With 26 combined NBA seasons, Scott Brooks has both played and coached with and against some of the greatest players in basketball history -- some who have long since been inducted into the Hall of Fame and some who certainly will be. He remembers one opponent in particular, back when he was a player, that made him starstruck during game action.
Brooks was a rookie when a defensive switch put him on an island against Michael Jordan, who, at 25 years old, was already a reigning MVP.
"I remember it almost like it was in slow motion. I said, 'I cannot believe I'm guarding Michael Jordan.' I said that like literally to myself as I'm guarding him," Brooks told NBC Sports Washington.
Jordan, Brooks said, showed mercy on him.
"The greatest thing is, he knew he could do whatever he wanted to do, but he just made a simple pass to the next guy over. He didn't even try to score on me. So that's my claim to fame," Brooks said.
Brooks played against Jordan 20 times in his career, and his teams actually fared quite well, all things considered. Brooks went 7-9 in the regular season across his stints with the Sixers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Rockets. The playoffs were a different story. Jordan took those 3-1 and happened to outscore Brooks by exactly 40 points per game.
What Brooks remembers most of all about playing against Jordan was his defense. Most think of Jordan as a scorer, but he won the defensive player of the year award for the 1987-88 season and was a nine-time All-Defense selection. He also led the NBA in steals three times.
"I just remember how intimidating he was on the defensive end. Everybody talks about his offense, and rightfully so. The guy was probably the greatest offensive player. But his defense was intimidating for a point guard," Brooks said.
"A lot of times your entry pass to the offense was to the two, to the off-guard. It was nerve-racking making that pass because you knew he was lurking in the weeds, and he was gonna jump out and take the ball. He challenged passes. It's hard to get guys to challenge shots, and he would challenge passes. That's how good he was."
Most of the legendary stories about playing against Jordan deal with his trash-talking. There are countless tales, including one told by Chris Webber to the Dan Patrick Show in 2013. Webber was on the Washington Bullets when they faced the Bulls in the first round of the 1997 playoffs.
According to Webber, Jordan walked into the Bullets' locker room before Game 1 with a lit cigar and asked the team: "'Who's going to check me tonight?'" He then had a lit cigar again before Game 3 as the Bullets got off the bus, and he was standing next to a black Ferrari with Scottie Pippen. Webber said Jordan was "letting us know that he's the Red Auerbach before the game even started. It was almost like 'I lit the cigar. I'm celebrating already. This is just a formality, you guys getting on the court tonight.'"
That is vicious stuff and Brooks said he was spared from it. Jordan apparently set his trash-talking sights on the bigger fish in the sea.
"He never trash-talked me, but I don't think I was ever a concern for him," Brooks said with a smile. "I don't think I could ever get under his skin anyway. Why would he ever want to trash-talk me? He probably felt sorry for me."
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