It’s difficult to imagine a time when Michael Jordan wasn’t the GOAT. MJ is so cemented at the top of basketball culture, it’s easy to forget that he was once far from the “greatest ever,” even after the Bulls had won a couple of championships.

In Episode 5 of “The Last Dance,” the show explores Jordan’s rise from basketball star to international icon. How did Jordan make his way past Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who were the reigning faces of the association? The show suggests it happened when all of the NBA’s stars came together to form the Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

With so many stars, it’s hard to imagine an obvious pecking order at the outset of team practices, and Magic Johnson wasn’t going to relinquish his spot at the top easily.

“That’s right, that’s right. They all have to listen to me,” Johnson joked during a pre-Olympics photoshoot with Bird and Jordan. “Whatever I say goes.”

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But everything changed in a team scrimmage before the Olympics began.

Johnson and Charles Barkley were leading a team against Jordan’s squad, and they’d gotten out to a big lead. So Magic decided to poke at Jordan to see just what competitive juices he could conjure up in him.

“We were up about eight points, I think,” Johnson said. “I went over and tapped him, and I said, ‘Look man, if you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re gonna blow you out.’ Man, what’d I say that for?”

 

As the story goes, Jordan turned into His Airness after that and went on a scoring tear, dominating some of the best players in the world.

“Before we know it, they were up two,” Johnson said.

But that one streak of dominance in that one team practice did more than win one scrimmage for Jordan’s side. It won Jordan his place atop the entire Dream Team.

“Game on the line, who would take the last shot?” NBC reporter Ahmad Rashad asked Jordan as he passed through a hotel lobby.

“Me,” Jordan replied. “That’s a dumb question. Me.”

“After that game, everyone kind of acknowledged we’re in a new era,” said Brian McIntyre, who worked NBA media relations during the 1992 Olympics. “Michael Jordan was the alpha alpha, period.”

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