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Michael Jordan Didn’t Waste Any Time Putting James Worthy in His Place at UNC

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A young Michael Jordan plays defense during his time at the University of North Carolina.

If you’re an NBA fan, you’re probably familiar with Michael Jordan’s time in the Association. Beyond his incredible on-court success, MJ established himself as one of the fiercest competitors around. Whether that meant trash-talking his own teammates, cheating at cards, or getting inside of the other team’s head, His Airness wasn’t messing around.

Those habits weren’t limited to the professional ranks, though. Even during his earliest days at the University of North Carolina, the future legend wasn’t messing around.

Don’t believe us? Just allow James Worthy to explain.

Even as a freshman, Michael Jordan had no problem talking smack to his teammates

For better or worse, most sports teams follow something of a hierarchy based on seniority. During his time in Chapel Hill, however, Michael Jordan wasn’t going to wait his turn.

“Michael Jordan,” James Worthy remembered on the Knuckleheads podcast. “He wasn’t arrogant, but, man, was he confident. He was confident, right? Like, he came in talking. Like, he came in, like, you know, just talking crap all the time.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the freshman even went after Worthy himself. No one, it seems, was safe from his gaze.

“Like, after practice, you know how college practices are. When they’re over, you ready to get off the court and get on back,” Worthy continued. ” And so I would be walking off the court after about two and a half hours of practice, and here comes Michael. A freshman, you know, bullying me. You know, pushing me back on. Like, ‘Where you going, young fella?’ Calling me young fella. ‘Where you going? Let’s play. Let’s play a game to five.'”

Jordan was all about testing his own skills, according to Worthy

A young Michael Jordan plays defense during his time at the University of North Carolina.
Michael Jordan didn’t waste any time flexing his metaphorical muscles as a UNC freshman. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When you hear of a freshman arriving on campus and challenging his new teammates, you might think that’s an egocentric move. In Worthy’s mind, though, Jordan wasn’t trying to show people up. Instead, he simply wanted to be the best he could be.

“He always wanted to measure against the best,” the forward explained. “And at the time, I was the best, you know? I don’t know if you guys saw his documentary, The Last Dance. You know, I made a statement. I said, you know, ‘S***, I was better than Michael Jordan for about three weeks.’ You know?”

Through that lens, it’s a bit more understandable how MJ managed to mesh with his college teammates. Was the freshman a bit brash? Of course, but he also had the talent and drive to back it up.

And, above all else, game recognizes game.

Author photo
Joe Kozlowski
Sports Editor

Joe Kozlowski began his career as a sports journalist in 2013 and joined Sportscasting in 2019. He covers the NBA and soccer for Sportscasting, with specialties in legacy NBA players such as Michael Jordan and Premier League club Arsenal. Off the clock, he's a Kansas City Chiefs fan and a hockey goalie. Growing up loving Shaquille O'Neal and reading everything he could about the great big men throughout NBA history — likely because he was still tall enough, at least relative to his peers, to play center — he's continued to love learning about and exploring the historical and story-based sides of the basketball archives. As for Arsenal, Joe spent a year living in London and latched onto the local support of the club. He's barely missed a match since, loving Arsene Wenger, enduring the Banter Era, and following along through rebuilds. The Premier League interest developed into a passionate following of the Champions League, Europe's big five league, and international soccer as a whole when played at the highest level. Regardless of the sport, Joe is captivated by the stories of athletes beyond the box scores and how they push the envelope — both in terms of what we think a human is capable of accomplishing and how they find new competitive tactics to win.

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Author photo
Joe Kozlowski Sports Editor

Joe Kozlowski began his career as a sports journalist in 2013 and joined Sportscasting in 2019. He covers the NBA and soccer for Sportscasting, with specialties in legacy NBA players such as Michael Jordan and Premier League club Arsenal. Off the clock, he's a Kansas City Chiefs fan and a hockey goalie. Growing up loving Shaquille O'Neal and reading everything he could about the great big men throughout NBA history — likely because he was still tall enough, at least relative to his peers, to play center — he's continued to love learning about and exploring the historical and story-based sides of the basketball archives. As for Arsenal, Joe spent a year living in London and latched onto the local support of the club. He's barely missed a match since, loving Arsene Wenger, enduring the Banter Era, and following along through rebuilds. The Premier League interest developed into a passionate following of the Champions League, Europe's big five league, and international soccer as a whole when played at the highest level. Regardless of the sport, Joe is captivated by the stories of athletes beyond the box scores and how they push the envelope — both in terms of what we think a human is capable of accomplishing and how they find new competitive tactics to win.

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