NBA

The Last Dance: Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls team-mates 'had to have thick skin'

By Sports Desk May 11, 2020

Michael Jordan only tolerated competitive players and his team-mates needed "thick skin" to survive in Chicago, according to former Bulls guard Rusty LaRue.

The seventh episode of ESPN's docuseries 'The Last Dance' – a look at the 1997-98 Bulls team that three-peated – detailed Jordan's attitude towards other players and the notion he could not be a nice guy in practice because he was demanding.

"Winning has a price and leadership has a price," a choked-up Jordan said.

"I pulled people along when they didn't want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn't want to be challenged.

"I earned that right because my team-mates came after me. They didn't endure all the things that I endured.

"Once you join the team you live at a certain standard that I play the game, and I wasn't going to take anything less."

LaRue was an NBA rookie that season with the Bulls, joining a Chicago team where the status quo had already been established with five championships in the previous seven seasons.

The former point guard revealed it was Jordan, arguably the greatest player of all time, who set the tone and he had no issues with his leadership style.

"By the time I had gotten with the team it was 'The Last Dance'," LaRue told Stats Perform.

"Everyone there had kind of been through the trials and understood the deal and knew what to expect.

"Obviously Mike's a competitive guy. I think everyone knew where they stood with him.

"You didn't make it with the Bulls organisation or that team with him if you weren't a competitive guy.

"All the guys that were there had kind of passed the test – for lack of a better term – and were in it for the right reasons and a piece of that team for different reasons.

"Michael, if he didn't think you were on board or weren't competitive, he certainly would ride you and you had to have thick skin.

"It didn't really bother me, I had high expectations for myself and I think any time you play with a competitor, they want you to compete.

"You're competing against them every day and you compete on a daily basis and you won't have any problems."

LaRue, who played college basketball alongside Tim Duncan at Wake Forest, was a role player with Phil Jackson's team that season and believes not being overawed by Jordan helped him make the Bulls roster.

"You know he's one of the greatest players – if not the greatest player – to ever play," LaRue added of Jordan.

"I think for me that was part of what helped me make the team, that I wasn't intimidated. I'm pretty confident in my abilities and I just kind of come and be who I am.

"I've always been a believer in you go in and compete to the best of your ability and let the chips fall where they may, that's what I did in that situation."

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    Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and center Nikola Jokic took heart from Sunday's 105-103 buzzer-beating defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, with the duo praising the team's spirit.

    The Nuggets were heading into the final seconds of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with a slender lead, but Anthony Davis showed his class with the decisive action.

    The Lakers forward sunk a three-pointer on the buzzer to seal the win and open up a 2-0 series lead in Florida, Los Angeles having won handsomely 126-114 in Game 1.

    Davis was able to make his game-winning shot due to a defensive mix-up in the Nuggets ranks that saw both Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant guarding LeBron James when the former was initially on the game-winner.

    Jokic put it down to poor communication, though there was a hint of rueful helplessness to his post-game comments as he suggested if Davis had not been decisive, James could have.

    "[It was] either going to be him or LeBron [James to have the last shot], so we kind of knew it," Jokic said.

    "It just happened, a little bit of miscommunication. I think I had a really good contest, to be honest. I think I was right there.

    "As soon as he shot the ball, he shot it really well. Like, I kind of felt it going in. Great players make great shots."

    But given his side were 70-54 down in the third quarter, Jokic – who had 30 points and nine assists – felt the Nuggets showed good spirit to get back into the contest.

    "I mean, we are here [as] underdogs," he continued. "I mean, we need to fight. That's our only chance. They were up 15 or 16. I don't know how much they were up.

    "We could just call it a game and quit. I think we just want to give the fight. Maybe it's going to be 30 points, but fight needs to be there, and effort."

    Malone was similarly frustrated but seemed encouraged by the fact the top-seeded Lakers required a last-gasp attempt to take the win.

    "Losing sucks, that's the bottom line, losing sucks," he admitted. 

    "Some guys like to win, some guys hate to lose. I think we're a group of guys that hate to lose, whether it be by 20-something points in Game 1 or at the buzzer tonight, it counts as the same.

    "The only thing you can talk about tonight is we were in the game. They had to rely on a great shot by a great player to beat us at the buzzer.

    "But as long as we're putting ourselves in position to win games, that's all you can ask for. One thing I know about our group, even though we are disappointed, frustrated, angry, we'll use that motivation to come out and try to take Game 3."

  • LeBron praises Davis' belief after Lakers star delivers game-winner LeBron praises Davis' belief after Lakers star delivers game-winner

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    The forward missed a similar shot in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in March, but he delivered in a big way against the Nuggets.

    James said Davis' belief was key as the 27-year-old hit the biggest shot of his career in the NBA playoffs.

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    Davis finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, while James posted a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.

    After arriving from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, Davis has embraced the pressure for the Lakers and James said he would be the first to remind the seven-time All-Star of just how good he was.

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    "AD, he knows how special he is and when he doesn't, I'll be the first one to tell him how special he is. He wanted to be here. I'm happy he wanted to be here, because if he didn't, we wouldn't have a moment like tonight. That's what it's all about.

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    Anthony Davis' game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets was a "Mamba shot", head coach Frank Vogel said.

    Davis delivered an incredible buzzer-beating three to lift the Lakers to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday as they moved into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

    Vogel said the Lakers wanted to honour the late Kobe Bryant, the NBA great who died in a helicopter crash in January.

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    While the Nuggets rallied in Game 2, Davis (31 points and nine rebounds) and LeBron James (26 points and 11 rebounds) led the Lakers to victory.

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    "I keep saying, he [Davis] is a big-time player. He really carried us through a stretch where we were struggling to score late in the third," Vogel said.

    "The combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just – if one of them is not going, the other one is. There was a little bit of that tonight.

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    Game 3 between the Lakers and Nuggets is on Tuesday.

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