Michael Jordan’s Leadership

I have a lot of respect for Michael Jordan as a basketball player (and he seems like a decent enough guy). I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative impression or thought of him. Until now. I haven’t been watching The Last Dance, but I’ve been listening to some of the comments about the series. The ones I heard today, from Shannon Sharpe, specifically about Michael Jordan’s leadership was the first time I can remember having a negative impression of Jordan. I’ll go more why I feel this way in this thread.

10 thoughts on “Michael Jordan’s Leadership

  1. In the clip below, Sharpe explains a recent conversation he had with Horace Grant.

    in the next clip, Shannon and Skip discuss Jordan’s leadership. Shannon describes it as bullying. I’m not sure if I would use that word, but I agree with a lot of what he says.

    I have no problem with Jordan (or any player) being tough on teammates in order to help them be prepared for opponents. On a very basic level, every player should go all out on teammates during practice. To do less would be hurting the team in my opinion. But there is a line that should not be crossed. The example involving Horace Grant above, assuming it’s true, crosses the line for me.

    Now, maybe according to NBA norms and culture, what Jordan did to Grant was acceptable, but I can’t imagine something like that happening in a normal workplace. Jordan is acting like the coach–and even if a head coach did that, it would be questionable. If a co-worker did that, it would be insufferable at best.

    I obviously don’t know what it was like at practices, and if I did, maybe I’d change my opinion, but the way Skip and others talk about Jordan being tough on his teammates, it sounds like a justification for it. The Bulls had success so what Jordan did was acceptable. I have a problem with that. Again, I’m not completely against him being tough. There’s a way of pushing your teammates where it is helpful, but there’s a line, too. Just because you’re the GOAT, that doesn’t mean you can cross it. I almost get the sense Jordan felt like he could.

    One question I wonder about: Where was Phil Jackson? I assume he was OK with this what Jordan did–or maybe he didn’t have a choice. But if Jackson was a great coach, why did Jordan feel like it was on him to toughen his teammates? I sort of feel like that speaks badly of Jackson–as if Jackson either couldn’t do this sufficiently. Or maybe Jackson felt Jordan’s approach really added to the team? Or maybe he didn’t have a choice, but he felt he could manage it?

    1. Not to oversimplify, but anyone can lead through animosity and fear. It takes a real leader to lead through kindness and gentleness. You’ll never convince me otherwise. There’s a reason teachers aren’t allowed to talk to students the way coaches or sergeants talk to athletes and soldiers.

  2. I find myself agreeing with Shannon Sharpe again–especially the comparison he makes between Jordan and Bobby Knight.

    I do believe Coach Knight loved his players, made them better people, and helped them have great success on the basketball court. But I get the sense that he did, at times, cross the line. What makes me very uncomfortable is when defenders minimize or deny that he crossed the line. Like Sharpe said–both things can be true–Coach Knight could do all these really good things for his players, but he could also do some bad.

    And doing bad things–i.e., crossing the line–doesn’t necessarily make Coach Knight a bad person or even a bad coach. He’s human, and because of that he has weaknesses and makes mistakes. My problem occurs when all the good that he’s done is used to justify the mistakes.

    I think that sums up my feeling about Jordan with regard to this leadership style. Maybe his approach, overall, really helped and elevated his teammates’ performances, but it’s possible he crossed the line, too.
    For both Jordan and Coach Knight, if they were recognized this and felt remorse, apologized to teammates–I don’t think I would have a problem with them, or it would be a lot less. And in a lot of ways, my respect for them would be elevated.

    One other thing. I disagree with the way Skip attributes Jordan’s teammates’ success to Jordan “toughening them up” in such a definitive. Could Jordan’s approach have had that effect? Yes. Can we say for certain that it did? No, I don’t think so. For example, between Jordan’s hardass approach, and the triangle offense, I’d choose the triangle offense as a bigger factor in elevating their performance. (But this, too, is speculative, and I wouldn’t deny that Jordan’s approach could have been more decisive.)

    1. I forgot to add another comment. Sharpe mentions that if a player is popular than we excuse things that we know are wrong. I agree with this. If Coach Knight kept having great success at IU–getting to the final four and maybe winning a few more championships–I have a feeling that those stories about him don’t get out or they’re somehow minimized and people overlook them. Or, let’s say Michael falls out of favor in the public eye, then the way he treated teammates may not be seen so favorably.

      Skip claims that if Sharpe was correct that Jordan was a bully, then his image would take a hit. I feel like this is wrong. Jordan’s treatment of his teammates is not seen as bullying because he’s popular and seen as a GOAT–the rough treatment is part of this mystique. It was the same with Bobby Knight. If Jordan’s stature or popularly diminished, I have a feeling that the rough treatment would not be seen so favorably. (I would expect more teammates speaking out negatively about this as well.)

      1. There is so many facets to this. Yeah Jordan could berate his teammates, but I don’t think it’s all the time. And I’m not sure if guys didn’t want to play for the Bulls because of Jordan. I don’t think I’ve heard that before. I also think part of what might rub Jordan’s teammates the wrong way is trying to work as hard as him or not willing to work as hard as him. So if there were guys who didn’t want to play with Jordan, it could just be they didn’t want to work as hard as him. Peyton famously would call his rookie or young receivers for off-season workouts. These “newbies” would go out of pressure, because who wants to turn down Peyton, and then risk being cut.

        Comparing Knight and Jordan seems pretty harsh to Jordan. Knight had an attitude of he’s king and he can do whatever he wanted. Also Knight seem to have anger issues, and he could get out of control, like throwing the chair and choking the IU kid that wasn’t even a player. Jordan although harsh at times, never showed that at least in parts I’ve seen. In terms of being a bully, I can see some similarity, but Knight seem way more overboard for those of us that lived during their careers. I see Jordan more like Pitino or Coach K in that both seem to have a reputation or getting on guys.

    2. Without really deeply thinking about this, I would say I have zero problem with a player getting on teammates for not working hard. Generally, I see that more as a positive than a negative.

      The problem I had is the Horace Grant situation–specifically, telling the flight attendant that Grant can’t eat because he played poorly. You talk about like a king, that’s moving into that territory, especially since he’s a teammate, not the coach. A part of me feels like Jordan wasn’t serious when he said that, but if he was dead serious, that’s crossing the line to me.

      Comparing Knight and Jordan seems pretty harsh to Jordan.

      I’m more thinking about the defenders of both–the rationale used to justify or downplay questionable behavior, the ends justifies the means approach. I also think we do this with people who have the type of stature that both have/had. All of this isn’t good, including for the people being idolized as well.

      And, again, I tend to believe that Coach Knight really did help people–making them better people. But my sense is that he sometimes crossed the line. We should acknowledge this, not write it off. Also, I don’t think this we should think Coach Knight is a terrible coach or a terrible person because of a few incidents of crossing the line.

  3. I’ve been numb to all the MJ in sports talk media these past five weeks (it’s just soooo much), but I have to say I really enjoyed Jalen Rose’s recollection of the Eastern Conference final in ’98. He tells Mina Kimes about it in Friday’s ESPN Daily podcast. Jalen and Jacoby (the show) is way too sportsy for my tastes, but I do enjoy Rose’s storytelling when he’s a guest on someone else’s program.

    1. I don’t know if I’m numb, but I’m not interested in watching the series, and I’m not sure why. I did listen to the Rose interview. There are two things that I wanted to comment on that have nothing to do with Jordan.

      First, Kimes asks Rose if Jordan pushed (off) Byron Russell before hitting the game winner. What popped into my head: This is type of ambiguous call that precisely written rules, replay and other technology will ever settle. That it, those things won’t get rid of the ambiguity.* These calls exist in football, too (obviously). You can watch a replay of this a million times, from many different angles and still not come to a definitive conclusion.

      Second, at the end of the program, a guy talks about Pippen getting in the head of Karl Malone. I’ve been one who believes psychological factors can be enormously important. But this guy speaks in such a definitive way, especially in terms of attributing a causal relationship. I don’t think you can speak this way about psychological factors–or doing so, with accuracy and certainty, is extremely rare. There are often so many factors that lead to a specific type of performance. “Player X said such and such and that’s why Player Y played great.” To me this is not a sound way to speak. The matter is way more complex than this.

      (*Maybe one day AI will do this, but we’re not there yet. But I’m skeptical it will. For one thing, what’s crucial is that the majority of spectators, coaches, and players have to be satisfied with the call. If an AI makes a call, and many don’t think it’s the right one, then we still have a problem. Perhaps one day a norm will be established that whatever call is made by the AI is the right one, regardless of whether humans are satisfied or not. That’s one way I could see technology like AI removing the ambiguity. In theory you could apply this to the definition of great art and greatest all-time players.)

      1. I think he was kind of kidding about the effect of the trash talk on Malone, although I think he was serious about calling it the best trash talk ever. Which is silly because only the players hear most of what’s said on the court.

        Mina knows the push-off debate can never be settled. She was just asking for Rose’s take, which I found interesting.

        Yeah, there’s no way I’m watching 10 hours of Michael Jordan talking about himself. I might be convinced to watch 10 hours of Muhammad Ali talk about himself or maybe Peyton Manning if he goes full-on geeky about specific games and specific plays, but that’s probably it.

    2. It didn’t sound like he was kidding, but I can’t remember. But if he was serious about the best trash talk, why would he be kidding about the effect of that trash talk?

      Mina knows the push-off debate can never be settled.

      I didn’t mean to imply that she thought the debate could be settled. What I said was largely a comment about a broader subject–namely, how some calls will be ambiguous, and technology or better-written rules won’t eliminate that ambiguity. At the same time, you’ll have groups of people who are adamant that the right call is clear. The Jordan shot is an example of that, I think.

      As for the Jordan doc, I’m kinda surprised because even though my interest in basketball has waned, I’m surprised at my level of indifference.

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