Craig Ehlo. Isiah Thomas. Bryon Russell. Michael Jordan’s penchant for instigating rivalries with little more than his domination of the game of basketball is well documented. There’s another player who, while not as popular as the other names that were listed, had his run-in with Jordan thanks to something that he didn’t even do. So what caused Jordan to lie about this player to his teammates?
Who is LaBradford Smith?
If you haven’t heard of LaBradford Smith before today, it might be for good reason. He was the 19th pick of the 1991 draft coming out of Louisville’s storied basketball program. In four years with the program, Smith was a reliable presence.
He could score at a decent clip, average 13.6 points per game and he was an excellent playmaker with five assists to boot. He was no slouch on defense, either, grabbing nearly two steals a game over his college career. This got him into the NBA with the Washington Bullets.
Smith’s professional basketball career was only three years long, most of it spent with the Washington Bullets. He averaged nearly seven points per game, two assists, and a rebound. Whatever promise he showed back at Louisville was short-lived, and after being waived by the Bullets in his third season, he would sign with the Sacramento Kings for the rest of the season before taking his talents overseas.
Despite a largely forgotten career, however, one game showed that LaBradford could turn it on when he needed it to, and as a result, he angered one of the greatest players in NBA history.
The Michael Jordan/LaBradford Smith game
In 1993, the Washington Bullets faced off against Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Many might have presumed that Michael Jordan would wipe the floor with the weaker opponent, but Smith made sure to make his opponents work for their victory. Despite the Bulls win, Jordan and company were left flummoxed by what they saw Smith do to the team.
Not only did Smith score 37 points in the loss to the Bulls, but he did so shooting 15-of-20 from the field, dishing out three assists, grabbing five rebounds, and getting a steal, as well. It is one of the all-time great random occurrences of a relatively obscure player outplaying the best, as Jordan had only 25 points for the game.
Despite the victory, this was too much for Jordan to handle, and he took it into his hands to make sure that this did not happen again.
Michael Jordan’s lie
Following the game, Jordan told his teammates that Smith had been talking trash to him and mocking the fact that they let an unknown player put a defending champion against the wall. Jordan was notorious for his grudges, and as the guiding force of the Bulls’ dynasty, the team adopted these relentless and vengeful tendencies.
They came back a swift response, as the teams would face off once again the following night. Jordan responded by hitting his first eight shots and finishing the game with 47 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals in only 31 minutes of action. The Bulls would win the game 126-101. Smith was regretting talking all that trash. Or, he may have had he actually said anything.
Jordan admitted years later that he made up the trash-talking story because he wanted the Bulls to come out as a team and play better against the struggling Bullets. His notorious competitiveness made it so that he would do anything to get an edge. At the end of the day, Smith will always have the memory of going toe-to-toe with Jordan, but Jordan always got the last laugh.