The Michael Jordan documentary is wild. Sorry, the other Michael Jordan documentary is wild—in that it exists at all. Much of the quarantined, basketball-loving public has been transfixed by The Last Dance, and so Fox Nation—Fox News’s online subscription service—has pumped out a new show called Guarding Jordan.
The elevator pitch for the program bills it as “a former NBA star” describing what it was like to guard Michael Jordan: “Find out exactly what went through his mind, and tricks he used, to play against a powerhouse on the court.” Right. No one really did a sufficient job guarding Jordan—he averaged 30.1 points for his career and 33.4 in the playoffs—but going on just the description alone, who might you guess that Fox Nation tabbed to talk about guarding the GOAT? Gary Payton would be a good guess. So would Joe Dumars, or even John Starks.
It’s about Jeff Hornacek.
Defending Michael Jordan.
This is a real thing even though it sounds like a made-up thing.
Jordan averaged 32.3 points in the Bulls’ 1997 NBA Finals win over the Utah Jazz, and 33.5 points in their 1998 rematch. Given those outsized performances, I was curious about what Hornacek’s “tricks” were, exactly. Based on my memory of those two Finals, I assumed the show would just be old audio and video of Hornacek saying “oh no” and “please stop” and muttering some variation of “I’m too old for this shit” considering he was 34 and 35 during the two series in question. Still, I had to find out exactly what this piece of content featured. (I blame my Ringer teammate Rodger Sherman for bringing the doc to our collective attention in NBA Slack.)
Doing so required signing up for Fox Nation, which offers several payment tiers, ranging from “Patriot” (you get a book with that one) to “Silver Patriot” (more expensive, with a two-year lockup, but it comes with a hat and a commemorative coin) to “Gold Patriot (most expensive, three years, includes a hat, coin, and a pint glass). I went month-to-month after ensuring there was a cancellation option.
The show lasts for a little more than 16 minutes and is hosted by Jeff’s daughter, Abby Hornacek, who features on various other Fox programs. She clearly loves her dad; in a promo segment that ran on Fox & Friends, she made sure to mention just how good he used to be at basketball—which elicited a not-so-subtle eye roll from Jeff. That turns out to be something of a theme in Guarding Jordan; despite the title, Hornacek spends most of his time admitting that he wasn’t very good at it, and he seems to be the only one involved in the show who’s clued in to the absurdity of the underlying premise.
The program opens with the Hornaceks digging through Jeff’s old memorabilia in the family garage. (They’re all quarantining together, which is evidently how this got made.) Abby finds an old jersey of Jeff’s and a pair of basketball shorts and asks him whether it’s the actual uniform he wore while guarding MJ in the Finals. He’s unsure but thinks “probably at some point.”
“Oh, wow,” Abby responds, “this is what you lost in, huh?”
It’s been 20 years since Jeff last played and he’s still getting dunked on.
There’s a lot of that in Guarding Jordan. When Abby asks Jeff what it was like trying to defend MJ, he explains it was an impossible task, while various old photos of Jordan bodying Hornacek, backing him down, and playing keep away roll on screen. Jeff explains that the Jazz tried all sorts of strategies, including double-teaming Jordan, but that he was too smart and would inevitably devise a way to thwart even their most carefully crafted plans. MJ just had too many weapons—flip shots, spins, getting to the line. Hornacek tried to make him shoot jumpers, but by the time he faced Jordan in the Finals, he says Jordan had gotten “ridiculously good in the midrange,” so that didn’t work either.
“He’d go in the post,” Hornacek recalls, “and shoot a fadeaway, turn-around jump shot that kind of became his real move that was impossible to stop. You weren’t going to stop that shot.”
Smash cut to video of Hornacek and Karl Malone failing to stop that shot in the Finals. Devastating production. Imagine how rough it would have been if someone who didn’t love Jeff Hornacek was the host.
But, hey, the title is the title, so while they’re watching The Last Dance together, Abby keeps pushing Jeff back toward the Guarding Jordan concept. “Did you have any tricks,” she asks him, straight-faced and on camera, “that you did to make sure that he didn’t score?” The things we do for our children. Hornacek, bless him, never pretends that he came close to stopping Jordan, let alone making “sure he didn’t score.” His “tricks” were attempting to make Jordan beat you with jumpers, “don’t make him mad,” and hope you “catch him on an off night”—which Hornacek immediately concedes “never happened.”
The other problem, Jeff says, is that Jordan was really strong. Hornacek tried everything—grabbing, pushing, shoving. It never worked.
“Your little pushes on him may have gotten him off balance a bit,” Hornacek says, “but not enough to …”
Here, his daughter cuts him off to helpfully posterize him one last time: “He’d just swat you away like a fly.”
The whole thing ends with Jeff pleading to go back and clean the garage. He was then, and remains now, too old for this shit.