As I was talking with a friend about mental toughness, he mentioned “The Last Dance” documentary about Michael Jordan a few times. I hadn’t watched it, and my interest was piqued even though I usually read in my downtime. (Side note: I share a birthday with MJ, so I’ve been a fan since childhood.) Today I watched some of the documentary. I was impressed. As can be expected when someone is striving for greatness, he had many behind-the-scenes struggles that most people never saw.
Jordan was the best player in the NBA in the late ’80s and early ’90s. NBA Scoring Champion, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star . . . he won pretty much every individual accolade. Yet his team had yet to make it to the NBA finals. The strategy was to get MJ the ball and he’d make something happen. It worked, but it wasn’t enough to win a title.
The Bulls changed coaches and the strategy started to change. The legendary Phil Jackson wanted to play a triangle offense, but Jordan wasn’t a fan of it. He was used to having the ball, and Jackson’s offense would take it away from him. The triangle offense involved moving the ball around to everyone in a strategic manner, giving everyone a variety of scoring opportunities. Jordan reluctantly embraced it and they made it to the NBA Finals the next year, 1991. In game five, instead of forcing shots, MJ repeatedly passed to his wide-open teammate, John Paxson. Paxson rose to the occasion each time and lifted the Bulls to a victory and their first NBA championship. This game was pivotal in many ways. Most importantly, Jordan finally learned to appreciate team ball.
After the title win, Jordan focused on becoming a better leader. He was determined to win another title. He realized the Bulls could be great with team ball—and they could be elite if they all consistently played at a high level and with a high level of confidence. Jordan focused on making his teammates better. He led by example, giving 100% in every practice and demanding the same from his team.
The Bulls went on to win six NBA championships in three-peats in ’91–’93 and ’96–’98. Many still consider Jordan the best player of all time.
Jordan was an incredible player for many years. But in my opinion, when he started focusing on leading by example and making his teammates better, that’s when he began to achieve greatness.
Teamwork is dream work!