Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan once had a Jimmy Butler-like practice of his own
It feels like forever ago now, but remember when Jimmy Butler had an infamous practice with the Minnesota Timberwolves that was heavily publicized? The one where he inserted himself into the second unit and went at the star youngsters of the team that he felt were not working hard enough?
Michael Jordan had one of those as well with the… Golden State Warriors?
Not a typo, this really happened, and it was all told in the debut episode of Sports Uncovered, produced by NBC Sports.
Michael Jordan practiced with the Golden State Warriors before unretiring
As told in Sports Uncovered, Jordan was good friends with Rod Higgins who was an assistant coach for the Warriors. Jordan would regularly go out to California to visit, and asked Higgins if he might be allowed to practice with the Warriors.
Higgins checked with Don Nelson who surprisingly approved. Jordan would then go on to practice multiple times with the team in a closed-door setting, all while he was still technically retired.
Jordan easily could have come and practiced with the Bulls to get back into the swing of things. He had connections with the team and was still playing for a team owned by Jerry Reinsdorf. Though removed from the game for an entire season and a half at that point, Jordan was still the man in Chicago. Why go to Oakland?
Some in the Sports Uncovered podcast speculate that it’s because Latrell Sprewell was viewed as the “next Jordan.” In his third year in the league, Sprewell had proven himself as a repeat All-Star in the 1995 season. Jordan, perhaps, wanted to challenge that and prove to himself (as well as the Warriors and Sprewell) that he could stick with even the most youthful talent the league had to offer at his position.
Just like Butler chose to run with the practice squad in Minnesota, Jordan didn’t give himself any advantages to prove himself over the young talent. Jordan, according to Sports Uncovered from NBC Sports, selected Chris Mullin who was recovering from an injury at the time to be on his squad.
Maybe it was familiarity due to their time together on Team USA, but perhaps it was to put the onus on himself to win. That would be so Jordan, after all.
Butler, in his own practice, went at the opposing team and hard. According to those that sat down with NBC Sports, Jordan was the same way in his adversarial practice with the Warriors.
“He just took over our practice, just took over our practice. He got five guys that wasn’t playing that much, and he said ‘us seven will play you all’s seven in a scrimmage’, and it was like he never left,” Tim Hardaway said.
“Once Michael got warmed up, you could tell his objective was to basically kick Spree and Tim’s behind, and talk trash to them,” then-Warriors assistant coach Rod Higgins said.
Sound familiar? Here’s what Butler told Rachel Nichols about the infamous T’Wolves practice.
“Am I being tough on him? Yeah, that’s who am I,” Butler said. “I’m not the most talented player on the team. Who is the most talented player on our team — KAT. Who is the most God-gifted player on our team — Wiggs. Who plays the hardest? Me! I play hard. I put my body [on the line] every day in practice, every day in games. That’s my passion. Everybody leads in different ways. That’s how I show I’m here for you.”
Butler’s mission was to prove to Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Scott Layden that they needed Butler.
“You f—ing need me, Scott. You can’t win without me.”
Jordan’s mission was to prove to himself he was still able to compete with the best of him.
Spoiler alert: He was. A three-peat with the Bulls would come soon after.