Despite the Chicago Bulls’ success, was Michael Jordan’s brand of leadership cruel?
Before the release of The Last Dance docuseries, Michael Jordan expressed concern, saying that the 10-part documentary would make him look like a “horrible guy.”
Now, we see why.
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— New York Post (@nypost) May 7, 2020
Thursday, Sam Smith, author of the 1992 best-seller, The Jordan Rules: The Inside Story of a Turbulent Season with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, shared a story about Michael Jordan and former Chicago Bulls teammate Horace Grant on the Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks podcast, a story that shocked many.
Said Smith: “Players would come to me over the years and say, ‘You know what he did? He took Horace’s food away on the plane because Horace had a bad game.’ [Michael] told the stewardesses, ‘Don’t feed him. He doesn’t deserve to eat.’”
Sam Smith: "When Michael Jordan sucker-punched Will Perdue in practice, Will was practically crying and didn't fight back; Horace Grant was the one who fought back. Michael didn't like that Horace wasn't intimidated by him. He's still holding that grudge." https://t.co/iSQdm8W2wj
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 7, 2020
Even though this morsel wasn’t actually revealed on The Last Dance, its release continues to spark conversation regarding Jordan and the Bulls, and Jordan’s brand of leadership has been the topic of discussion for several weeks.
It’s well-known that Jordan was maniacal in his approach to the game, pushing his teammates to the brink in order to draw out the best in them. But at times, Jordan’s competitive drive potentially pushed him over the line.
He punched teammates Will Perdue and Steve Kerr in separate practices.
"I just haul off and hit him right in the f—ing eye. And Phil just throws me out of practice."
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 4, 2020
And his tormenting of teammate Scott Burrell has become legendary.
Michael Jordan wasted zero time challenging his new teammate Scott Burrell during the 1997-98 season.
This MJ interaction happened during Burrell's first practice with the Bulls 😳
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) May 5, 2020
However, Jordan did lead the Bulls to six NBA titles during the 1990s.
Does that mean his leadership tactics, even if aggressive, were justified? Or, were they flat cruel?
Skip Bayless, who covered the Bulls in the 90s, said that Jordan motivated through fear, which led to a 6-0 record in the Finals for the Bulls.
“This is the way he led. This is like General Patton led. This is where you let nobody beneath you see any sign of weakness. You’re going to show them that nobody is going to challenge you.”
"MJ wasn't a bully, he was a leader. The most psycho, driven competitor in the history of sports. It's why his team went 6-0 in the Finals & why he won 6 MVPs. The guys that had any bitterness against MJ were thankful he was on their side in the playoffs." — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/oekzK3romY
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 8, 2020
Of course, comparisons are always drawn between Jordan and LeBron James, which Stephen A. Smith did on Friday morning.
“There were no concession speeches coming from MJ. As a matter of fact he didn’t give a damn about friendship or getting along either. He was about the final result. It was about winning. You either won or he was going to have a major, major attitude if you lost.”
While Bayless and Smith were understanding of Jordan’s leadership methods, Shannon Sharpe was not.
In fact, when referencing the Horace Grant situation, Sharpe said on Thursday that if he were Grant, him and Jordan would have had a squabble.
“Michael said he had a feeling that this documentary would have people look at him in a negative light … Mike would have had to whip me or I’m going to whip him … You think because you Michael Jordan that you can say don’t feed me? I’m not a child.”
"For you to tell someone not to feed me because you don't think I had a good game, we're going to fight every day until I beat him. You don't have to respect me but you aren't going to disrespect me."@ShannonSharpe on MJ taking away postgame meals from Horace Grant pic.twitter.com/TfnIEvpjSu
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 7, 2020
After the news surfaced, Sharpe said Grant called him on Thursday afternoon to confirm the story.
“He said, ‘Sharpe, I’m telling you 100 percent, that did happen. The flight attendants were serving us and [Jordan] touches the flight attendant and says, ‘He doesn’t eat because he played like poop.’ … [Grant] said there are several times that he and Mike almost came to blows and he told me that it started from the day he got there, that Mike started what we would term ‘bullying.'”
.@ShannonSharpe on his call with Horace Grant:
"Horace told me: 'If you didn't confront Mike, he would ride you every day, all day, all the time. You had to stand up for yourself. I didn't have a problem with Mike the player, I had a problem with how he tried to motivate me.'" pic.twitter.com/ScfxCQxaMx
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 8, 2020
Quite the response from Horace Grant.
Just for good measure, Thursday represented the 25th anniversary of Grant getting a semblance of revenge against Jordan back in the 90s as a member of the Orlando Magic.
25 years ago today: Nick Anderson steals the ball from Michael Jordan, and Penny feeds Horace Grant for the win.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 7, 2020
Jordan and The Last Dance sure have brought us a lot of joy over the past three weeks.
We’re ready for more.