Michael Jordan, a quiet kid from North Carolina with a dream of greatness, turned into a basketball nemesis of nightmarish proportions, who frequently used his unique trash-talking skills to intimidate opponents.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the NBA was all about trash-talking. Players talked to their opponents, players, and coaches alike all of the time. After they scored and were on their way to defense (Chuck Person); when they knew they would get the ball to score the game-winning shot (Larry Bird); when they had the task of intimidating and eventually stopping somebody on defense (Dennis Rodman).
An article by Joe Vardon of The Athletic, who recently got the unique chance to interview some players from that unforgettable era, reveals that one particular player, none other than Michael Jordan, went as far as intimidating the opponents before the game by trash-talking in their locker room!
This unique story comes from Jordan’s biggest adversary back in the days, Atlanta Hawks’ superstar Dominique Wilkins. It wasn’t just their NBA All-Star slam dunk competition battles in 1987 and 1988, which MJ both won. After leading the NBA with 30.3 points per game in 1986-87, ‘Nique’ got used to watching the Bulls #23 being at the top of the NBA scoring list throughout the rest of his career.
So now, just days before the premiere of ‘The Last Dance’ documentary, Wilkins shared quite a story from the Hawks’ locker room, well before the opening tip-off of the Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks game in Chicago Stadium, on April 16th, 1987.
“He was something else, something else, man. I remember him walking into our locker room in Chicago (April 1987) and he walked right by me. And I’m like, what the hell is he coming in our locker room for? And he walked by me, walked by Kevin (Willis), and he tapped Randy Wittman on the leg, and he said, ‘Lace ’em up, it’s gonna be a long f--king night.’ And he walked out. He had 60 that night.”
Dominique Wilkins, via The Athletic
And Jordan soon backed his words with action. The Hawks’ guards, Randy Wittman, Doc Rivers, and Mike McGee, could all just watch Jordan score at will, going for an unbelievable total of 61 points in 41 minutes of action. That night, even though he was double-teamed continuously, Jordan converted 22-38 shots from the field and 17-21 trips to the charity stripe, while also collecting 10 boards and 4 steals.
The story behind Jordan’s line that night is that before the game, he needed 37 points to match the total of 3000 points in the season. And with the last game of the season scheduled vs. the Celtics in the Boston Garden, Jordan felt safer if he could match that total the night before that in Chicago.
It was the Atlanta Hawks who, despite Jordan’s heroics, won that particular game by 117-114 on their way to clinching a 57-25 record and the 1987-88 Central Division champions title.
In his 3rd pro season, Jordan started in all 82 regular-season games for the 40-42 Bulls. While playing 40 minutes per game, he led the league in scoring with 37.1 ppg to go along with 5.2 rpg and 4.6 apg.
The very next season (1987-88), Jordan climbed even higher - he won the Sporting News MVP award, The Defensive Player of the Year award, and the 1988 NBA All-Star Game MVP award (in Chicago). But, all of that was just an announcement of bigger things to come as Mr. Jordan helped build the Bulls’ dynasty, by leading the team to three consecutive NBA championship titles from 1991 to 1993, and then repeating that feat from 1996 to 1998.
And along the way, the G.O.A.T. didn’t forget to talk some trash with his opponents.