We know the resume, we know the accomplishments - the semi-crazed work ethic that it took to get Michael Jordan to the heights he reached in his career.
But if you've been watching "The Last Dance" on ESPN or Netflix, you've noticed that MJ was always looking for that edge. That competitive spark, that extra bit of motivation. Sometimes making something out of nothing.
Like the time LeBradford Smith told him "nice game, Mike" after dropping 37 points on the Chicago Bulls. Years later, we now know two things are true about LeBradford Smith: 1) He had a great game against Jordan and the Bulls and 2) He never said anything to Jordan after the game.
But that didn't matter to Jordan as he concocted an imaginary world in which Smith talked junk after the performance so he would have the fuel to go out and dominate him the very next night - and dominate he did.
Jordan finished the game with 47 points, 36 of which came in the first half alone.
It's that sort of competitiveness that fueled Jordan to becoming one of the greatest athletes to lace them up.
Here are a couple other times where Jordan went nuclear on unsuspecting opponents just to remind them that he was better than them.
I don't know what Clyde the Glide did to MJ but Jordan dominated him in the 1992 NBA Finals.
Drexler was widely regarded as one of the best players in the league in 1992, which didn't quite sit well with Jordan.
MJ was coming off a year where he had won his sixth straight scoring title, his third MVP and, more importantly, silenced all his critics by winning his first NBA championship. Maybe Jordan had a legit beef about being placed in the same category as Drexler and maybe he didn't as Clyde was an accomplished player in his own right. Either way, Jordan would erase all doubt in the series and it didn't take long.
Jordan exploded for 39 points in Game 1, 35 of which came in the first half, which is a Finals record. He knocked down six 3s in the first half, which was a record-setting performance at the time, producing one of his more iconic moments - the shrug.
The Bulls, as you know, went on to repeat as champions and Drexler was never put in the same class as MJ again.
There is a theme here of who can we elevate to Jordan's level. Charles Barkley was no slouch contrary to what you might hear from Draymond Green.
In 1993, Barkley was coming off a summer where he had just led the Dream Team in scoring at the Olympics at 18.0 points per game - which was a rare case for any team featuring MJ to not have him lead the team in scoring.
Barkley rode that momentum to the season where his Phoenix Suns would have a league-best record 62-20 record. Although Jordan took home the two previous league MVPs rather convincingly, Barkley ran away with the vote in 1993, earning his first MVP award.
It was all set up for Barkley to take the torch as best player in the game from Jordan. He had the team, he was playing his best ball and MJ was coming into the Finals physically and emotionally beat up after a gruelling series with the New York Knicks.
The year before, Jordan had heard how it was great that he got one ring but he needed to win another because that's what Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did. He also heard that he needed to repeat to prove his dominance like Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers had done in the 1980s or Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons to close the decade. He shut the mouths of doubters by leading the Bulls to back-to-back championships.
In 1993 there was a different motivation. Forget about Barkley for a second - although him taking home the MVP that year was probably something that Jordan would use to fuel his burning fire. There was a bigger motivator here. A historic one, a legacy building one. Magic, Larry and even Isiah had all been great champions on great teams but none of them were able to three-peat. In fact, it hadn't been done since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics when the league was half the size it was in 1993.
Jordan could finally put to rest all the doubters of his greatness. The ones who still believed Magic, Bird and others before were better and the ones in the moment who thought maybe, just maybe Barkley could solve the Jordan puzzle.
Jordan went on to have his best ever Finals series, averaging 41.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 51 percent shooting from the floor. Barkley was the victim here, but history provided the motivation for Jordan to remind everyone how great he was.
Jordan's competitive nature didn't have to come out in the Finals. This dude was willing to beat any and all comers just because. We've seen the behind the scene footage of his card games on the planes with teammates, we've seen him challenging his security staff to coin tosses and we know about his high stakes golf games.
MJ wanted to win at all costs, which made it strange to see a former teammate try and wake a sleeping giant. B.J. Armstrong spent the first six seasons of his career as a member of the Bulls. He saw Michael's drive and determination first hand, winning three titles alongside him.
But when the two were on opposite sides in the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Armstrong thought maybe Jordan had lost a step at age 34. He was wrong. After Armstrong had led and fist-pumped the Charlotte Hornets to a shocking Game 2 win on the road, Jordan had all the motivation he needed to remind his former teammate it was still MJ's world and we were all just living it in. The Bulls would hammer the Hornets, eliminating them in five games.
"I felt like B.J. should know better," Jordan says in "The Last Dance" documentary. "If you're going to high-five, talk trash, now I had a bone to pick with you. I'm supposed to kill this guy. I'm supposed to dominate this guy and from that point on, I did."
When George Karl now famously didn't say hi to Michael at a restaurant, he used it as fuel to crush the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals. When Karl Malone was awarded the league MVP in the 1997 season, Jordan got the last laugh in the Finals.
When Dikembe Mutembo claimed MJ had never dunked on him while at an All-Star Game ... well, you guessed it - he boomed on him later that season.
23 years ago today, Michael Jordan finally put Dikembe Mutombo on a poster then gave him the finger wag.- Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 13, 2020
Earlier in the season, they had this conversation about MJ never dunking on Deke in 6 years. https://t.co/0ikHo8lH89 pic.twitter.com/BZvpSqjTnZ
The list of Jordan victims is long and the countless ways he tried to motivate himself to overcome those opponents might be even longer.
Michael Jordan was always going to be good, but he fuelled his way to greatness by finding the slightest ways to stay motivated.
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