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Michael Jordan has returned to center stage with the release of the 10-part documentary series by ESPN called “The Last Dance”. The series follows Jordan through the 1997-1998 season with his famed Chicago Bulls team. To set the stage for this final season as a dynasty team, the documentary covers Jordan’s early years with a heavy focus on his work ethic and competitive spirit. This is reigniting a desire for most to find a way to be like Michael Jordan.
Most people know Michael Jordan as a basketball superstar, a sneaker and clothing mogul, and even as a successful actor. What a lot of people don’t know is all the work that went on behind the scenes to make Michael Jordan into all of these things.
Be Like Michael Jordan – The Early Years
Most people know about Michael Jordan’s professional accomplishments:
- Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year
- NCAA Championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- 2 time NBA Dunk Contest winner
- NBA Defensive Player of the Year
- Five-time NBA MVP
- 10 NBA league scoring titles
- 14 NBA All-Star selections
- 3 NBA All-Star MVP
- Six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls
- Six-time NBA Championships Final MVP
There are certainly more accolades that could be listed here, but for those unfamiliar with Jordan, this gives you an idea of his amazing career.
But, what most find most interesting about the documentary series is the deep dive into the early years of “Mike Jordan” before he became Air Jordan.
Michael was born on February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. Jordan was molded at an early age to have a strong work ethic and laser focus by his parents – James and Deloris Jordan. His parents were raising five children and they had little patience for wandering children.
For the Love of Basketball – Pre-College
Michael developed a love of basketball at an early age. The work ethic and drive generally instilled in him quickly fueled his desire to grow as a basketball player and competitor.
Jordan went out for his high school basketball team as a sophomore. He was unsuccessful in making the team as a sophomore.
Some people would have let this early disappointment derail their dreams – not Jordan. This may have been the fuel he needed to grow to greatness. Jordan came back the next year and made the team as a junior.
He quickly developed his basketball skills and at the end of his high school career, he accepted a scholarship to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Be Like Michael Jordan – College – The Legend Begins
Jordan came under the wing of the late Dean Smith. And Smith, as head coach of the Tar Heels, quickly saw the raw natural potential of Jordan, but he also saw that he was inconsistent as a freshman player. Not only did Jordan have the benefit of working with Dean Smith, but he also had Roy Williams who was Smith’s assistant.
Williams relayed in the documentary that Jordan had told him that he wanted to be the best player to ever play at UNC. This was a bold statement as a young freshman. But this confidence demonstrates the internal view that Jordan possessed.
Much to Jordan’s surprise, Williams’s response was that he was going to have to work a lot harder. Jordan responded to this call to action by assuring Williams that no one would ever work as hard as he would work.
Jordan took to this challenge laid in front of him by Williams. Even though he was blessed with immense natural talent (Williams shares a story of witnessing Jordan run a 40-yard dash time of 4.39 during his sophomore year), Jordan remained hungry and open to learning.
These early years in North Carolina are where the Jordan method developed. Williams said that he “never freaking turned it off”. And, this is where you can see the desire to learn and grow into the greatest basketball player ever being born.
Teammates of Jordan at UNC confirmed that as a freshman player he relentlessly worked to always get better. For instance, after practice would end, most teammates would call it a day, but according to his teammates, Jordan would not. Jordan’s drive for greatness would keep him on the court – practicing – long after practice ended.
Jordan’s desire to grow as an athlete continued throughout his time at North Carolina.
Be Like Michael Jordan – Actionable Lessons From The UNC Years
Michael Jordan’s actionable lessons begin to take form at UNC.
Jordan won the ACC Rookie of the Year award during his freshman year at UNC. Rather than resting on this award, he recognized that he had to grow. Instead of sitting back and soaking up the early accolades, he focused on the bigger goals.
The first meaningful lesson that can be taken away from Jordan is the act of goal setting. Above all, Jordan knew that his ultimate goal was to be the best basketball player ever. In order to accomplish this goal, he was going to need to learn and grow. Most of us will never become the greatest basketball player but we can replicate the steps taken by the greatest basketball player. So, the first is to set purposeful goals for yourself.
Michael Jordan sensed that he was only going to be able to accomplish his goal if he was persistent. Therefore, when everyone else ended their day after a long practice – he stayed. To be better than the rest he had to commit more than the rest. Winning the Rookie of the Year award was a great accomplishment, However, that was not what he ultimately wanted. Instead, he wanted to be something that no trophy existed for. He wanted to be the greatest. In order to become the greatest, he needed to commit to a routine like no other. In other words, he would be the greatest at training, practice, learning so that he could become the greatest at the underlying craft.
Because Jordan had a clear vision of his future goal (being the greatest ever) he was able to remain engaged in the pursuit. He accepted the accolades along the way but he did not allow those accolades to be a substitute for his ultimate goal. Rather, he accepted them, sat them to the side, and kept working. This may be the greatest lesson from Jordan because it would be the hardest for most people to replicate. Even when Jordan was a star at UNC and later on a global scale, he did not allow this level of success and fame to slow down his pursuit of ultimate greatness. This skill is something that makes him the most difficult to replicate. Above all, he would not allow himself to be distracted by intermediary accomplishments. In other words, he had an insatiable hunger that could not be substituted.
Appetite to Learn:
Jordan wanted to be better than everyone. As a result of this desire, he knew he had to be a sponge for information. Being a natural athlete was not going to be enough. He had to become a master of his craft both physically and mentally. James Worthy was a teammate of Jordan at UNC and he relayed that “from month to month, from game to game, he was soaking up information. Once he got something and added it to the raw talent that he already had, it was really explosive to see.” Even as the best player on the team, he did not allow himself to be satisfied. He continued to strive for basketball knowledge.
Be Like Michael Jordan – NBA – The Legend Grows
Michael Jordan was drafted into the NBA at the 3rd overall pick in 1984 by the Chicago Bulls. Jordan went from, arguably, the best college team to one of the worst NBA teams. In addition, he knew that all of his accomplishments in college, would not matter after the draft was over. In other words, he was going to have to prove himself all over again on a bigger stage with tougher competition.
However, Jordan took the skills he had begun developing at UNC and sharpened them in the NBA. The goal-setting, persistence, hunger and appetite to learn would continue to help him grow as an NBA player.
Jordan himself was famously quoted as saying – “The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”
Jordan knew that he could push himself to be better, but what he learned in the NBA was that in order to achieve his ultimate goal – he had to make his teammates better as well.
Be Like Michael Jordan – Actionable Lessons From The NBA Years
Jordan built upon his college lessons throughout his amazing professional career. There are actionable lessons that we are only able to glean from his time in the NBA.
The early years in the NBA taught Jordan a lot about how to win. He quickly learned that he had the skills to dominate on an individual level in the league. For example, throughout the 1980s he racked up the rookie of the year title, scoring titles, MVP awards, and defensive player of the year awards. However, he was unable to win a championship. He could not get to the level of greatness he sought – alone.
The league was able to adjust to a dominant individual player. Defenses were drawn up to focus effort around him alone. Because, why defend everyone if he was the only threat.
Once Phil Jackson came along he was able to help Michael see the value in developing his teammates around him. In order to win, he needed his teammates to be a threat as well. Jordan learned that “if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
Jordan learned the importance of having a strong group around him. He also learned that as a leader, it was his responsibility to help that development occur.
Even the Great Ones Have to Embrace Change:
Jordan realized, around 1993, that he needed to change. Shockingly, Jordan felt that he needed to retire from the NBA – arguably at the pinnacle of his professional success, and try something new. Jordan was honest with himself despite what everyone around him was saying. He moved on from basketball to try his hand at professional baseball.
He was not successful at baseball and he returned to basketball with the Chicago Bulls in 1995. Did the time off from basketball hurt him? Of course not. Jordan was refreshed and he won three more championships after that point.
Jordan said – “I needed a change. I was getting tired of the same old activity and routine and I didn’t feel all the same appreciation that I had felt before and it was tiresome. A lot of things correlated with that – my father dying, the opportunity to play baseball, my desire to make a change. I look back on it and it was perfect timing to break away from it and see what I was missing, to see what it meant to me, to see the enjoyment that I got from the game.”
The change that Jordan needed was one of perspective. He had been part of the game for so long and he had allowed it to be so consuming that he needed some distance from it in order to regain his appreciation.
Being Present Is Key:
Jordan learned that in order to excel he had to stay in the present moment. He had to forget the past and ignore the future. The present is the only thing within his control. He could not change the past. There is no reason to distract yourself with what “might” happen in the future. There are too many variables that can intervene in the future that could derail the best of plans.
Jordan would learn to strive to embrace the present. He is quoted as saying “live the moment for the moment.” Let go of the past and let the future happen. The best he could do is prepare himself for the future. He could not predict the future but he could prepare himself for whatever the future would hold for him.
It is very difficult to stay in the moment, but according to Jordan, this was one of his greatest skills.
The greatness of Michael Jordan is not limited to his amazing basketball talent. His true greatness may actually lie in the lessons we can pull from his life and career.
If you want to be like Michael Jordan then try to emulate the life skills that he developed and ultimately mastered. Will you become the greatest basketball player in history? No, most likely you will not. However, you may end up becoming the very best version of yourself. And, isn’t that what you are striving for anyway? Isn’t that what Michael Jordan was driven to achieve?
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