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ESPN on the Air

Our guys in Bristol share their insights on what makes MJ tick

SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott has been following his fellow UNC alum since their pickup games at Woolen Gym, where the action was as fierce as any at the old Carmichael Auditorium.

The only saving grace in being a member of the media who tries like hell to treat Michael Jordan without a trace of reverence is that you're not alone. We all tried, but failed. Those who brag that they didn't are liars. I played a charity game with him, and it was impossible not to be paranoid. "OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod! I gotta play well 'cause I'm playing with Mike!"

Even in a charity game, the pressure of being Jordan doesn't let up. Michael Finley was on the other team, hitting 30-footers all over. So MJ would come down and hit a three or dunk, just to entertain the crowd and make sure the FinDog was not the best player on the court.

The cliche is true. Michael Jordan makes you play better. There is no way you can walk down the court when Jordan's running. It might be a charity game to him, but to everybody else, including some NBAers who have never even sniffed the playoffs, this is the game we'll tell our kids about. Grandkids. Neighborhood kids. Kids in the park. This is the game that you will brag about to everybody who will listen.

NBA analyst Fred Carter, who averaged 15.2 points a game over his eight-year career, was a Bulls assistant under Kevin Loughery in Jordan's rookie year, and later had to face Jordan as head coach of the 76ers.

People talk about Michael not being a good jumpshooter early in his career. Now I played HORSE with Michael every day in his rookie season. Strictly jump shots, no trick shots. And I have beaten every player I've coached, shooters like Jeff Hornacek, Dana Barros and Jeff Malone. But I never beat Michael. I'd give it my best and he'd say,

"Coach, not good enough." He'd walk by me and tap me on the shoulder and say, "Coach, you can't win."

When I coached the 76ers in 1990, we played the Bulls in the playoffs and went up to their practice site in Chicago. I asked Michael for one last game of HORSE.

"I shoot first."

He said no.

"Age," I said.

"We shoot for it, Coach."

I missed. He made. He went first. The game was close. He shut me out 5-0.

Michael's shooting was overlooked because, like most young players, he attacked the basket. So you noticed that part of his game early. But the stroke on that shot that beat Georgetown in 1982 and the stroke on the shot that beat the Jazz last spring is the same. He may have gotten better over time, but the shot was already there.

When Michael went up against rookies, he tortured them. I saw him do it to Hersey Hawkins in Philadelphia in 1988. Hersey had led the nation in scoring the previous year, but Michael jumped all over him. Michael could just make you feel inferior.

I remember a game in Denver his rookie year. T.R. Dunn, one of the best defensive players in the league, guarded Michael and they beat us. Michael had 17 points. He didn't forget. When Denver came to our building later on, Michael hurt his ankle in the third quarter and we wanted him out of the game, which we were winning. He just kept saying, "I gotta play. I gotta play." And he went back out there and finished up with a triple-double. On T.R. Dunn. Message sent and received.

The next day in practice, I said, "Michael, take it easy. Let the ankle heal." I'll never forget what he said: "No I can't, Coach. I'll lose my rhythm." And he practiced hard that day on an ankle nobody would have even played on.

Dan Patrick has anchored SportsCenter at the sites of each of Jordan's six NBA titles, and always made sure he got to say hi to MJ.

After Michael won his first title in 1991, he told a friend that whenever I show up, he wins titles. So he promised to talk with me after every Bulls victory in an NBA Finals series. And he kept that promise, except for the flu game in 1997. And each time they won a championship, he would tell me, "When you show up, I win titles." I never broke the news to him that he probably could have done it without me.

After a Bulls win over the Jazz in the 1998 Finals, I was getting a little cocky, talking about my hoop game. Michael asked me to stand up. I did.

"How would you guard me?" he asked.

I put my arm in the middle of his back and he laughed. "Yeah, about 28 teams out there try to guard me that way."

"I couldn't guard you, Michael," I said. "But you couldn't guard me, either."

He gave me a look that indicated he doesn't hear that kind of stuff very often. Later, he told a friend that if he ever played me one-on one, he'd treat it like the seventh game of the Finals. But I realized that Michael never played in an ultimate Game 7. I'd be happy to offer Michael a new basketball experience.

ESPN Radio NBA analyst Kevin Loughery was the coach of the Bulls in Jordan's rookie season, and remains close to Jordan today.

When we drafted Michael, we knew he could shoot and we knew about his great athleticism, but he played in a passing offense under Dean Smith, and we didn't know if he could handle the ball. So we ran through some one-on-one and ballhandling drills the first day of practice. That answered that question. Rod Thorn was our general manager. We just looked at each other and said, "This guy's a star." I was shocked. We saw that he could do things we had no idea he was able to do.

But his competitiveness made the biggest impression. It's the third day of training camp and we're having a scrimmage to 10 baskets. His team goes up 8-3 and I decide to put him on the other team. He was indignant. Oh, he was mad, he didn't like the idea at all. So he changes jerseys, switches teams and scores seven straight. His team wins 10-8.

It was amazing.

Michael was a natural leader. One week into camp he was making demands on his teammates. I don't think anyone made greater demands on his teammates in any sport. Ever.

Dr. Jack Ramsay, ESPN NBA analyst, was coach of the Trail Blazers when they made the decision to passon Jordan in the '84 draft.

Long, long before the '84 draft, we had decided to take the best center available. We had good point guards and guys like Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler at two-guard. Our order of priority was Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Sam Bowie. When Ewing decided to stay at Georgetown and Houston won the toss and took Olajuwon, that left us with Bowie. We didn't think twice. Now we knew Michael Jordan was a good player, but I don't think anybody thought he'd be what he became.

I remember talking to James Worthy, who told me that what stood out about Michael in college was his competitiveness. James said that at Carolina you had to make a certain number of free throws in a row before you could leave practice. Michael always wanted to be the first to leave the floor. The first in the shower. The first back to the dorm so he could have his first choice of the entree for dinner. It was all about coming in first.

I remember one time when Rex Chapman had a big game against him in Miami, scoring about 39 points. The next time they played in Chicago, Michael just destroyed him-Chapman could barely even catch a pass. He can also get single-minded about his teammates. Once when Scottie Pippen was struggling, I remember Michael spent the whole first period setting Pippen up. Scottie got going and ended up with around 20 points. Then Michael concentrated on his own game and got his usual 30.

His acceptance of all the outside stuff was remarkable. One night in Miami, I went over to the Bulls locker room to say hi to Michael. I found him in a corridor and there must have been about 50 people surrounding him, kids and adults all clamoring for a bit of his attention. I asked him how he put up with that every night. "Well," he said, "I made up my mind that it's part of the game and it's something I have to do." Then, after playing about 46 of the 48 minutes of the game, he showed up at every press conference looking like someone in GQ. He patiently answered every question, no matter how pointed or ridiculous.