I love stories about how ruthless Michael Jordan was back in his playing days. I’m sure he’s just as ruthless now as he was then, but it’s a little harder to take him seriously given his choice of attire.
But back in ’96? Probably no other competitor as intimidating in the world. That’s why when I read this collection of maybe/maybe not true stories of mid-nineties MJ, I raised an especially high eyebrow when reading this passage:
Johnny said physically Jordan and Pippen were about the same as defenders. But when you add in MJ’s ruthlessness and trash talk, that put him ahead of Scottie. When Johnny was coaching with the Hornets in 1995 they had a good team. Glen Rice, Mourning, Johnson. Series was tied at 2 and Hornets had a chance to win game 5 in Chicago. On the biggest possession of the game, Mugsy had the ball with the Hornets down 1. Jordan backed off of him and told him: “shoot it you fucking midget.” Mugsy shot it, didn’t come close. A year later Mugsy actually told Johnny Bach that he believes that single play ruined his career. His shot never recovered.
To have as successful an NBA career as Muggsy had (1st round pick, 15 seasons, 7.6 apg) at an absurdly-small 5’3″ probably required the ability to shake off endless short jokes from teammates, coaches, fans and everyone else.
Yet, that’s how brutal MJ was with his shit-talking game.
When you’re unquestionably the greatest player on the face of the earth with a reputation for spitting verbal venom at your opponents, it can penetrate the target’s psyche long before the competitors step onto the court. Muggsy (like every other non-Bull of the era) was on the verge of a mental meltdown, and with just the right push, Jordan sent him tumbling over the cliff using the one insult that Muggsy spent years building up a wall against.
And just like that, the wall crumbled.
I wonder what it’s like nowadays when they run into each other here in Charlotte…