The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles featured another dominant win and gold medal by the Team USA led by Michael Jordan. Even though they won every single of their 8 games in a dominant fashion and Jordan was the best scorer on the squad; however, there was one moment in the tournament that everyone will forever remember. It was probably the only time anyone saw Michael Jordan almost start crying after harsh criticism from their head coach, the legendary Bobby Knight.
The moment happened in a game against West Germany after Team USA blew a 22 point led and Jordan had six turnovers. On top of that, he had a bad game offensively, making only four out of his fourteen shots. That type of performance didn’t sit well with Knight, who didn’t hesitate to call out Jordan in front of his teammates, ordering him to apologize to everyone, which resulted in Jordan almost bursting into tears.
You should be embarrassed by the way you played ‘he yelled at Jordan, whose eyes were tearing up as he stood speechless and shocked in the midst of his teammates.Sam Perkins, via Michael Jordan: The Life
Jordan was the best player on that squad, and the majority of plays on offense run through him, but against West Germany, he wasn’t as nearly as effective as he was in previous games. Former NBA player and Jordan’s teammate Sam Perkins said that neither he nor the rest of the squad thought Jordan played that bad, but Knight’s outburst towards Jordan served as a motivation to get him out of the slump.
We didn’t think Michael played that bad, really. But that was us. Coach Knight knew that was in store. And it propelled Michael.Sam Perkins, via Michael Jordan: The Life
The US eventually won the game 78-67, and in a press conference afterward, Jordan talked about the situation in the locker room between him and Knight. Jordan had the utmost respect for Knight, and even though Knight was highly critical, Jordan never held that against him because he was the coach and the ultimate authority within the team. It also seemed Jordan appreciated his approach to a certain degree because Knight wasn’t afraid to express himself or his displeasure with his performance.
It’s not that I’m scared of him. But he’s the coach, and he’s been successful with his style of coaching. And I’m not going to challenge that at all. Playing for him for four years is something I don’t want to think about. But he’s straightforward. He says what he means. Whatever words he uses, you don’t have any trouble understanding.Michael Jordan, via Michael Jordan: The Life
Jordan was already a well-known player in the nation at the time; even though he didn’t play in the NBA, Knight showed no one is above the team, and everyone who messes up will be held accountable. It was a wake-up call for Jordan, who, after that game, blew out the competition on their way to the gold medal.
Knight was a demanding coach who didn’t care if you were the team’s main star or the 12th player on the roster because the treatment was equal. Everybody had to respect the system he implemented, and Jordan was no different despite being the biggest star on the team. Knight had no tolerance for poorly executed decisions on the court, especially if it jeopardized the game plan and winning the game. His HOF coaching career is the ultimate showcase of why he is regarded as one of the best college coaches in NCAA history.