The list of players who stood up to Michael Jordan and lived to tell the tale is short. Most get crushed on the court, and many were out of the league shortly after challenging the GOAT. But of the few who earned MJ's respect, Robert Parish could be at the top of the list.
Parish demanded his respect
The Celtics legend finished his illustrious career as a Chicago Bull, and from the get-go, Parish made sure he was treated with the proper respect.
“I told him, ‘I’m not as enamored with you as these other guys. I’ve got some rings too,’ At that point, he told me, ‘I’m going to kick your ass.’ I took one step closer and said, ‘No, you really aren’t.’ After that, he didn’t bother me.”
Robert Parish, ESPN
That was enough for Jordan; he knew Parish still had the edge and could be counted on in big moments. But, as much as the ultimate Alphas love people that stand up to them, they don't like the sensation of losing. Robert Parish didn't just stand up to MJ; he walked away as the winner that day. The feeling didn't sit right with Jordan. Parish recently shared new details on the entire situation.
“We were scrimmaging; we played like six games going to five points. And so, after the first two games, Phil (Jackson) put me with the second unit who I always played with. You know, my boys, we proceeded to kick their (the first unit’s) butts like four straight games. And Michael took offense to it, so I asked him, ‘How did you like that butt whooping?’
He took offense to it because clearly no one ever manned up to him, you know, challenged him. So he said if I wasn’t careful, he was going to kick my ass. And I told him, ‘I’m not in awe of you. I’ve played with some of the baddest fellas there walking the court … And I’m supposed to be in awe of you?' You know, he’s looking at me like I had slapped his mug (laughs).”
Robert Parish, NBC Sports
Parish still respected Jordan
Parish said Derrick Dickey (Dickey Simpkins) couldn't believe anyone would talk to MJ like that, and he wasn't the only one in the locker room. Keep in mind; that this was in '96/'97, the peak of MJ's godlike status. "The Last Dance" showed us how isolated from even his teammates, Jordan was at that time - his celebrity status was off the charts, and even for most of his teammates, Michael Jordan was more a myth than a real person. Not for Parish.
The Chief came into the league in 1976, two decades before that happened. He shared the court with almost every NBA legend and is still the leader in games played in the NBA - 1611 of them. If there was anyone who had the career preparing them not to be in awe of Michael Jordan in 1996, it was Robert Parish.
But, I don't think Parish didn't like MJ. He said he had the utmost respect for Jordan and didn't have a problem with his confrontational leadership style. With a ring on his hand at the end of the season, how could he?