During his Hall of Fame career, Michael Jordan routinely got away with fouls. Even if it were obvious that MJ committed a foul, referees would give the Chicago Bulls superstar the benefit of the doubt.
Fans who rooted against the Bulls in the ’90s were always curious why Jordan got away with fouls. Former Chicago guard John Paxson, who won three championships with His Airness, revealed the answer in 2017.
Why did Michael Jordan get away with fouls?
During an interview with Melissa Isaacson of The Athletic in 2017, Paxson said former NBA supervisor of officials Darrell Garretson told the Bulls why Jordan got away with fouls, and other players didn’t.
“He told us, ‘Look, we all know the fans are here to see the great players like Michael Jordan, so if there’s a play where Jordan and Paxson are together, and there’s a foul and Jordan smacked the guy on the arm, I’m giving the foul to Paxson because the fans don’t want to see Jordan foul out of the game.’ So I knew where I stood,” Paxson said. “But that didn’t make me feel any better.”
Fans paid a lot of money to go to games to watch Jordan play, so it makes sense that the officials officiated him differently than other players. Utah Jazz supporters still believe Black Jesus pushed off on Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals on his game-winning jumper. However, there’s another play Jazz fans may take issue with when it comes to the Bulls legend.
Michael Jordan may have intentionally tripped John Stockton on Steve Kerr’s game-winner in 1997
With 5.0 seconds left in regulation of Game 6 of the 1997 Finals between the Jazz and Bulls, Steve Kerr hit a jumper to give Chicago a two-point lead. He was wide open after John Stockton left him to double Jordan, who may have intentionally tripped the Jazz star so that his teammate had a clean jumper.
Fans rarely talk about this clever move from Jordan, but Kerr and Scottie Pippen touched on it during a conversation with Rachel Nichols of ESPN in 2018.
“Stockton kind of slipped,” Kerr said. “I think he got his feet tangled up.” Pippen also added, “Yeah, I saw that on the film. I watched this a lot. Stockton tripped trying to get back to him.”
The Bulls beat the Jazz in the 1997 and 1998 Finals, with Jordan winning both Finals MVPs to finish his career with six. Stockton and Karl Malone came so close to becoming champions, but Chicago had the best player in the world, who may have had an advantage since refs swallowed their whistle for him.
Since Jordan retired, plenty of superstars have gotten favorable calls, most notably LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. Fans want to see players play and put up incredible numbers, not watch them sit on the bench due to foul trouble.
However, although it’s unfortunate that some players get officiated differently than others, the NBA could be cleaner to watch next season.
NBA plans to limit non-basketball moves used to draw fouls
The NBA plans to implement new rules for the 2021-22 season that will limit non-basketball moves that players have used to draw fouls over the past couple of seasons. Harden, Trae Young, and Luka Doncic are among the All-Star players accused of hunting fouls and manipulating their bodies to get referees to blow their whistle.
Under the new rule, if the offensive player leans into the defender at an abnormal angle or jumps sideways, he will be called for an offensive foul instead of the defender being penalized. Jordan, the majority governor of the Charlotte Hornets, may not have to worry about his players changing their games since no one in Charlotte really hunts for fouls like Harden and Young do.
It will be fascinating to see how this new rule impacts scoring in 2021-22. However, the elite players will likely still get beneficial calls since they are the money-makers, and fans aren’t paying top dollar to see them in foul trouble.