SLAM: Beyond the winning and losing, whether it was high school, college, shooting around with your sons, whatever, when have you just been happiest playing the game?

MJ: I guess my happiest was when I first got to Chicago, and I found out I could play on this level, and started to feel the enthusiasm coming within this city. The motivation they gave me each and every day to go to my job—even though it’s five degrees out there. You know, it was fun to go to work and then go out and showcase your talent in front of starving fans. That to me was very gratifying.

SLAM: Who was your favorite guy to go against?

MJ: Myself.

SLAM: I guess I meant other than that—let me put it this way: Was there an opponent you enjoyed beating the most?

MJ: Yeah, I enjoyed beating Detroit, in all honesty, because of the hurdle that we had to overcome with them and the way that we did it, and the gratification we got out of seeing them walk off the court without shaking our hands. I mean, that to me said, “Job well done.” But I guess if I can really elaborate on why I said myself more so than another athlete—

SLAM: Of course.

MJ: It’s because a lot of times I had to battle with myself to keep challenging myself. When you get to a certain pinnacle, you’ve got to find some ways to keep going out there and play 82 games, playing the Clippers or Lakers or whoever, and keep ’em on the same pedestal. That to me is why I would say my biggest battle was myself.

SLAM: You played on the original—well, the only real Dream Team—

MJ: Thank you for saying that. [Laughs]

SLAM: Yeah, I always catch myself. There’s only been one, only will be one. But if you could create a “dream team” of guys from your era, you and four other guys, who do you put around you?

MJ: Oooh—In our era? That’s tough…the point guard is Magic Johnson, without a doubt. I would have a tough time at the small forward position, because that’s taking Scottie Pippen and Larry Bird and splitting ’em…

SLAM: If I give you a sixth man, you can go with that?

MJ: Yeah, I can go with that. At the power forward…Charles is gonna be mad, but I know Charles never played defense. Man, that’s another tough one…At center I’d go with Olajuwon, that’s without a doubt. I mean, I never saw Jabbar in his prime, and Patrick, and I love Patrick, but I would have to say the versatility of where the game was going, Olajuwon was by far the best at the center position. And even Shaq, he’s the dominant center of today, but if you ask him back when he first came in, if he doesn’t say Olajuwon then he’s got a little amnesia. At the four, you’re talking Kevin McHale, you’re talking Karl Malone and then you’re talking about James Worthy. I’ma take James because I’m a Carolina guy.

SLAM: Speaking of the Tar Heels, how nice was it for you to see them get back on top last year?

MJ: Well, it was good for Coach Williams, and he’s gonna get all the credit, but who goes unnoticed is Matt Doherty, who recruited all the guys, and Coach Williams took the team and won with it. But I’m happy for the program to get back to where it needed to be, and I think they will continue to do that.

SLAM: At the moment, you’re mostly out of the game of basketball. What keeps you busy now, and what future do you think you have in the game?

MJ: My kids keep me busy. I go and watch all their games. I live vicariously through them, and they’re gaining more of what the expectations are gonna be for them. My oldest takes pride in going out and representing the Jordan name, and my youngest hasn’t quite got it, but he’s got the athleticism and the ability to do it eventually. They’re gonna keep me connected to the game. I’ll look for ownership somewhere down the road—I’m patiently waiting—and even then, if that does happen, I don’t know what my commitment will be, depending on the stage of my life and where my kids are. They mean everything to me right now, and I try to be there as much as possible for them so they can make the right choices. They give me so much gratification watching them play—even though I yell a lot—but I enjoy watching them. So that’s my activity right now, and that’s gonna be my activity for some time.