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Formula for success: Michael Jordan and long-armed, versatile teammates

Michael Jordan
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Michael Jordan’s fierce competitive drive is a necessary ingredient in any tale about the Chicago Bulls dynasty.

Wisely, it is one of the trademarks of a new, 10-part documentary series, “The Last Dance.” The epic project highlights the 1997-98 NBA season and much more.

But don’t forget that bench boss Phil Jackson’s squad created mismatch problems for teams throughout the 1990s.

Columnist Ira Berkow of The New York Times captured the essence of Chicago’s potent lineup in an April 1991 column. The article (“The Long Arm of the Bulls Is In Touch With His Team”) explained how the Bulls were a true extension of their coach.

Versatility was a driving force behind the team’s success.

Lots of long arms

Berkow began his spot-on column this way:

“The Chicago Bulls are a team of long arms; hardly the shortest pair of them is that attached to their coach, Phil Jackson. Long and angular at 6 feet 9 inches, Jackson, moving at times like an ambulatory Tinker Toy, may be seen in front of the Bulls bench, striding or standing, sometimes crossing his lengthy arms in contemplation, sometimes unfolding them to demonstrate a point to a player, or remonstrate to a referee.

“If a team may be said to resemble its coach, this one does so in ways that suggest the uncanny. The wingspans of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Bill Cartwright and B. J. Armstrong and Horace Grant are considerable, too, and have recently been put to good and bothersome use, which is the same thing as far as Chicago is concerned.

“These arms suddenly materialize, like great tentacles, at the most incovenient moments for the opposition, and they commence to block shots, steal balls, and knock a pass away just when someone on the other team is turning, say, to look for someone to pass to, and discover they are empty-handed.”

Cohesive unit

Berkow penned this column after the Bulls’ 89-79 win over the New York Knicks in Game 2 of their first-round playoff showdown.

In that 10-point verdict, Michael Jordan finished with 26 points. Indeed, it was a far cry from his playoff-record 63 against the Boston Celtics in April1986, but it was good enough for the title-chasing Bulls.

Or as Phil Jackson declared afterward: “”We don’t need Michael to be superhuman, we just need him to be Superman, which would be enough for us.”

Michael Jordan: Basketball’s Superman

Sure enough, Michael Jordan was Superman. For nearly the entire decade, except during his ill-advised stint as a minor league baseball player.

In February 2013, I asked then-Osaka Evessa head coach Bill Cartwright about former teammate MJ’s competitive drive, about what separated him from the run-of-the-mill, or “ordinary,” player.

Cartwright responded by saying, “He had endorsements and a lot of people tried to take his precious time. Even so, he was never late for a practice, always a hard worker and, especially, he always put basketball first.”

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