By the 1996-97 NBA season, it was common knowledge around the NBA that Michael Jordan was a tough leader. His authoritarian leadership was a major part of the Bulls’ success.
That season, Robert Parish found himself in Chicago for his 21st season in the NBA. He had been part of the legendary Boston Celtic teams in the 80s, and just like everybody else, he was well-aware of Jordan’s dictatorial ways. However, Parish was a different breed. He did not let MJ push him around. The legendary center narrated one of his first practice sessions with the Chicago Bulls where Jordan tried to bully him.
The second team was beating up Jordan’s first team
“He was at half court and I was at the top of the key. I think he was a bit ticked off, too, because the second team was kicking their butt at the time and I was talking trash I didn’t back down. He said he would kick my butt, and I told him if he felt that strongly about it, come and get some. That was the end of it. We didn’t have another confrontation,” Parish shared on the Locked on Celtics Podcast.
Though this was the first time Parish teamed up with Jordan, the center already knew him like the back of his hands. He knows Jordan’s trash talk was a way to test out his new teammates. If you get riled up by Jordan’s smack, then he will be on your ear until you toughen up. But if you do not flinch and fight back, then Jordan will leave you alone.
“Michael has a tendency to test his teammates especially the new faces on the team. I think it was more of a test than a threat. He was testing my reaction to his being a bully.... I didn’t read anything into it. I think it was just a test to see how I would respond."
Robert Parish, Locked On Celtics Podcast
Parish was not “enamored” by Jordan
This is not the first time Parish shared this story about his first few encounters with Jordan as a teammate. In several interviews, Parish talked about how he once told Jordan, ”I’m not as enamored with you as these other guys. I’ve got some rings too,”. After all, Parish was already a decorated NBA player then. Before Jordan, he was teammates with Celtics legend Larry Bird, a nasty trash talker himself. Even more so, those Celtics teams handed MJ and the Bulls a fair share of defeats early in MJ’s career.
From the looks of it, Parish’s tactic with Jordan worked. After that incident, perhaps Jordan saw the center as one of the squad’s leaders. Parish played minimal minutes in his lone season with the Bulls. But given that he helped MJ snag his sixth title, we can say that The Chief had a way more significant role than just warming up the seats.