SLAM: What was it like for you, coming in right away? You hadn’t even seen an NBA game yet, right?
MJ: No, so that was a part of the beauty of it all—I just…I played like it was something I had never experienced before. That was a great way to enter into the whole situation.
SLAM: Did that make it easier, not to know about it?
MJ: Yeah, it’s a lot easier. You don’t have to pattern your game behind someone, because you’ve never paid attention to it. Other than David Thompson or someone like that…So you create your own identity, without really knowing who you would be patterning your game after.
SLAM: When you first came in, you ended up playing with George Gervin, right?
MJ: I played with Gervin my second year, after I broke my foot. My first year…
SLAM: Orlando Woolridge…
MJ: Orlando. Quintin Dailey. All those guys.
SLAM: What’d you learn from those guys?
MJ: You really want to know?
MJ: Not to be like them [laughs]. You know, go out there and…I learned how to be a leader in all respects. Just try to lead them or help them out of their situation of losing all the time. The attitude was pretty acceptable here, of losing, so I was trying to break the mold.
SLAM: It was pretty much a leaderless team when you came on?
MJ: Sure. But I didn’t feel like I could vocally be a leader. I had to do it by example.
SLAM: When did you become a vocal leader?
MJ: I guess when Pip and Horace and all those guys came in in ’87. I was more vocal, ’cause I had been there almost five years. And then I was getting closer to being the oldest on the team, and I became more vocal.
SLAM: What about that game against the Celtics, ’86 in the Playoffs when you scored 63 in the Boston Garden?
MJ: I wasn’t a vocal leader…I mean, everything was coming through me, and I think people saw the determination for me to be successful. And they just followed. I was more a physical leader, and they followed my leadership.
SLAM: Do you think there was a transition, right then, where people realized “Bam!” you just scored 63 on what was the best front line ever…
MJ: Sure. I think that, from an individual standpoint, gave me the credibility of my skills, and [showed] I was headed in the right direction. But I had the confidence the year before.
SLAM: You talk about Magic’s five rings, that being a big plateau and now you…
MJ: Sure, I want to get six.
SLAM: How do you put yourself now, with Bird and Magic?
MJ: I don’t put myself above them. I think that we’re all on parallel ground here. You know, they educated me about a lot of things about the game, from a team standpoint. So I can’t put myself above…I mean, people try to, but we played in different eras. I had an opportunity to go against them, in the peak of their careers, while I was still young. And I went against them, when I was at the peak of mine, when they was on the other end. So it was a passing of trends there, and we never had the opportunity to play against each other in peak years. You know, so it’s hard to say that I’m above them, by no means. I like to consider myself parallel to them.
SLAM: What was it like, finally playing with them in the Olympics?
MJ: A lot of fun. I wanted to do that, because I wanted to see the work ethics of all the athletes that were on the highest level of stardom. Some people lived up to it, and some people didn’t. In terms of the way I perceived it.
SLAM: When you first came to Chicago, did you play any streetball? Or just go to a gym…
MJ: Sure. I played over in the summer leagues. Every summer. Get out there and play with Terry Cummings, Tim Hardaway—way before he was Tim Hardaway—Randy Brown, Kenny Norman, all those players who later became stars. But they were young kids trying to earn their stripes.
SLAM: Are there any young kids, maybe like a Brian Leach or somebody we hear about, a Chicago ballplayer that never made anything, but when you played with him, you thought he had a lot of talent? Basically unknown guys.
MJ: No. Um, [pause] not that I can remember. I only played a couple of years in the summer leagues, and then most of the time I spent back in North Carolina.
SLAM: Do you notice that everyone’s eyes are always on you?
MJ: Sure. I know, and I can feel it. But that shouldn’t alter what I do on the basketball court. Off the court, yeah, sure.
SLAM: But it doesn’t seem to…are you oblivious to the fact that, when you walk down the court, those 10 cameras are trained at you…
MJ: Sure I mean, I feel like a fish in a fishbowl. That’s one of the disadvantages that comes along with the advantages.
SLAM: Think you’ll ever—some people obviously miss that spotlight.
MJ: Never. I would never miss it. I can’t wait until it changes.
SLAM: When was the last time you were able to go out, without getting mobbed?
MJ: A long time ago. It’s been a while, about 10 years at least.
SLAM: Will you live in Chicago after you’re done?
MJ: Sure. My roots are here now. My family’s from here. And my kids know Chicago. Yeah, I’m from North Carolina. And North Carolina’s always gonna be my home, but I live here. As far as I know; I never know what my wife is gonna do later…it could change.
SLAM: Do you still play full bore? I remember reading an interview in ’88, when you said, “I play all-out every day, every game. I’m not going to hold back, anything back.”
MJ: I play all out. In practice and in games.
SLAM: You’ve always said before that you wanted to retire still on top. Then you did. Came back—you’re back on top. Have you changed your mind? Do you still want to retire on top?
MJ: Sure, all the time.
SLAM: Or do you just want to keep playing now?
MJ: I want to keep playing until…if I feel I’m diminishing and I can’t live up to the expectations. Then—time for me to go.
SLAM: That could be, like, another 20 years [laughs].
MJ: You never know. I’d like to think that, but you never know.
SLAM: Charles Barkley has been talking about getting into politics after his NBA career. Would you vote for him?
MJ: Hell, no! [Laughs] No. No way. He’s witty, he’s smart, but he’s not a politician. He’s gotta help his own people. They’d vote for him down in Arkan…Alabama. I wouldn’t vote for him for shit in North Carolina.
SLAM: What was the funniest thing he ever said on the court that just…you had trouble keeping your composure?
MJ: I cannot say it [laughs].
SLAM: When was it?
MJ: The Playoffs. 1993.
SLAM: Sure you can’t say it?
MJ: I’m positive [laughs].
SLAM: Off the record?
MJ: Mmm-nnnn [i.e. No].
SLAM: Have you read Wilt Chamberlain’s latest book?
MJ: About me?
SLAM: Yeah. He had some really incredible, uncomplimentary things to say…I mean it’s almost bizarre. One thing he said: “If you took away Michael Jordan’s dunks, his shooting percentage would be terrible.” For Wilt to say that…
MJ: Well, Wilt—that’s ridiculous. Wilt only had the finger roll.
MJ: So? That tells you that I can shoot.
SLAM: Did you see any players on the Top 50—was there anybody who wasn’t on the Top 50 that you thought should have been there?
MJ: Sure. David Thompson, easy [pause]. McAdoo, without a doubt. But I mean, I’m not selecting, so… [laughs].
SLAM: What about, like, ’Nique? You think that’s an omission?
MJ: He was there.
SLAM: No he wasn’t.
[Turns out MJ is looking at the SLAM list, so…]
MJ: Dennis [Rodman]?
SLAM: No way.
MJ: Come on, now. The best rebounder—one of the best rebounders in the game.
SLAM: So? Dennis Rodman’s not in the Top 50.
MJ: [To others in the room] That’s his opinion.
SLAM: Yeah, I know [laughs]. What’s Rodman like in practice? What is his work ethic like in practice?
MJ: It can go, it can flow [laughs]. It depends on the night before [laughs]. But in the game, you know what you’re getting.
SLAM: And the rest of the team’s staying together?
MJ: I hope so. I don’t know, really, man. You guys ask me to be general manager. I can’t do that. I can’t be Jerry Krause.
SLAM: How does this team compare to the other teams you’ve had with the Bulls?
MJ: I think the ’91-93 teams were the best. ’94-95, I mean ’95-96, was just individual talent, specialized in different areas, coming together collectively to win. Back then we organized it, we stuck to the system.
SLAM: How long did it take for you to get used to that—get used to the triangle…
MJ: I’m still not used to that [laughs]. That’s how difficult it is. It’s a difficult system.
SLAM: Do you feel sorry for Tiger Woods?
MJ: Mmm-hmm. He doesn’t know what he’s got to deal with. It’s unnnnnbelieveable. And in terms of the hype and the expectations that I created, in terms of sports in America, and the sports arena…his is gonna be 10 times harder than mine. In an individual sport, he doesn’t have support systems to help him overcome a bad day.If I have a bad game, we still can win. He has a bad game, he’s gonna be crucified—on TV. It’s totally unfair. He’s in a game where he represents minorities, in all respects, so it hadn’t been—historically—there hadn’t been…that many in the situation that he is. He’s certainly feeling—he carries those types of social pressures.
SLAM: So you wouldn’t wish you were Tiger Woods?
SLAM: His age, his talent?
MJ: Nooooo way. Nooo way. I have hindsight.
SLAM: I’m sure you guys have played golf. What’s that like, playing with him?
MJ: He’s all right. He’s a good kid. He can hit it [pause]. He doesn’t intimidate me on the golf course, and I’m pretty sure I don’t intimidate him on the basketball court. I may [smile].
SLAM: Do you shoot hoops with him?
MJ: He’s scared.
SLAM: He’s not bad, is he?
MJ: I’ll knock his brains out. I’m in a contact sport. He can’t hit me on the golf course. Basketball—I’d knock him out. But I could see his talents; that goes without question.
SLAM: Are you ever intimidated by anyone anymore?
MJ: On the basketball court?
MJ: I mean, I’m intimidated by guys in other fields. Sure, ’cause that’s their profession. And if I’m trying to play their profession, sure, I’ve gotta be intimidated. But in basketball? Uh-uh.
SLAM: When was the last time?
MJ: That I was intimidated in basketball? When I first saw Shaquille. How big he is. I mean, that was a short intimidation factor, but [laughs] I just couldn’t fathom how big he was.
SLAM: Does the United Center feel like home yet?
MJ: It won’t ever feel like Chicago Stadium.
SLAM: How much bigger is it than Chicago Stadium?
MJ: The United Center’s like a mall. Chicago Stadium’s like a gym.
SLAM: You like playing in Madison Square Garden?
MJ: Yeah, I love it…’cause the history—everybody knows about basketball in New York City. And this is where you come see the best basketball played. That’s what Madison Square Garden’s always meant to me. And they’re very loyal to their fans, yet they’re very honorable about good basketball.
SLAM: Like if somebody’s hurt, they don’t cheer…
MJ: No. Even if I go in there and have a big game, they’re gonna cheer my efforts, but still have loyalty and want to see their team win. And that’s New York fans.
SLAM: Was that one of the great moments, the 55 that we all…
MJ: Sure. Every time I put up a big game in New York, it’s paying tribute to the respect they pay me. There’s some people that don’t want to see me come there. But…tough shit.
SLAM: Is that your favorite place to play?
MJ:Mmm-hmm. I love playing there.
SLAM: Where else? What other stadiums do you like?
MJ:I love Boston. Well, the old Boston. I love L.A. Uh, [long pause] those are my favorites.
SLAM: Have you ever seen yourself in another uniform?
MJ: Other than North Carolina? No.
SLAM: Well, the Knicks don’t have any cap room now, but I’m sure they’d be willing to dump some people, you know, if you wanna…
MJ: Nah, that’s all right…you guys got to do it on your own…