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Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan is one of the best to put the ball in the hoop. Not many players could stop MJ at his apex, but His Airness had the utmost respect for a Central Division rival in Sidney Moncrief.

The former Milwaukee Bucks star might not be a household name as far as NBA fans go. But Moncrief’s peers understood the challenge he presented, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. He quickly made an impression on a young Jordan.

Sidney Moncrief and the Bucks were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference

Long before Giannis Antetokounmpo became the eminent NBA superstar in Milwaukee, Sidney Moncrief was the top talent for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks ruled the Central Division when Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984. Milwaukee won five consecutive division titles between 1980 — when the Bucks were still in the Western Conference — and 1984, making the Eastern Conference finals in 1983 and 1984. Not coincidentally, that run came shortly after Moncrief came into the league.

Milwaukee took Moncrief fifth overall in the 1979 NBA Draft. It didn’t take very long for him to become one of the best guards in the NBA. The Little Rock native made his first All-Star team in 1982 and was named All-NBA First Team just one season later.

Moncrief impacted the game in multiple ways and had four seasons averaging at least 20 points per game. But, as Jordan discovered, he really made his bread on the defensive end of the floor.

Michael Jordan and Sidney Moncrief shared a mutual admiration for one another

Bulls legend Michael Jordan dribbles and Bucks great Sidney Moncrief shoots in 1986
Michael Jordan and Sidney Moncrief had plenty of respect for one another | Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images; Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Michael Jordan had little problem becoming one of the top scorers in basketball, averaging 28.5 points in his rookie season with the Bulls. But MJ never took Sidney Moncrief lightly.

Jordan explained what made Moncrief such a difficult matchup back in 1986. He said the Bucks star exhibited limitless energy and never let his opponents breathe for a second.

“When you play against Moncrief, you’re in for a night of all-around basketball. He’ll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it.”

-Michael Jordan (1986), via the Los Angeles Times

It’s impressive that Jordan would hold Moncrief in such high esteem in this regard, considering Mike was one of the NBA’s foremost iron men in his era.

That wasn’t the only time MJ alluded to Moncrief’s greatness, though. During the episode of ESPN’s The Last Dance, he also said he felt he earned his “stripes” in his third NBA game, which came against Moncrief and the Bucks. Jordan scored 37 points and led the Bulls to a win in that game.

For his part, Moncrief reciprocated Money’s praise. He told Sports Illustrated in 1986 that “you don’t play Michael Jordan. You play at him.”

The Bucks legend’s prime came to an end just as Jordan established his ascent to the top of the NBA. Moncrief retired after the 1990-91 season, when MJ and the Bulls captured their first NBA title.

Still, the five-time All-Star was one of those guys who forced Jordan to elevate his game. He also might be one of the most underrated players in NBA history.

Sindey Moncrief is one of the most underappreciated players ever

Moncrief played just 11 seasons in the NBA, with knee injuries ultimately ruining the latter part of his career. His decline and meek exit from the league have made him something of a forgotten star in the annals of basketball history. It shouldn’t be that way.

Moncrief had one of the best runs in NBA history between 1982 and 1986. He made five All-Star teams and earned five All-NBA selections. The former Razorbacks star averaged 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on close to 60% true shooting. The latter mark is especially impressive and practically unheard of for guards in that era.

Not to mention, Moncrief was arguably the best defender in the NBA. He made All-Defensive First team four times and won Defensive Player of the Year twice. That’s greatness.

Michael Jordan and the Bulls understood just how good Moncrief was in his prime. He might be in the Hall of Fame, but Moncrief’s legacy shouldn’t be lost on modern NBA fans, either.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.


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