Warriors

Michael Jordan secretly practiced with Warriors, targeted Latrell Sprewell

Michael Jordan secretly practiced with Warriors, targeted Latrell Sprewell

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on the most unforgettable moments in sports. The first episode, “I’m Back,” tells never-before-heard stories about the two-word fax from Michael Jordan that changed the course of NBA history.

It was only two days in the Bay. A couple practices with the Warriors that, really, materialized from the thin air in the stratosphere of Michael Jordan’s aura.

There was some golf. Some catching up with friends. Some laughs. No, a lot of laughs.

There was a purpose, too. MJ had ulterior motives. When did he not? This was 1994 and he had been away from the NBA for nearly two years, devoting most of that time to playing minor-league baseball. He wondered if at age 31 he could recover the supernatural skills that had allowed him to conquer every challenge the league had to offer.

Jordan had connections with the Warriors. He was close with Rod Higgins, a former Bulls teammate who in 1994 was an assistant coach under Don Nelson. Jordan also was friends with Chris Mullin, a teammate on the Dream Team in 1992.

Jordan did not know the Warriors’ newest baller, 24 years old but already an All-Star. That made him a target. MJ figured the first onramp of his journey back to the NBA should be Latrell Sprewell.

“One morning when Michael was visiting, he calls me,” Higgins recalls. “I was on my way to practice, and he called and said, ‘Do you think it’s alright if I practice with you guys?’  And I said, ‘I don’t think so, but let me call Nellie.’ ”

Higgins phoned Nelson, who has a rich appreciation of history and a richer fondness for greatness. Nellie’s response: “Hell, yeah.”

Eric Housen, then the Warriors’ equipment manager and now director of team operations, outfitted Jordan with a jersey, shorts and wristbands. MJ borrowed shoes from Mullin. After everyone was dressed, the Warriors and their temporary teammate took the floor for a closed-door scrimmage at Oracle Arena, near the Oakland Coliseum Arena.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

“We had Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell at that point in time and they might have been popping off a little bit,” Mullin recalls.

Hardaway, a point guard with hubris beyond measure, was 28 and a three-time All-Star. At 6-5 and wiry strong, Sprewell had a Jordanesque physique and nearly as much athleticism. As a shooting guard, he was the matchup, if you will, for Jordan.

“MJ really wanted to play against Hardaway and Sprewell because Sprewell was kind of like the new ‘it’ so to speak in terms of the ‘2’ guards,” Higgins says.

Among Jordan’s teammates were center Rony Seikaly and Mullin, who was rehabbing a knee injury sustained in the preseason.  The others were reserves.

“And then Sprewell and Hardaway played with other players, which I don’t know how those groups fared out,” Higgins says. “But once Michael got warmed up, you could tell his objective was to basically kick Spree and Tim’s behind and talk trash to them.”

“He just took over our practice,” Hardaway says.

Jordan is a challenge hound. Always has been. If he sees an obstacle, real or imagined, clearing it becomes an obsession. He wanted to see what young Sprewell had. MJ also wanted to know where he stood in comparison to the greatness displayed 16 months earlier, as an eight-time member of the All-NBA first team.

“What I remember is him walking on the court after not playing, probably played 36 holes of golf the day before, and dominated,” Mullin says.

“How graceful he was  ... shooting step-back jump shots, faking, dunking on people,” Hardaway recalls. “He made that team, that wasn’t playing a lot, show the coach that they should be playing.

“So, we knew he was coming back. I knew, at that particular time, he was coming back.”

Jordan’s team won. Of course. As an assistant coach, Higgins hoped Hardaway and Sprewell, with friction diminishing their fabulous talent, would learn the importance of cohesion and commitment to the team.

It didn’t quite work out that way. After a 7-1 start, the Warriors went into an epic tailspin, losing 22 of their next 25 games. In early February, a couple months after Jordan’s cameo, Nelson resigned. The Warriors finished at 26-56.

[RELATED: Is Warriors landing Giannis worth losing Klay Thompson?]

In February 1996, Hardaway was traded to Miami. Sprewell made two more All-Star teams but was suspended after attacking coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997 and traded in January 1999.

As for Jordan, we know what he did a few months after working out with the Warriors. He announced his return by fax: “I’m back.” And he led the Bulls to championships in 1996, ’97 and ’98.

Warriors' tough year had silver lining, ex-assistant Luke Walton says

Warriors' tough year had silver lining, ex-assistant Luke Walton says

The Warriors had a much bigger number in the loss column this season than former assistant Luke Walton is used to seeing.

Golden State lost 37 combined regular-season and playoff games when Walton, now the Kings' head coach, was on Steve Kerr's staff from 2014 through 2016. The Warriors lost 50 this season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012 as Klay Thompson rehabbed his torn ACL and Steph Curry missed all but five games with a broken hand.

Walton doesn't envision a repeat during the 2020-21 season, whenever it begins.

“I think having this unforced year off for them was probably good for them,” Walton said of the Warriors on the latest episode of the "Purple Talk" podcast. “You go to The Finals two straight times, three straight times, mentally and physically, it’s like impossible. They went five straight times.

"Big picture, it’s probably good that all of this happened at one time together so they can sit out.”

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Walton had a courtside seat for two of those runs before becoming the Los Angeles Lakers' head coach, and the Warriors played over half a season's worth of additional games -- 46, to be exact -- in those two postseasons alone. That number ballooned to 106 after Golden State lost to the Toronto Raptors in last year's NBA Finals.

Thompson (490), Green (476) and Curry (451) ranked first, second and fifth, respectively, in the NBA in total games played during the Warriors' dynastic run. Throw in USA Basketball trips for all three players, and that's a grind like few of their peers experienced.

A step back during the season was one thing, but a prolonged offseason might be another. Kerr and Green admitted earlier this week they feel like they're missing out by not being in the NBA bubble, as the Kings currently are in pursuit of a playoff spot. The Warriors haven't played since March, and they won't play in another competitive NBA game any sooner than December with the league's calendar upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

[RELATED: Kerr goes to bat for Wiggins, calls him 'a damn good player']

Whenever the next season does start, Walton believes the Warriors will have no trouble returning to the rarefied air to which they've become so accustomed.

“Steve will have them ready to go,” Walton added. “I think knowing their players, they’ll be juiced and excited to show the world what they still have and they’ll probably add a pretty good draft pick in there as well.”

Who should Warriors try to acquire with massive $17.2M trade exception?

Who should Warriors try to acquire with massive $17.2M trade exception?

Some of the best and --- let's be honest -- worst conversations regarding the Warriors take place on social media. 

Strong voices and opinions of Dub Nation defend or criticize their squad, not afraid to share their thoughts with absolute authority. Many of these personalities live on Twitter, where everyone can be a general manager, coach, critic, troll and/or hot-taker. 
 
In our Warriors Twitter Roundtable, we will share a five-part series of questions designed to touch on the major conversations floating around the Warriors Twitter world. Answering the questions will be a panel of some of the more prominent and revered voices within the community.
 
Part 1 had our panel name the five best players in the NBA, while Part 2 answered whether or not the Warriors should be considered contenders right now. Part 3 asked the panel to identify their ideal candidate to be acquired on the mid-level exception.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Here is Part 4:

Who is your ideal (and reasonably realistic) addition for the Warriors with the trade exception?
 
@poormanscommish: I’m going to borrow my esteemed NBA journalists’ ideas again and go for broke on their suggestion of enticing the Minnesota Timberwolves to get James Johnson off their books (using said TPE), then flipping him and the Warriors’ 2021 first-round pick to the Orlando Magic for Aaron Gordon. This is all based on the premise that the Steph/Klay/Dray window is closing, of course, and has the consequence of the Warriors having to hold off on finding someone from a loaded 2021 Draft who Steph might eventually pass the torch to.
 
@samesfandiari: This one is the toughest Q of all. So many factors w/ re: to TPE. Where do they pick? What does the player cost to acquire? There are players I'd like but aren't worth 2-3 first-round picks. Gut opinion: Aaron Gordon. Orlando has passively considered moving him the last year. Perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to unload him for a different type of player. Gordon is a super athlete, has shown he's capable of guarding multiple positions and can pass a little bit. He'd be a welcome addition to warriors core.
 
@Jannelle12: I was against the idea at first but I'm inclined to say acquiring Michael Carter-Williams on the minimum would be a steal. The Warriors need to solidify their defense and Carter-Williams provides versatility and length. Another solid target would be Derrick Rose. He was shooting as high as 37 percent from deep in Minnesota a year ago. For the Pistons, he's been efficient. He can steady the second unit while Steph is on the bench. 
 
@AndyKHLiu: With Brian Windhorst's article, I would guess the Warriors are doubling down and getting ready to spend during a time that no one else can or will. Whether that be in the form of using the trade exception to eat a contract or buying first-round picks, Joe Lacob is in a unique situation to take advantage of being one of the richest franchises in the NBA. That is why I think they will be willing to use most if not all of the trade exception in acquiring Aaron Gordon. They would have to bring in another team or find a bridge contract to get to Aaron Gordon in next year's trade deadline. And beyond that, the next few years would send their tax bill to astronomical levels. All that being said, I think if the option is on the table, the Warriors do it. Aaron Gordon would be the bigger version of the hybrid wing/big that Andrew Wiggins is (hybrid guard/forward). Both were stuck in bad situations with immense talent that the Warriors hope Steph Curry fixes. And he will. With the finishing lineup Steph at the 1, Wiggins at the 2, Klay at the 3, Gordon at the 4, Draymond at the 5, how's Death Lineup 3.0 for you?
 
@GSWReddit: Assuming the Warriors don’t want to trade away either their 2021 Minnesota pick or their 2020 1st (or at the most would only do a pick swap for the 5-15 range), there’s quite a limitation on what sort of player they could get for the TPE. Someone who could make some sense for both parties would be Rudy Gay. The Spurs seem to be edging towards a youth movement and an upheaval of their roster and Gay might be someone they are willing to part with just to move on from him and his salary alone (or maybe for some sort of low-level asset like a second-rounder). The Warriors could use a big wing who can play as a 3/4 in their lineups and a veteran like Gay can offer them a scoring punch off the bench and mentorship for their very young roster. If I recall correctly, the Warriors actually had some interest in Gay prior to him signing with the Spurs in 2017, so it’s definitely a union that could make sense and probably a realistic get for them. 
 
My take (@grantliffmann): Aaron Gordon would take a lot of maneuvering to pull off, and I am not sure the Warriors will want to take their time to do so if it means sacrificing assets and passing up other opportunities. Rudy Gay has been a name that has popped up in rumors, and would typically make sense, if the front office figured they would be getting the 2018-19 version of him versus the one this season that struggled mightily. If the Warriors were not looking to spend all of the TPE, however, names like Tomas Satoranksy and Derrick Rose could be perfect additions to the backcourt.