Jordan thanks motivators

Inductee calls out friends and rivals

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / September 12, 2009

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SPRINGFIELD - Michael Jordan’s emotions were on display last night. Jordan wept openly during the acceptance speech of Utah coach Jerry Sloan during Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The tears continued as Jordan took the Symphony Hall stage, but he regained his poise and verbally slam-dunked adversaries, his competitive nature emerging as he raised the possibility of another comeback.

“I don’t look at this moment as a defining moment,’’ Jordan said. “It is simply a continuation of something I started a long time ago. One day you might look up and see me playing a game at 50. Don’t laugh. Never say never - because limits are like fears and they are often just an illusion.’’

Organizers changed halls to accommodate Jordan’s following - from the Basketball Hall of Fame to the 2,611-seat Symphony Hall - for the 50th anniversary induction ceremony. Jordan, David Robinson, and John Stockton were named in the player category and Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer were named as coaches.

“I told friends I was going to come here and say thank you and walk off,’’ Jordan began. “I can’t, no way. There are too many people I have to thank.’’

And Jordan did give thanks, sincerely to friends, and in a perverse way to critics, enemies, and opponents.

First, Jordan paid tribute to his roots, explaining his choice as a presenter, David Thompson, who was a role model when he led North Carolina State to the NCAA championship. Despite the Wolfpack being a rival, Jordan said his University of North Carolina associates “all know I’m a Tar Heel guy.’’

“I’ve had a lot of questions over the last four weeks about why did you pick David Thompson?’’ Jordan said. “I know why, David knows why, maybe you guys don’t. I grew up in North Carolina and when I was 11 years old I was in love with David Thompson. I was inspired by him. When I called him to ask him to stand up to present me, it shocked him.’’

As for competitive spirit, Jordan credited his family.

“It all starts with my parents,’’ Jordan said. “Where did my competitive nature come from? It came from them. They started the fire in me. That fire started in my parents. As I moved on in my career, people added fire.’’

The flames were fanned by what Jordan considered relatively minor slights, often from allies and coaches to outright hostility from foes and outsiders. Jordan has a long memory and he recalled several incidents that pushed him to succeed.

North Carolina coach Dean Smith excluded Jordan from a Sports Illustrated cover because he was a freshman. Leroy Smith was named to the high school varsity team over Jordan. Buzz Peterson was selected as high school player of the year. The 1985 All-Star game freeze out. Media doubters as Jordan failed to win an NBA championship in his first seven seasons. Former Knick coaches Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy, who disapproved of their players fraternizing with Jordan. Former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause’s assertion that organizations, not one player, win championships. Bryon Russell, who said he looked forward to defending Jordan, then was victimized as the Bulls won their sixth title in 1998.

“Then there’s Leroy Smith,’’ Jordan said. “You guys think that’s a myth. When I got cut from the team, he started the whole process for me because when he made the team and I didn’t I wanted to prove to Leroy, to me, and to the coach that picked Leroy over me that you made a mistake, dude.

“Then there’s Buzz Peterson - how did he become player of the year? Buzz became a dot on my board. He became a focal point, not knowingly. And Coach Smith, when he named four starters and didn’t name me, that burned me up, because I thought I belonged on that Sports Illustrated. From a basketball standpoint I deserved to be there.

“Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, George Gervin - you guys gave me the motivation [in 1985] that every day I’ve got to prove to them that I’ve got what it takes to be on this level. From that point forward that I proved that I deserved to be on this level.

“The media said I was good but not as good as Magic, Larry Bird, and I had to listen to you guys. That added so much to the fire. I’m not saying they were wrong, I just looked at it differently.

“My last example of that, and I hate to do it to him, he’s such a nice guy. When I did decide to come back and I was at center circle and said to him, ‘Remember that conversation we had. You are about to get your chance,’ ’’ Jordan said of Russell.

Jordan singled out former Bulls coaches Kevin Loughery, Doug Collins, and Phil Jackson.

Referring to Krause, he said: “I didn’t see the organization playing with the flu,’’ as Jordan led the Bulls to championship wins over Utah.

“The game of basketball is everything for me, it’s my refuge, the place I’ve gone when I needed to find peace,’’ Jordan said. “It’s given me intense pain and satisfaction. It has provided me with a platform to share my passion with millions in a way I neither could have expected or imagined.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at

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