Olden Polynice Wonders If Michael Jordan Kept Himself From Reaching His Full Potential

At this point in time, it’s not groundbreaking to say that Michael Jordan was an elite athlete. His Airness’ success has even transcended the world of sports; there’s a reason why we now say that people are the Micheal Jordan of their field. But what if the Chicago Bulls star could have been even better?

That’s exactly what Olden Polynice asked during a recent interview.

Yes, you heard that correctly. In the mind of Polynice, who spent plenty of time in NBA circles despite never suiting up for the Bulls, it’s possible that Jordan kept himself from reaching his full potential.

Let’s explore that scenario.

Olden Polynice questioned if some of Michael Jordan’s habits held him back on the court

Olden Polynice (L) and Michael Jordan (R) during their respective NBA careers
Olden Polynice (L) and Michael Jordan (R) during their respective NBA careers. | Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport, Kimberly Barth/AFP via Getty Images

During a recent appearance on Bally Sports, Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson asked Olden Polynice about his experiences with Michael Jordan. While the big Haitian began by sharing some memories of card games — he noted that he didn’t play golf — the conversation quickly shifted into some interesting hypotheticals about His Airness.

“And I used to always wonder,” Polynice mused. “Oh my god, could you imagine if this guy ate right instead of eating McDonald’s, did not drink, and did not smoke? Can you imagine that Michael Jordan? And actually worked out on a regular? That Michael Jordan. Holy Christmas.”

Unfortunately for the listener, the conversation then returned to the original topic, and the big man shared a few more anecdotes about card games. But with him inviting us to imagine that version of Michael Jordan, let’s break down the hypothetical.

While it’s tempting to imagine a better Michael Jordan, it seems unlikely that the living legend actually held himself back

Upon first blush, Poylnice’s thought process makes sense. We know that it isn’t ideal for someone, especially a professional athlete, to eat fast food, smoke cigars, and drink alcohol. By that logic, Jordan could improve by cutting out those vices, right?

That makes sense, but there is one catch: We also know that MJ worked with Tim Grover, suggesting that everything was eventually brought into line.

Take, for example, the diet. While we have heard stories of Jordan’s fondness for fast food, Grover seems to have kept the Chicago Bulls star on a pretty tight regimen. Some different diets have reached the media at different times — one version suggested that MJ would eat healthy all day but could indulge at dinner, and another said that His Airness ate multiple small meals throughout the day with the aim of stabilizing his blood sugar — it was clear that the effort was there. If McDonald’s was creating a problem, it seems unlikely that Grover and Jordan would have simply looked the other way.

Similar points can be applied to the cigars and alcohol. Although we know that Jordan indulged in both vices, it’s doubtful that he and his trainer would have tolerated something that actively hurt his on-court performance. And, on the smoking front, the living NBA legend said that a cigar was a helpful part of his game-day routine.

Lastly, on the subject of working out, we know that Grover put Jordan through his paces. Again, there are plenty of anecdotes speaking to the pair’s collective eccentricities. At one point, for example, the trainer counted how many steps his client would take each game. At another, Grover built up His Airness’ biceps; his aim wasn’t to improve anything related to basketball but to make the star slightly more intimidating.

Again, that combines to paint one crystal clear picture: Jordan wasn’t going to be slacking off (and Grover wouldn’t have let him) if it was compromising his career.

So, where does Poylnice’s hypothetical come from? Perhaps it’s human nature. As I mentioned above, it’s easy to see Michael Jordan smoking a cigar and think, “That’s probably not great for a professional athlete.” Alternatively, perhaps the big man heard stories of MJ knowing his limits and mistook that for slacking off. During a 2021 appearance on Undisputed, for example, Grover explained that Jordan knew what he needed and recognized that enough was enough.

At the end of that day, though, Jordan’s resume largely speaks for itself. Could he have squeezed a percent or two more out of his career? Possibly, but it’s not like MJ was sitting around with his feet up, only accomplishing three-quarters of his potential.

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