Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time. He also just happens to be the greatest of all time at carrying a grudge. It takes an incredible amount of personal drive to get to the top of any field, and for Jordan, one of the things that fueled his drive was personal beefs, or disagreements.
In honor of His Airness we’ve put together a list of the greatest beefs Jordan had throughout his career, and even some he still carries with him today. Some are easy to understand and are a man to man issue. Some of them are perceived slights that drove Jordan crazy.
This is a list you have to read to fully understand the competitor Michael Jordan was. So, flip through the slides and see if you remember any of these. They helped make the man and the legend he is today.
The 1985 NBA All-Stars
The old guard of the NBA wasn’t too thrilled about this hotshot rookie, Michael Jordan, joining them for the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. Rumor has it that Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, and George Gervin colluded to freeze Jordan out of the game. The veterans agreed to guard each other loosely so they could rack up points, while they would lock Jordan down when he had the ball.
The effort worked as Jordan scored just seven points on 9 shots. The next time the Bulls played the Pistons, Jordan made up for it 49 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Jordan’s rivalry with Thomas and the Pistons was officially on.
Isaiah Thomas, Detroit Pistons
The Bulls and Pistons faced off in the playoffs four years in a row. The Pistons won the first three, but when the Bulls finally won the fourth, Thomas and his teammates left without shaking hands. This slight and the All-Star Game events of a few years prior led to Jordan question whether he would play on the 1992 Dream Team if Thomas was included.
At Jordan’s urging, Thomas was left off the squad. It wasn’t just Jordan who didn’t want Thomas on the team though. Scottie Pippen, when asked about it later remarked, “I despised how he played the game. No, I didn’t want him on the Dream Team.”
Toni Kukoc, Chicago Bulls
It wasn’t just opposing players that earned the ire of MJ. Toni Kukoc had been drafted by the Bulls in 1990 but was still playing in Europe during the 1992 Olympics. Jordan had tired of hearing about general manager Jerry Krause going on and on about Kukoc.
When the Dream Team faced off against Kukoc’s Croatia Jordan, and Scottie Pippen, took it upon themselves to make the occasion miserable for their future teammate. Karl Malone would later say, “They were damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea. Poor Kukoc ended the night with 4 points on 11 shots. Jordan and Pippen shut him down just to prove a point.
His other Chicago Bulls Teammates
Michael Jordan had run-ins with many of his teammates. He once punched Steve Kerr in the face during a scuffle in practice. After the Bulls traded Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright, Jordan bullied his new teammate, calling him “Medical Bill” and intentionally throwing him bad passes.
Jordan once punched Cartwright’s backup, Will Perdue. He called Stacey King a “powerless forward” and a “big, fat guy” who couldn’t rebound. He once told Horace Grant he was “too stupid to remember plays.” He nearly ruined the career of Rodney McCray by constantly telling him he was a loser. Jordan sounds like a great teammate, doesn’t he?
Xavier McDaniel, New York Knicks
Jordan may have been tough on his teammates, but he could stick up for his own when the occasion called for it. After Xavier McDaniel of the New York Knicks roughed up Scottie Pippen in Game 4 of their 1992 playoff series, Jordan took action in Game 5.
When McDaniel started after Pippen again, Jordan intervened. During a television timeout, he went head to head with McDaniel and told him exactly what he thought about him. Jordan then went on to a game-high 37 points and the Bulls came out on top.
Clyde Drexler, Portland Trail Blazers
Was it Clyde Drexler’s fault that he finished second to Jordan in the 1992 MVP voting? Of course not, he just went out and had a good year. His game put him in the discussion of the league’s best shooting guard.
When the two guards matched up in the 1992 Finals Jordan was on a mission to personally destroy Drexler for having the audacity to come in second and take 12 first-place votes. Drexler’s teammate, Danny Ainge later said it was like watching “an assassin who comes to kill you, then cut your heart out.”
Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns
What started as a friendship has ended in an icy war of words. It’s rumored the pair once played 48 holes of golf on the eve of Game 4 of the 1993 NBA Finals. Allegedly Jordan kept him on the links to tire him out.
Barkley denies the event happened, but Jordan went on to score 55 the next night as the Bulls took a 3-1 series lead. In recent years, the former frenemies have fallen out and Barkley has criticized Jordan’s ownership failures with the Charlotte Hornets.
Danny Ainge, Phoenix Suns
Ainge and Jordan used to be friends. That was until the 1993 NBA Finals. During Game 4, Ainge was guarding Jordan when he took a Jordan elbow to the face. Jordan thought Ainge was making more of it than was necessary. Ainge ripped the Ball from Jordan’s hands and Jordan stuck a finger in Ainge’s face.
Both men were issued technical fouls and Ainge was somehow given a personal foul. According to Ainge, Jordan said, “Quit fouling me.” Ainge responded with “Yes, your highness.” Jordan would get the last laugh, however, as the Bulls won in 6.
John Starks, New York Knicks
The New York Knicks were the Bulls’ main Eastern Conference rivals from 1991-1996, so the two clubs knew each other very well. John Starks had his ups and downs against Jordan and the Bulls but he always came to prepared for a fight.
The 1993 Eastern Conference Finals were particularly contentious. Starks finished off the Bulls in Game 2 with his emphatic dunk, but Jordan clapped back in Game 3. Jordan hit Starks with an elbow, and Starks swatted back at Jordan. A shoving match ensued with Starks repeatedly yelling “You wanna go, Mike?” at Jordan.
Gary Payton, Seattle SuperSonics
Gary Payton is one of the most legendary trash talkers the league has ever seen, even as a rookie. In a preseason game against Payton’s Sonics, Jordan tired quickly of the Rookie’s talking so he shouted, “Leave the f—ing rookie to me.” Phil Jackson, sensing Jordan’s attention, called a few plays in a row for Jordan, who lit up Payton.
The rivalry would continue and the two would meet in the 1996 NBA Finals. Midway through Game 2 Jordan and Payton went face to face at mid-court during a tv timeout. The two shouted at each other before teammates had to get involved. As always, Jordan would have the last laugh.
Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers
When Miller faced off with Jordan as a rookie in a 1987 preseason game he did a very foolish thing. He started trash-talking Michael Jordan. Miller had gotten off to a hot start in the game when he began chirping at Jordan. MJ went on to outscore Miller 42-0 for the rest of the game.
The two would have more legendary battles throughout the ‘90’s, including the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals when they met for the first time in the playoffs. “Reggie drives me nuts. It’s like chicken-fighting with a woman. It irritates me.”
Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards
It must be really tough to be a teammate of Michael Jordan. It must be even tougher if Jordan drafts you and then joins the team. That was the situation Kwame Brown found himself in as an 18-year old kid straight out of high school.
Reports from practice sessions are brutal. Jordan tried to take the youngster under his wing but turned on him when he discovered Brown didn’t have the same competitive drive he did. He would routinely reduce Brown to tears because of his verbal assaults. Jordan would humiliate Brown in practice, scoring at will and mocking Brown in the process.
Jerry Krause, Chicago Bulls
The feud between Jordan and the Bulls general manager began after Jordan broke his foot during his second year. Krause urged Jordan to sit out the rest of the season so the Bulls could get a higher pick. The competition in Jordan was never going to let that happen.
The two would continue to fall out of draft decisions and personnel moves like trading Jordan’s friend Charles Oakley. Jordan’s decision to retire when he did directly related to Krause’s decision to replace Phil Jackson with Tim Floyd after the ’98 Finals. “One thing is for sure, money won’t keep me in the game”, Jordan said in 1999, which was seen as a direct shot at Krause’s decision making.
Everyone else in his Hall of Fame speech
You never know what you’re going to get with Hall of Fame speeches when you hand a former player a microphone. Jordan’s speech was full of, among other things, shots at people he held grudges against during all stages of his career.
Thomas, Johnson, and Gervin took fire. The kid who got the final varsity spot over Jordan in high school got called out. Jordan’s roommate in college, who won North Carolina Player of the Year over Jordan and who Jordan remains great friends with, got burned. Pat Riley, Jeff Van Gundy, and even the Hall of Fame itself received fire from Jordan.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
While LeBron James is arguably the greatest basketball player since Michael Jordan, it’s Kobe Bryant who is most often compared to the GOAT Jordan. Both men had an incredible competitive spirit that led to greatness and run-ins with teammates.
Jordan didn’t care about all that. During his final season with the Wizards, he once told Bryant after a game that he could wear his shoes, but “never fill them.” Harsh words from a man Bryant grew up idolizing. In typical Mamba fashion, Bryant responded by dropping 55 points the next time the two teams played each other.
Barack Obama, President of the United States
Amazingly Jordan has beef with one of the greatest living American’s and fellow Chicago icons, President Barack Obama. It began a few years ago when Jordan was asked about playing golf with the President. Jordan responded with, “He’s a hack. Man, it would be all day playing with him. He’s a sh—ty golfer.”
Obama responded by saying, “If I was playing (golf) twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case. He might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats, or the Hornets.” The pair have tried to bury the hatchet, but you can only imagine what that golf game would be like.