Michael Jordan Refused to Pass the Ball to a Teammate Despite Phil Jackson Calling a Timeout to Tell Him to Make the Pass
Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan was a demanding teammate, so much so that he occasionally refused to pass the ball to certain players if he felt they weren’t ready. Bulls head coach Phil Jackson didn’t always agree with Jordan’s reasoning. He wasn’t afraid to call out his superstar.
During the Bulls’ second three-peat, Jordan declined to pass the ball to Luc Longley despite the natural flow of the offense dictating that the pass be made in a particular game. Jackson called timeout and told Jordan to pass to Longley. However, His Airness didn’t listen to his coach and had a purpose behind it.
Michael Jordan was frustrated Luc Longley kept dropping his passes
Former Bulls center Bill Wennington wrote an autobiography, Tales From the Bulls Hardwood, in 2004. In the book, he discussed a game where Jordan didn’t pass the ball to Longley despite the big man being open. When Jackson called timeout and instructed Jordan to give the ball to Longley, MJ refused, saying the Australian already missed two of his passes.
At a meeting in practice the next day, Jackson once again told Jordan to pass the ball to Longley when the offense’s triggers and actions required it. That’s when Longley and Jordan shared an interesting exchange.
“Michael,” Wennington recalls Longley saying, via Jack M. Silverstein of Substack. “I am trying my hardest.” When Jordan heard Longley say that, he said, “Luc, you are not. You are not catching the ball. If I pass you the ball, you have to catch the ball.”
Jordan was tough on Longley because he wanted the Melbourne, Australia, native to understand what it took to play at a championship level. Although Longley certainly must have found Jordan difficult at times, the duo had tremendous success together.
Michael Jordan and Luc Longley won three straight rings together with Phil Jackson
Jordan and Longley helped the Bulls win three straight titles in 1996, 1997, and 1998. The former averaged 29.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.0 assists during that stretch, while the latter put up 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
The Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1996 Finals and the Utah Jazz in the 1997 and 1998 Finals. Jordan won all three Finals MVPs and finished his legendary career with six rings and six Finals MVPs.
Meanwhile, Longley played a significant role in the Bulls’ second three-peat. He was a skilled shooter for a seven-footer and played solid defense in the paint. In April 1998, Jordan called Longley the Bulls’ big stabilizer in the middle.
Jordan never punched Longley as he did Will Perdue and Steve Kerr. However, he constantly challenged him in practices and games until he was satisfied. That leadership style didn’t always sit right with Longley, who discussed it at the end of part 1 of his documentary, One Giant Leap.
The University of New Mexico product didn’t love MJ
Jordan and Longley are friends and keep in touch to this day. However, the latter admitted he didn’t always love Black Jesus as a teammate in his documentary.
“I didn’t love MJ,” Longley said. “I thought MJ was difficult and unnecessarily harsh on his teammates and probably on himself, and I think, you know, I just didn’t enjoy being around him that much, and that was cool. It was cool with MJ, and it was cool with me. At the end of the day, we found a way to respect each other on the court and to co-exist, and that was cool.”
Without Jordan, Longley wouldn’t have won three NBA championships. He also likely wouldn’t have his current level of fame either. Jordan essentially made everyone on the Bulls championship teams famous in some capacity. Chicago became one of the top dynasties in sports history because of his ruthlessness.