Goodness. Who knew his tank was filled with this much highly flammable fuel?
When Michael Jordan was done Friday night, it’s a wonder anybody had eyebrows left, such was the (mostly) good-natured scorching he applied to his friends and foes. His Hall of Fame induction speech turned into a roll call of all the people whose insults, real or imagined, made him the competitor he was.
He saved a high-powered flamethrower for former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. Krause has denied he once said that organizations, not players, win championships, but that infamous quote or non-quote led to Jordan’s sharpest remarks of the night.
“Jerry’s not here,” he said. “I don’t know who’d invite him. I didn’t. I hope he understands it goes a long way. He’s a very competitive person. I was a very competitive person. He said organizations win championships. I said, ‘I didn’t see organizations playing with the flu in Utah. I didn’t see it playing with a bad ankle.’
“Granted, I think organizations put together teams, but at the end of the day, the team’s got to go out and play. I think the players win the championship, and the organization has something to do with it, don’t get me wrong. But don’t try to put the organization above the players.”
Wounds apparently don’t heal in Jordan’s world.
It’s interesting that 11 years after he retired from the Bulls, there is still a need to set the record straight on why and how the Bulls won six titles. It wasn’t because of the coach, the GM or the triangle offense. It was because of No. 23.
And No. 23 apparently had a lot of things prodding him during his 14-year career. Not demons. Memories. Slights. As we found out Friday night, the list of people who either knowingly or unknowingly motivated Jordan was phone-book long: Dean Smith, Buzz Peterson, Isiah Thomas, George Gervin, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Bryon Russell, his high school coach, Kevin Loughery and Jerry Reinsdorf. His brother. “Media naysayers” who said he could score, but he couldn’t win.
And for good measure, he chided the Hall of Fame for jacking up ticket prices because he was in this year’s class.
It’s amazing the guy had time for thoughts that didn’t involve revenge.
He kept a mental checklist of all the people who he believed dissed him. Tar Heels teammate Peterson for being the North Carolina high school player of the year instead of Jordan. Russell for making the mistake of teasing a retired Jordan for being lucky he didn’t have to face him. Oops, Jordan unretired and eventually hit a shot over Russell to win the Bulls’ sixth title, against Utah.
His speech was fun masquerading as a sharp object. It was in stark contrast to his comments at a news conference earlier in the day, when he took time to say he and Chicago were a package deal.
Chicago did not have an inferiority complex before he arrived, but it did have a superiority complex by the time he was done playing for the Bulls.
At 46, he’s looking older these days, his face a little more worn, a little puffier. Middle age is doing its work.
But if there was ever a doubt, it’s gone now: The fire is as high as ever.