By Michael Jordan’s fifth year in the NBA, he was becoming one of the biggest icons in sports. MJ had been the Rookie of the Year, MVP, All-Star Game MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, shattering records individually, but he wasn’t able to get to the NBA Finals and win a championship. Then the Bulls hired Phil Jackson as their head coach, encouraged MJ to be more of a team player and the rest is history.
Jordan wanted to be the best. He competed to win, and he hated to lose. Because MJ wanted to be the best, he was the hardest worker in the gym. Yes, he was leading the NBA in scoring every year and he was on his way to becoming the best individual player in the game but he just wasn’t having team success. Michael Jordan was criticized because he wasn’t winning at the level of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Isiah Thomas. Jackson’s goal was to emphasize team play and to take the pressure off MJ by teaching him how to get his teammates more involved.
Jordan said that he wasn’t always a fan of Phil Jackson. “[Phil] was coming in to take the ball out of my hands. Doug put the ball in my hands,” Jordan explained. Phil Jackson had a philosophy to get them away from 1-on-1 basketball and more team basketball. He met with MJ and told him that he probably wouldn’t be the scoring champion again. The spotlight is on the ball and if one person always has the ball, they are easier to defend.
Jackson told Jordan, “I am not worried about you, but we to find a way to make everybody else better. We have to create other threats.” The triangle offense allowed everybody on the Bulls to play where they felt comfortable doing what they do best.
The success of the Bulls relied on Michael adjusting to this new philosophy, which tried to relieve him of some of the offensive pressure. While MJ struggled with this at first, he realized how important being a team player is if you are trying to win at the highest level. Michael Jordan had done it all statistically, but he still wasn’t seen as a winner. His game and success took off once he became a better teammate and made those around him better. “He realized that him scoring all the points wasn’t going to win the last game of the season. He made a conscious effort to say, ‘No individual is going to be [bigger than] the team,’” B.J. Armstrong, who won three NBA Championships with Jordan and the Bulls, said.
Michael Jordan was the largest icon that the NBA has ever seen, and he understood that he didn’t need to have the ball in his hands all of the time. He and his teammates knew that they had to make a change if they wanted to be champions.