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For the most part, Michael Jordan’s reputation proceeds him. His Airness is known as one of the greatest players ever to set foot on the hardwood; not only was he talented, but he possessed an incredible will to win and used that to find plenty of success. Even if you don’t know that much about basketball, you’re probably familiar with MJ and his success.

With that being said, though, there is another part of Mike’s legacy that is a bit less positive. While plenty of players have something of an edge, the Bulls star took things further than most. Plenty of athletes talk trash, but Jordan would do anything — whether that meant running his mouth, cheating, or even throwing a punch — to gain an advantage.

And while that might lead you to believe that the living legend was something of a jerk, Toni Kukoc has a different read on things. In his recollection, Michael Jordan was actually a pretty good teammate.

Let’s check it out.

While there are plenty of stories about Michael Jordan being mean, Toni Kukoc remembers a more supportive MJ


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In one of the climactic moments of The Last Dance, we saw Michael Jordan (somewhat) reckon with his own legacy. After hearing Will Perdue call him both a jerk and a hell of a teammate and watching clips of him yelling at his teammates during practice, MJ was asked about his leadership style. The legend tearfully explained that as a leader, he did push people, but he never asked them to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself.

And while the ESPN docuseries did provide more insight into MJ’s behavior, it wasn’t the first time we heard about the legendary Bull’s questionable choices. Stories had long been circulating about how he trash-talked his own teammates, crossed the line by punching Steve Kerr, pushing the envelope in other ways. The Last Dance wasn’t telling a new narrative; it was just sharing new details about a season we had all watched play out.

All of that has combined to create a pop-cultural reputation for Jordan. He was obviously an incredible player and a legendary winner, but he could also take things a bit too far and create a less-than-ideal environment.

Toni Kukoc, however, remembered things a bit differently.

“The [Last Dance] team was awesome,” Kukoc remembered on the Bulls Talk Podcast (h/t Bulls Wire). “We knew each other to a T by then. There wasn’t anybody new that came into the team. We would always go to breakfast, lunches, dinners together. Enjoy times with Dennis [Rodman] when Dennis would feel gracious enough to get us in his circle.”

While that’s already an interesting detail — Rodman can be remembered as an aloof character who didn’t exactly mesh with his peers — the Croatian still had more to say about Jordan.

“We had an awesome time, a great time. Everybody by then knew when somebody was having a hard time during the season. He would always get the support from the rest of the team. MJ was really good about that. He understood that he needed all the guys being ready and giving their 100 percent for the team to succeed.”

Toni Kukoc

So, what does that mean for Jordan’s legacy? Do Kukoc’s comments change how we should view His Airness?

On the whole, I’d assert that a shift isn’t really required. Jordan’s legacy isn’t entirely bad; it’s always been mixed, with less-than-ideal choices juxtaposed against success. While providing support — whatever that actually means — is a bit different than other stories, it’s not unprecedented. Think back to how we started this entire discussion: During The Last Dance, Will Purdue remembered MJ as a jerk and a hell of a teammate.

That’s not to say that Kukoc’s words are meaningless, though. While they might not be ground-breaking, they do serve as a good reminder about reducing real people to two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. It’s easy to do that with someone like Michael Jordan — he was either good (winning championships or soaring through the air) or bad (being a jerk) with little in-between — but it isn’t entirely accurate.

Pro athletes are real people, and there’s always something between the two extremes.

Michael Jordan can be both ‘hard’ and ‘soft.’ He doesn’t have to be either a legend or a jerk. There’s room for nuance between the two extremes when we’re considering legacies, even if it isn’t easy.

Let Toni Kukoc’s memories of the Chicago Bulls be your reminder of that.