The fire that burned inside Michael Jordan fueled six championships and arguably the greatest basketball the NBA has ever seen—but it also torched a lot of relationships along the way. Jordan felt like he had to carry himself that way in order to win. Whether it was turning opponents into sworn enemies or mercilessly swearing at his own teammates, Jordan didn’t have time for feelings or friendship: only winning.
In Sunday’s episodes of The Last Dance, we saw Jordan reflect on endlessly tormenting Bulls teammate Scott Burrell behind the scenes and also on the time he punched Steve Kerr during a heated scrimmage. But as hard as Jordan rode his teammates, he dished out his strongest venom to his opponents.
With that in mind, and with a heavy hat tip to Uproxx’s Bill DiFilippo for the inspiration, the Ringer staff decided to examine which current NBA players Jordan would have feuded with if he played today and how he would dished out his punishment.
Unforgivable sin: Look, it’s not like Jordan never took any free throws. He led the league in attempts during the 1986-87 season and is 12th all time. But one shimmy-shake into MJ and Harden becomes his (equally despised) inverse nemesis of Isiah Thomas—can’t take any physical contact. Weak.
Jordan’s revenge: Drop 50 exclusively from the line. —Haley O’Shaughnessy
Unforgivable sin: It’s the fourth quarter of a March regular-season game, Jordan is up 20 on the Raptors, and he needs two more to get 50. As he drives toward the basket, a sweaty Lowry slides in to take a charge, and somehow gets the call. Jordan finishes the night with 48 and a win, but the slight isn’t forgotten.
Jordan’s revenge: Lowry’s entire vibe would make Jordan so mad that Jordan would go Kobe-on–Jalen Rose in their next meeting and drop 82 points. Postgame, Doris Burke would ask whether his rivalry with Lowry was personal and Jordan would just reply: “Who?” —Paolo Uggetti
Unforgivable sin: Who’s a bad sport, one-degree below hostile, and is actual title competition? This guy:
Jordan’s revenge: Recycle one of those brutal short-man jokes he used to roast Jerry Krause. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: Signing with the Warriors.
Jordan’s revenge: Gatorade’s newest ad spot:
[The camera opens on Jordan dribbling in an empty gym.]
[Jordan drives to the basket, dunks, and as he comes down a clone appears like a shadow coming to life. Then, three more materialize.]
[All five Jordans take and make a 3 at the same time. They turn to the camera and say:]
“Being your own superteam … is it in you?”
[Cut to black.] — P.U.
Unforgivable sin: The Sixers beat the Bulls in a close, but ugly game. Jordan has 33 points on 11-for-25 shooting. Joel has 17 and 11 boards. He posts an Instagram after the game. The geotag? Petra.
Jordan’s revenge: Jordan scores 51 in the rematch, with 17 boards, matching the 5,117 comments on the post. —Shaker Samman
Unforgivable sin: That time he got Big Mad because someone dared to double-team him in a summer pickup game.
Jordan’s revenge: “You know, this guy doesn’t care about winning,” Michael says to Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich. “You can’t seriously be thinking about putting him on the squad.” —S.S.
Unforgivable sin: An even faker Jordan. His name is like someone with a mouth full of peanut butter trying to say “Air Jordan.” Rite Aid–brand Jordan who can’t even win a dunk contest. Ew.
Jordan’s revenge: Re-enter dunk contest, bully Gordon into participating even though he said he would never again, pay Dwyane Wade under the table to judge again, claim another trophy. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: When Klay was 8, he met Jordan and asked for his autograph. As MJ was leaning down to sign his name, legend has it that a baby Klay leaned into Jordan’s ear and said, “Nice game, Mike.” Jordan never forgot it.
Jordan’s revenge: Score 47 points every time the two meet. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: What’s in a name?
Jordan’s revenge: Drop into IT’s PTA meetings for his kid’s school, backchannel his demands, and ice him out of joining the board. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: Being Kyle Kuzma.
Jordan’s revenge: If (and this is a big if) Jordan were on social media, he would torch Kuzma’s fits in the comments on Instagram every night. And if he refused to get on social media publicly, he’d have a burner and bots do the work for him, only to then take credit for fueling Kuzma’s rise as an elite role player. —P.U.
Unforgivable sin: Twirls around the court like a carefree, baby-faced butterfly. Went to Davidson. (To be fair, it’s not like UNC recruited him. To be unfair, it wouldn’t be the first time Jordan invented an unfounded vendetta to crush an opponent.)
Jordan’s revenge: Remind him regularly he’s a “great player,” just not a Hall of Famer. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: Because Ja Morant would try it. He would try to p*sterize Michael Jordan.
Jordan’s revenge: Revenge à la Sikma. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: I don’t know how Jordan would have dealt with the [gestures vaguely] length in the game today, but Giannis’s combination of size and skill would’ve especially annoyed him.
Jordan’s revenge: Exclusively take tiny baby steps while dropping 45 on the Bucks. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: Phil Jackson, Jordan’s old mentor, drafting him fourth in 2015. Sorry, KP, if it wasn’t you, it was going to be Mario Hezonja.
Jordan’s revenge: Beyond trying to destroy him on every possession, he’d coerce his current GM to trade for Porzingis in order to have more opportunities to torture him in practice. Then, he’d leak the details to make sure Phil saw them. —P.U.
Unforgivable sin: In Game 1 of the NBA Finals (YOU DID IT, PORTLAND! YOU MADE IT BACK!) Dame hits a contested fadeaway dagger at the buzzer to steal a win.
Jordan’s revenge: MJ averages 36.3 points, 11.2 boards, 11.7 dimes, two blocks, and three steals over the next four games. The average margin of victory for his squad is 26. —S.S.
Unforgivable sin: Nutmegging Jordan during a fast break in a blowout loss.
Jordan’s revenge: Did you see what Trevor Ariza did to Trae when he nutmegged him? Now imagine the Jordan version of that. —P.U.
Unforgivable sin: Is nothing sacred? Imagine (the likely scenario of) fans voting Tacko into the All-Star Game. It’s not Tacko’s fault that they need to be taught a lesson, but it’s not Jordan’s fault that it’s not Tacko’s fault.
Jordan’s revenge: Score 89 points on the Celtics in their next meeting, one for every inch of Tacko’s 7-foot-5 frame. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: Allen, well, he did what he does.
Jordan’s revenge: Grayson’s losing that foot. —S.S.
Unforgivable sin: See, here you are probably expecting me to say “not taking 3s” or “refusing to do something that might help his team win.” No, Jordan would just plainly not like Simmons. He’d be so confused by his game that it would just generally upset him.
Jordan’s revenge: Hire someone to hack into Simmons’s trainer’s laptop and release the video of him shooting 3-pointers in the summer—but include only the misses. —P.U.
Unforgivable sin: Taking a video (later leaked) of Nick Young admitting to infidelity while engaged to Iggy Azalea, getting a max deal but not being good enough to make his team competitive, being considered a joke on defense.
Jordan’s revenge: Buying whatever team Russell plays for immediately upon retirement, figuratively dunking on him to undermine whatever respect Russell had garnered from teammates, and then literally dunking on him in a subsequent practice to prove his point. —S.S.
Unforgivable sin: Fake Jordan. Too many Toni Kukoc vibes. Selected 30th by the Bulls? We’ve heard this song before.
Jordan’s revenge: Laugh when filmmakers bring him up in another Jordan documentary 15 years from now. —H.S.
Unforgivable sin: LeBron has carried “Next Jordan” vibes since he was a teenager. That alone would have been enough, but no, he went on to fulfill (and maybe even surpass!) those expectations. Merely being included in the GOAT conversation is enough to put him on Jordan’s blacklist, but the fact that he’d likely stand in his way for the title every season would place LeBron at the top of that list.
Jordan’s revenge: Oh, something simple like trying to destroy him every time they meet and hate him exponentially more every time he failed. —P.U.
Forgivable sin: In Chicago, Bobby once punched his Bulls teammate in a practice. MJ would have adored him. —H.S.