Michael Jordan walked away from basketball and surprised the sports world after winning a third consecutive championship with the Chicago Bulls in September of 1993. Jordan was already considered by most as the greatest basketball player of all time and stated that he was no longer challenged by the game of basketball amongst other reasons for his retirement.
One of the things I will never forget Michael saying in that press conference, which he later reiterated in one of his books, was a conversation with Phil Jackson, one I think Phil botched. Jordan said that after the season he had all but made up his mind about walking away from the game, but he wanted to talk to Phil.
He went to his coach and asked if he had anything left to prove as a basketball player. Jordan remembered the conversation saying that Jackson stumbled a bit and began to talk about his obligation to the game and Michael said that is when he knew. Upset by his retirement, when I heard this, all I could think was, Phil could have stopped this.
As great as he was, the greatest player of all time, Jordan could have cemented his status even more if he would have stayed. Those Houston Rockets championships are like a bad dream, those titles were Michael’s if he would have wanted them. The Bulls were unstoppable, the Bulls could have, should have, had a dynasty like the Boston Celtics in the early days of the NBA.
Respecting the fact that nobody in the history of basketball could touch Michael and he remains the king, I could have done a better job of trying to keep him in a Bulls uniform. Plug me into that conversation and the first thing I say is, Michael go look at Bill Russell’s hands, when you have more rings then him, that’s when you have nothing to prove. I would have told him Michael, go win so many championships, so many MVP’s, so many scoring titles that they name the trophies after you. Become the All-Time leading scorer in league history, win another Defensive Player of the Year award. You may be the greatest player ever now, make sure you are the greatest player ever, forever. That’s what I would have told him, and that’s what Phil Jackson should have told him.
Phil Jackson was a great coach, a master of managing personalities, balancing ego’s and most importantly, winning. Jordan respected his opinion as much as any person in his basketball life. This conversation was no doubt high pressure and very hard for the then, relatively young head coach. It was also one of the most important conversations, if not the most important in NBA history. The Michael Jordan era was a great time for basketball, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch him play in the prime of his career. I wish I could have seen more, is it Phil’s fault? Maybe, maybe not, but I wish he would have at least tried to push Jordan’s competitive buttons a little more.
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