As The Last Dance winds ever closer to the end of the Bulls dynasty and Michael Jordan’s career in Chicago, we reached the summer of 1992 and the Dream Team in this week’s installment.
In it, they provide footage of the infamous practice game in Monte Carlo that remains part of basketball lore to this day. Magic Johnson and Rod Thorn provided the majority of the narration of that game, as Magic was leading the team playing against Jordan in that game, while Thorn was one of USA Basketball’s lead executives and was an impartial observer in the gym. As Thorn recalled, Magic and Charles Barkley’s team jumped out to an early lead, with both Magic and Chuck directing “real trash talk” at Michael.
Magic noted that he decided to call out Jordan, leading to the quick realization that was a mistake.
“We’re up about eight points, I think it was. Something like that,” Johnson said. “I went up and tapped him, ‘Look man, if you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re going to blow you out.’ … Man, what did I say that for.”
“Michael proceeded to score every time down the court,” Thorn said. “It was like, OK, you wanna know who the guy is, here’s who the guy is.”
“He broke the huddle and hit a three. Bam. Came back down, hit another three. Bam. Came through the middle and just shook everybody. Bam,” Johnson recalled. “Before we know it, they was up two.”
The footage, coupled with the narration, offered a glimpse into just how competitive they took those practices — particularly Magic and Jordan — and also is a reminder to a generation (like mine) that while Magic is outwardly one of the friendliest superstars in league history, he too was an incredibly intense competitor who ran hot on the court. The best example of that came towards the end when he’s going off on the refs for calling a foul on him, launching the ball to the top of the stands and saying it’s “just like the NBA” where Michael gets all the calls.
The competition between Magic and Michael extended to off the court, where Magic remembered nightly card games that would go into the wee hours of the morning because Jordan wouldn’t let them end if Magic was up — or Mike wasn’t up enough.
“Man, I had some of my fondest memories just hanging out with Mike,” Magic said. “We played cards every night against each other, and if I had the upper hand, he wanted to play another hour…ANOTHER hour. And then he never wants to just beat you, he wants to put his foot on your neck and just [growls]. You’re not satisfied with beating me, you wanna crush me too? Yep.”
That intense drive to win at everything all the time was both Jordan’s greatest asset on the court, as it created his work ethic that helped him become the best ever, but was also his downfall at times and got him into the most trouble, most notably with his gambling — which is explored further in the documentary.