I love my San Antonio Spurs, but watching Michael Jordan be drafted from North Carolina to the Chicago made me a Bulls fan. I was a fan of North Carolina, but then again, who wasn’t? The Tarheels played a different kind of basketball, standing out from the rest by their attention to detail and discipline, and Jordan fit that system perfectly. He was a Bull from 1984, until his last championship in 2003, and there wasn’t a better professional sports franchise to that point in time. That team escalated the NBA to new heights.
Due to the pandemic of COVID-19, a multi-part docuseries was released early by ESPN in mid-April, which soon became on the most viewed documentaries ever. It was a series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during his last season called The Last Dance, which gave unprecedented access to a camera crew to follow Michael and the Bulls in what would end a dynasty for Chicago. Millions were glued to their televisions. With no sports being played, no need to switch channels to check scores of other games, MJ had an exclusive.
I want to focus on a line that Ahmad Rashad, a close friend of Jordan’s, as well as an NBA analyst, uttered prior to a finals game against the Utah Jazz. In a room with Jordan and his personal security staff, Rashad told Michael, “Some can, some can’t.”
If you were casually watching, you may have missed it. However, those four words absolutely define the epitome of Michael Jordan. He was on the “CAN” side of that quote — and not may CAN do what he did. His approach as an athlete would eclipse the way any sports psychologist could teach “mindset.” The man was in a class of his own.
To be a champion requires an incredible amount of focus and investment into your craft. Imagine playing on average, 39 minutes a game of a brutal 82 game season. Players don’t do that anymore. Maybe it’s because they’re smarter and are working toward having longer careers, but remember, Jordan played 15 seasons, with a Minor League Baseball season thrown in there as well (1993-1994).
Jordan had visualized every situation of the game, be it his position, as well as the other four on the court. Not only had prepared himself through outrageous skill training, but his mental game was levels above what would be considered a great athlete in any sport. When Ahmad Rashad said, “Some can, some can’t,” he was referring to the pressure that is attached to the finals. In other words, some can step up, and others can’t.
That was the competitive edge that Jordan had on any opponent. He didn’t need to be told to step up his game. In fact, he would find things, some not even worthy of affecting most, just to push him. For example, following a win against the Bulls, LaBradford Smith from the then Washington Bullets, walked over to Jordan and said, “good game.” Jordan’s Bulls had just lost, and this player that nobody knew just had a career night. Jordan took it personally, and the next night, playing those same Bullets in Chicago, Jordan lit Smith up. His motivation? “Good game…”
At the professional level today, athletes that have tremendous skills obviously stand out. But the fact is, only the elite of the elite make those rosters. I firmly believe it is a combination of the intangibles that take an athlete from good to great, and mindset is at the top of my list. When you have the ability to become so finite in your approach, and play in the moment with a Plan A, B or C for every diagrammed play, you gain a tremendous competitive advantage. You become a player that CAN. Those that don’t have the patience, trust in the process, or will power to push themselves, become the CAN’T.
This is one of the most intriguing quotes that captured the essence and mindset of the champion Michael Jordan was: