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Michael Jordan's Most Intense Practice Stories and Highlights from Bulls Career

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan yells at an official in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Killer instinct.

Unmatched drive.

Will do anything to win.

The greatest competitor the sport, or perhaps any sport, has ever seen.

Given the way Michael Jordan is so often described, it should come as no surprise his legendary competitiveness led to tension and even fights with teammates during practices. The Last Dance documentary already touched on that tension in May 3's episodes when it discussed Sam Smith's book, The Jordan Rules, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at how demanding he was of his teammates.

According to the book, he wore on them, yelled at them and even punched Will Perdue during a practice.

Perdue joined CBS Sports HQ and said he wasn't the only one Jordan punched during practices:

"He did, and I wasn't the only one. That's how competitive our practices were. That wasn't the only fight, that was one of numerous. But because it involved Michael Jordan, and it leaked out, that it became a big deal. And the funny thing was, in that practice that it happened, we basically separated, regrouped and kept practicing—it wasn't like that was the end of practice. Stuff like that was common, because that's how competitive our practices were."

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“He did. I wasn’t the only one.” Will Perdue answers the question: Did Michael Jordan punch you during practice? #TheLastDance https://t.co/88HLaz6xfZ

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Horace Grant, who Jordan blamed for being the primary source for Smith's book, provided more specifics in an interview with Hot 97 in 2016 (h/t Scott Gleeson of USA Today):

"Will set an illegal pick. MJ said, 'Will, don't do it again.' 'What are you talking about?' That's Will. MJ says, 'Alright.' Phil says, 'Run it again.' So naturally, we ran it two more times. Illegal pick. MJ walks up to Will—boom. Lit him up. It was over. We grabbed Will—you're not going to hurt MJ. ... So, the next day, Will gets on the plane with a huge shiner."

While an outright punch may have been somewhat unusual, the fact Perdue said the team just continued practicing suggested it wasn't that out of the ordinary.

Jalen Rose revealed that practices were simply more physical in the 1990s on ESPN's Jalen & Jacoby, noting it was partially a byproduct of differences in the way the game is played. Today's game is much more focused on three-point shooting and pace-and-space, while that of the 1990s was more physical with players in the paint and protecting the rim.

Jordan's ire didn't stop with Perdue.

In a preview for Sunday's episodes of The Last Dance, Golden State Warriors head coach and former Jordan teammate Steve Kerr discussed a fight he had with No. 23 that resulted in His Airness being kicked out of practice.

Jordan said he was frustrated with head coach Phil Jackson calling fouls on him when he was guarding Kerr and unleashed a particularly hard one as his frustration built.

"I have a lot of patience as a human being, but I tend to snap at some point," Kerr said. "Because I'm extremely competitive, too. Just not really good enough to back it up usually."

Kerr hit Jordan in the chest, and MJ responded by hitting the sharpshooter right in the eye. Jackson had seen enough and threw his star player out of practice.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

"I just haul off and hit him right in the f---ing eye. And Phil just throws me out of practice." Episodes 7 & 8 air next Sunday at 9 PM ET on ESPN 📺 #TheLastDance https://t.co/ONZAnjlcbc

Jordan's legendary competitiveness wasn't just limited to his time on the Bulls. Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated described what he called "the greatest game nobody ever saw," which was an intra-squad scrimmage between members of the Dream Team before the 1992 Olympics.

Jordan's team featured Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing, while Magic Johnson's team had Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner. Jordan and Johnson chirped at each other throughout the scrimmage, which surely woke the former up after the Los Angeles Lakers legend jumped out to a quick lead.

Johnson, who called Jordan's teammates "the Jordanaires," joked that "we ain't in Chicago Stadium anymore" when his opponent didn't get a call and then said "all they did was move the Bulls Stadium right here" when the whistle started to turn.

While Jordan exchanged quips and pointed out it was the 1990s and now his era to Johnson, it was after he led his team to a comeback victory that he was particularly biting.

He started pacing the sideline and singing the jingle from the "Be Like Mike" Gatorade commercial that was so popular at the time. He also sang the song on the bus back to the hotel, and the proverbial torch for the best player in the world was officially passed.

"Let me tell you something—it would've been worse for everybody if he lost," Johnson said. "Because I could let something go after a while. But Michael? He'd never let it go. He never let anything go."

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