrew Bogut astonished by unbelievable Mike Conley stat

In almost 1000 NBA games, Mike Conley was the ultimate professional and Andrew Bogut is putting the spotlight on that.