With one word, Michael Jordan captured his championship commitment, his maniacal drive to win at all costs.
Jordan said the word — signaling his need to “The Last Dance” director Jason Hehir that he needed a break — at the end of Sunday’s Episode 7 that aired on ESPN. Jordan had just exhausted himself, visibly becoming emotional when explaining his legendary competitiveness.
“Look, I don’t have to do this,” Jordan said. “I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way. Break.”
It’s a riveting scene, to be sure. It followed footage of Jordan riding and pushing multiple teammates in practices and other settings. Scott Burrell, in particular, gets tough treatment.
“Yeah, let’s not get it wrong: He was an a**hole. He was a jerk. He crossed the line numerous times,” said Will Perdue, a teammate on the first three-peat teams. “But as time goes on and you think about what he was actually trying to accomplish, you’re like, ‘Yeah, he was a helluva teammate.’”
Before the documentary began airing, multiple stories surfaced that Jordan worried somewhat about how he might be perceived. This episode showed why.
“My mentality was to go out and win — at any cost,” Jordan said. “If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me. Because I’m going to ridicule you until you get on the same level as me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s going to be hell for you.”
Jud Buechler, who, like Burrell, was a reserve on the 1997-98 team, even said teammates were afraid of Jordan. But like Perdue, Buechler realized that the ends justified the means.
Jordan certainly didn’t apologize for his approach.
“Look, winning has a price. And leadership has a price,” Jordan said in the final scenes, as highlights and dramatic music played. “So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured. Once you join the team, you live in a certain standard that I played the game (with) and I wasn’t going to take anything less. Now, if that means I have to go in there and get in your ass a little bit, then I did that.
“You ask all my teammates. The one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t f**king do.
“When people see this, they gonna say, ‘Well, he wasn’t really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant.’ Well, that’s you. Because you never won anything. I wanted to win. But I wanted them to win to be a part of that as well.”