Skip to main content

Sam Smith’s 1991 book entitled The Jordan Rules could have destroyed the Chicago Bulls. The book tarnished Michael Jordan‘s image and detailed Chicago’s locker room turmoil during its 1990-91 championship season.

Jordan initially ignored the details of Smith’s controversial anecdotes. But the ever-motivated MJ ultimately credited the book as a driving force for the Bulls’ success during the 1991-92 season.

Smith predicted the whole thing.

The Jordan Rules portrayed Michael Jordan and the Bulls in a controversial light, but its author said it could unite the team

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls basked in their glory after winning the 1991 NBA championship.

After years of playoff heartbreak and questions about whether he could lead the Bulls to a title, Jordan captured his elusive ring. It vaulted himself into a tier alongside Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The triumph must have been utterly euphoric.

Those exuberant feelings didn’t last very long.

Chicago Tribune beat writer Sam Smith released a book called The Jordan Rules in November 1991, just as the 1991-92 season got underway. The book chronicled Chicago’s run to its first title. It also damaged Jordan’s “good guy image.”

Smith wrote at length about MJ’s disdain for Will Perdue and past grievances with Bill Cartwright. Additionally, the book portrayed a frustrated Horace Grant, who often played the role of scapegoat for the Bulls.

As is detailed in ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, the book quickly shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Smith said in the documentary that the Tribune prevented him from coming to work after he received threats.

But Smith did not write the book out of malice. Instead, he suggested Phil Jackson would use it to unify and bring his team together in the quest to repeat.

Jordan brushed the book aside but later admitted it impacted his performance

Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan answers questions from the media during the 1992 NBA Finals
Michael Jordan talks with the media after the Bulls defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the 1992 NBA Finals | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

At first, Michael Jordan took the book with a grain of salt, as did some of his Bulls teammates.

According to a story published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 15, 1991, Jordan said (h/t Internet Archive) he would “laugh” at Smith’s documentation.

“We as a team know what the truths are,” Jordan said at the time.

Some of MJ’s teammates appeared to be in the same boat. Former Bulls forward Stacey King, who is described in the book as having threatened Jordan, called the best series of fictional stories “since Mother Goose.”

However, the book did alter psyches. Jordan said as much during an interview that aired during a matchup against the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day in 1991 (h/t YouTube). He admitted basketball felt a little less fun after the release of The Jordan Rules.

All of the drama and the weight of certain revelations took their toll behind the scenes. On the court, though, the Bulls dominated and showed a sense of collectivity.

Jordan proved Smith right by acknowleding The Jordan Rules brought the Bulls together

If Michael Jordan and the Bulls felt cracks in the foundation, they never showed it on the hardwood.

Chicago lost two of its first three games at the start of the 1991-92 campaign but then reeled off 14 consecutive wins. The Bulls went into All-Star break with a 39-9 mark and finished the season with a then-franchise record 67 wins.

Although the playoffs proved more challenging, Jordan and Co. stuck together. In fact, unheralded bench players helped spur an enormous comeback in the clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The moment seemed to indicate a team far more united than divided. Jordan acknowledged (h/t YouTube) the book as playing a role in that regard in a 1993 film entitled Air Time (9:20 mark).

“If anything, [The Jordan Rules] brought us closer together… to keep what happens between these 12 players and 15 people within us, instead of letting people get inside that circle. So it bonded us, and we focused more on playing basketball.”

Michael Jordan, Air Time (1993)

The Bulls had one of their best seasons ever, with Michael Jordan himself highlighting the book as a catalyst for success. If you ask Sam Smith, he might say it’s just what he intended.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.