Michael Jordan was the ultimate alpha dog in the game of basketball, with a mindset that is almost nonexistent in today's NBA. Apart from having tremendous talent, Jordan was a hard worker that accepted challenges and understood that practicing hard was the only way he could get better and be ready for any opponent and team that stood in his way.
That type of behavior and mentality was instilled into Jordan early on in his basketball career when he was still a freshman at UNC. The late great coach Dean Smith was known for running a tight ship during practices and demanded that his players are hard-working and focused.
Jordan loved the challenge Smith imposed on him
When Jordan joined the basketball program at UNC, he immediately saw that coach Smith meant business and was the right mentor for him at that stage of his young basketball career. In the book Driven From Within, he explains what type of challenges Smith would impose on the team and Jordan personally. He admitted he was initially shocked by Smith's intensity in practice, but he appreciated it because it humbled him and that type of challenge was what he was looking for in order to further elevate his game.
"Coach Smith would challenge you mentally. I remember my first mistake. I went baseline and tried to do a reserve move, and he just yelled "where do you think you are? Do you think you're back at E.A. Laney High School? You're not. You're in college. Do you think that was a good shot? Obviously, you can't say yes. He made you think. He never cursed at anybody. He was the perfect guy for me. He kept me humble, but he challenged me. He gave me confidence by giving me compliments when he thought I needed them."
Jordan admitted to being afraid of Smith
As a coach, Smith had a structure in place that proved to work, and Jordan himself was surprised to see how well organized the practices were in the sense that everything was on time. Even after he left UNC, Jordan never saw a coach that had such authority in practices and had the ultimate control of time for every drill and setting the right tone for his players. Even though Smith was extremely passionate during practices, and he didn't shy from yelling and screaming at players, Jordan was surprised by the fact Smith never cursed out anybody, which is unusual for coaches that use this type of coaching method in practice.
"But I was totally afraid of Coach Smith because he was a big name in the state of North Carolina and I was this kid from a small city. I never even thought about calling him anything other than Coach Smith. It was intimidating the way he controlled practices. I have never seen practice controlled the way it was at North Carolina. Every minute was thought out. If a drill was supposed to end at 3:10, it ended at 3:10, and the next one started. I never thought he was the kind of guy to get down on the floor the way he did in practice. He screamed and yelled. He never did that in game. I was shocked at how he got into practice, how he controlled every minute, how he taught. They made practice challenging, which was right down my alley. They made it fun to learn."
During his time at UNC, Jordan won one NCAA championship in 1982 when they beat the Georgetown Hoyas in the final game. Jordan was never shy to admit that coach Smith was one of the most influential persons in his life, not just because he taught him the fundamentals of the game and how to become a champion but was also another father figure in his life. Smith preached hard work, consistency, and teamwork as the cornerstones for success, and Jordan fully embraced that for the rest of his legendary NBA career.