If there was one word to describe Michael Jordan, what would it be? Perhaps it would be “winner” as Jordan helped lead the Chicago Bulls to six championships. “Fearless” is another option since nothing ever seemed to rattle one of the greatest players of all time. But ultimately, the best word to use is “competitor”, where winning was the only option. And nothing — not even a plea from a legendary public address announcer — was going to get in the way.
Michael Jordan was a fierce competitor
MJ’s legendary desire to win wasn’t formed during his title run in Chicago. Rather, it was born while His Airness was just a kid from North Carolina.
Backyard battles with his older brother Larry helped toughen him up at an early age. He learned early how to bounce back from adversity after failing to make the varsity basketball team in high school. From there, Jordan would go on to become a superstar player at North Carolina and the third overall pick of the Bulls in 1984.
Even when Chicago failed to make it to the NBA Finals through his first six seasons, MJ had no quit. Routinely playing all 82 games and averaging 40 minutes a night, Michael became the best scorer in basketball. And his desire to win carried into the playoffs too, evident by his 63-point game against the Boston Celtics in 1986.
While Jordan was always competing on the court, he was just as hungry to be the best off of it. Whether it was playing high-stakes rounds of golf or cheating in Yahtzee, no one could tell MJ it was OK to lose every now and again.
The Los Angeles Lakers PA announcer tried to throw Jordan off
For 40 seasons, Lawrence Tanter has been the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers. Tanter has announced countless Laker legends in the starting lineup, from Magic Johnson to LeBron James. He has also been there to witness hundreds of visiting players coming to LA, including the great Michael Jordan.
In an interview with J.A. Adande through WBUR, Tanter recalled some of the great moments of his long journey behind the microphone. One of the first stories he told perfectly encapsulated Jordan’s laser-sharp focus and fiery competitiveness.
“I remember one night, Michael Jordan, in a preseason game, was just destroying the Lakers — lighting the team up. And he came back into the game in the fourth period. And I normally don’t do this, but I told Michael — he was in front of me in the scorer’s bench about to check in — I said, ‘Mike, lighten up a little bit.’ And he looked at me — have you ever had the devil look at you and say like, ‘How dare you ask me to lighten up? That’s not a part of my motif. I don’t lighten up.’ And I didn’t say anything after that. I said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Jordan. I apologize.’Lawrence Tanter
Even in a meaningless preseason game, you can assume Jordan is going to do everything in his power to come out on top.
Michael Jordan’s competitiveness resulted in numerous accolades
There are players who have an enormous desire to win but fail to reach their goal. Air Jordan is not one of those players.
From an individual standpoint, Michael finished his 15-year career with 10 scoring titles, 11 All-NBA selections, and 14 All-Star appearances. He was a beast on the defensive end too, earning All-Defense honors nine times and winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1987-88. His success landed him five MVP awards, tied with Bill Russell for the second-most in NBA history.
But individual success wasn’t enough for Michael. #23 finished with six titles, all from 1991 through 1998. He showed up and put the team on his back for each one, winning Finals MVP all six times. Additionally, he ranks second to LeBron in all-time playoff points, although James has an 87-game advantage over his predecessor.
Jordan was out to win at any and all costs. And, as Tanter’s story explains, he treated an exhibition contest and Game 6 of the Finals all the same.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.