MJ: It was not a goal. It was not something we started out the season [trying] to achieve. But when it got within reach, we wanted to do it. Don’t forget, we didn’t start out the season saying we were going to win 70 games. We started out the season saying we’re going to win a Championship. This team has a lot of confidence. We have a good rhythm to the way we play. We believe we can win every game we step out on the court to play. We know how to focus on games, especially when we didn’t do well the game before.
SLAM: Like that 20-point loss to the Knicks…
In the first game of the season, Jason Caffey got nervous. In his first game as a pro, he began to feel that the Bulls were losing by eight to Charlotte at the half because of him. Never pressed, Mike pulled him to the side outside of the locker room and taught.
“I told him, ‘Just play the game of basketball,’” Jordan says. “‘It’s simple. If you can’t remember the plays, it’s cool. Don’t worry about it. Just do the things that got you here. Set a screen, get a rebound. Just play ball.’”
Caffey didn’t play much better in the second half, but Mike did. He took his own advice and simply came out and played ball. The way only he knows how. Lead by example. Move as a team, never move alone. Yo son, just do it.
It would seem impossible to stay motivated to do something you were already the best at. But Jordan still finds challenges. At times, even he doesn’t feel like he’s the best in the game. It’s not humility or humbleness, it’s honesty. Despite everything, Jordan still feels that there’s a lot of Jason Caffey left in him. There’s still a lot to learn, there’s still room for improvement. That the only difference between him and Caffey is experience. The game of basketball tells him this every night, and he does more than listen; he pays attention and builds. Life to Jordan is not a game, but basketball is life. As he goes, so does the game. But he’ll be the first to tell you that it’s never all about him.
SLAM: You still get motivated?
MJ: Each time I step on the basketball court. I have a motivation either to prove something to myself or to prove something to you or to the other team. I don’t like to lose. This team doesn’t like to lose. That’s motivation within itself. It’s a definite and a don’t. Either way, you don’t want to lose and that’s the motivation.
SLAM: Game situation. Score tied in the fourth. What do you personally put on yourself in those situations?
MJ: It’s just a matter of bucking down and making some big plays. Usually, I can get a team ignited and pull off a stretch [run]. It’s important to get that first burst of energy before the other team does, because if they get it before you do, they’ll get more confidence—and that’s the one thing you don’t want to happen.
SLAM: OK, no more game Qs. If you only had $5, who would you pay to see play ball?
MJ: I would pay to see Scottie Pippen play. I think he is the ultimate team player. A guy that can score, pass, rebound and play defense. I also think he’s great to have in the locker room. We have been closer this year and I have really enjoyed that.
SLAM: I heard through the grapevine that you and Scottie have never played each other in a one-on-one. Drop the diplomacy. What would happen if you two went at it?
MJ: I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what would happen, but there’d be a lot of talkin’ going on. Sometimes we are on opposite teams in practice and go at each other. That’s always fun, but my team usually wins.
SLAM: As a fan of basketball, what has been your biggest thrill? In other words, outside of your personal accomplishments, what has given you the greatest joy? What has made you smile the most?
MJ: One of the things I can say that I enjoy the most is watching my teammates grow and become part of something special. Guys like Randy Brown, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, Ron Harper—they have never been part of a championship-type team like we have right now. Now that they have a chance, I want them to enjoy it, because they know how hard it is to get there. But we haven’t gotten there yet. I just have to make sure I do what I have to do so that we can get there.
SLAM: What’s the biggest difference in you since you came back? Besides that turnaround jumper.
MJ: [Laughs] I think I’ve matured. I’m in more control of my personal life, as well as my basketball life. I went and took a break from “you guys.” I think my last two years away made me a more mature person to deal with a lot of things surrounding my life in general. I’m just in better control of myself right now. I’m glad to be back. And I think I deserve to come back and play the game I truly love.
SLAM: Are you that good?
MJ: I’m alright.
SLAM: Have you ever seen anybody do anything on the court that made you say, “Damn, I wish I could do that?”
MJ: I’m telling you, Scottie does a lot of things on the court that amaze me. He moves really well and has those long arms and legs, and basically has no weaknesses. Also, he’s matured and is confident of his role on this team. At times, he amazes me.
SLAM: There’s one question I’ve always wanted to ask you…when you see other players wearing Air Jordans—your shoes—what do you say to ’em?
MJ: I tell them, “Don’t embarrass my shoes.”
SLAM: You say that to everybody?
MJ: Everybody that wears ’em.
SLAM: What do you have to say to people who claim that you aren’t the same player you were before you left? That you lost it?
MJ: For all those people who say I lost a step, I think I’ve proved that there are other ways to make that step [smiles].
SLAM: Yo Dog, wassup with the new contract next year?