Before Michael Jordan established himself as arguably the game’s greatest talent, he rose the ranks as a promising collegiate star. Jordan‘s stellar play earned him the chance to compete for the 1984 Olympic team. During this time, Boston Celtics star Larry Bird left an everlasting impact on Michael Jordan through a disrespectful act.
Larry Bird experienced quick rise to NBA stardom
After a stellar collegiate career, Bird quickly proved to be the real deal in a Boston Celtics uniform.
Through his first five seasons, the Indiana State product re-established the Celtics as a powerhouse, winning a pair of NBA titles and Finals MVP awards. He also won a regular-season MVP award, earned five All-Star Game selections and five All-NBA First Team nods, and collected the 1980 Rookie of the Year award.
Heading into the offseason before the 1984-85 campaign, Bird created an unforgettable moment that left a lasting imprint on the game’s next great talent.
Michael Jordan never forgot Larry Bird’s disrespect to him before he entered the NBA: ‘It was all business now, and I was beneath him’
Months before beginning his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was a member of the 1984 United States Mens’ Olympic team that featured Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins, and Wayman Tisdale.
Before Team USA headed off to participate in the Summer Olympics, the squad participated in eight games against NBA All-Star teams, including competing against Larry Bird. In the warmups prior to one of the Olympic trial games, Jordan experienced a unique moment involving Bird
“Rumblings about a new prodigy were heard in the NBA underground in the summer of 1984 when Olympian Jordan began embarrassing a collection of All-Star (albeit out-of-shape) pros in a series of exhibition games,” Wrote Curry KirkPatrick of Sports Illustrated. “During the pregame warmup one night in Indianapolis, an Olympic team ball bounced to the pros’ end of the floor. Jordan chased after it.
“Larry Bird picked it up. Instead of handing the ball to Jordan, Bird sneered and kicked it back over Jordan’s head. My world and welcome to it. ‘Bird was showing me it was all business now, and I was beneath him,” says Jordan. “I didn’t forget.’
Bird’s reaction at the moment said it all for Jordan as his competitive nature fueled his actions. The Celtics star was attempting to psychologically keep the stellar collegiate talent in his place before he began his NBA career.
The mental intimidation didn’t work on Jordan as he led the Olympic team to a comfortable win over Bird’s squad while winning all eight trial games against the NBA assembled teams. The North Carolina product then headed the charge for Team USA at the 1984 Summer Olympics. He averaged a team-best 17.1 points and smoothly guided the squad to the gold medal behind a perfect 8-0 record.
Nonetheless, the moment with Bird set the tone for Jordan for what to expect from his competitors at the next level.
Michael Jordan’s illustrious NBA career
Bird’s actions set the tone mentally for Jordan, giving him a dose of what to expect in the NBA.
He quickly became a dominating force, establishing himself as one of the league’s best talents. Jordan became the first player to win an MVP award and Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season, accomplishing that feat in his fourth campaign.
However, Jordan experienced difficulties finding any consistent playoff success through his first six years. He broke through in the 1990s, dominating the decade, winning six NBA titles and six Finals MVP awards, and earning four regular-season MVP awards.
Jordan’s sustained championship success elevated him to become recognized as arguably the greatest player in league history. Beyond that, it maintained him as the gold standard for the generations of NBA talent who followed him.