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One-on-One with Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan sits down for an exclusive interview with Marvin R. Shanken, Editor and Publisher of Cigar Aficionado.

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MRS: But you told me recently that had a phone call come at the right time, you would have been a New York Knick.
JORDAN: If Chicago had not made a significant offer, New York was next. We actually had a dialogue with New York. If a phone call didn't come in 30 minutes from Chicago, we had already given assurances that we would have gone to the Knicks for less money.
Michael Jordan portrait.
MRS: How would you fix today's New York Knicks? [Laughter]
JORDAN: I knew that was coming. I don't want to second-guess Isiah. I'm not taking over for Isiah Thomas as general manager.
MRS: No, I'm not suggesting that. What would you do?
JORDAN: They have a tough team. They have a lot of injuries and a lot of big contracts. First of all, you have to find some commodities that you feel will benefit the New York Knicks, but when you do that, you can't just think one way. You have to find some team that feels that the players on the Knicks will be a better fit for the other team. Until you find the right situations for those players, you have to wait until their existing contracts expire or buy them out of their contracts. For the Knicks, it isn't a financial issue; they are still taking on a lot of contracts.
MRS: But didn't they get rid of a lot of contracts, too?
JORDAN: But they've taken on a lot, too. They are not going to be under the cap any time soon.
MRS: Which will be an easier problem to fix, the Knicks or the Lakers?
JORDAN: The Knicks don't have any cap space to create a different team. When you look at the Lakers, they may have one or maybe two sustaining long contracts. The Knicks have four.
MRS: So you're saying the Lakers would be easier to fix?
JORDAN: Sure. They'd be easier to fix.
MRS: How would you fix the Lakers today?
JORDAN: I would have never gotten rid of Shaq [O'Neal]. It's as simple as that. You've got three championships with a big man, and big men are hard to find. Not only that, you have the most dominant big man in the game today. You don't just send him away because you got some problems.
MRS: Does Kobe read about what's going on in Miami?
JORDAN: I'm pretty sure he does. But you can't blame one guy. It's a combination of both of them. If you've got success in your house, you find a way to manage so that everybody prospers and everybody is viewed as champions. Personalities got involved after they'd had some success. It becomes about individuals—individual goals that they wanted to achieve. Be it Kobe leading the league in scoring and carrying the team by himself, or Shaq proving he can win without Kobe. What's the purpose of changing if you've got the right mixture that's working? Give me a seven-footer and I'd probably still be playing right now.
MRS: The media have made a big thing about drugs this year. Is this something new or something that was around in the '80s and the '90s? Is it worse today? Is it the same? Is it a serious problem?
JORDAN: Drugs have been in the game for a long time. They were there when I was in college, and even in high school. It's in life. It's in business. It's everywhere. It starts with the kids of tomorrow, and how those kids are brought up and what their values are. And how the parents teach those kids those values. If you don't take the time to teach those values, they will make the same mistakes. Is it still prevalent in sports? Yes.
MRS: Is it worse today than it was 20, 30 years ago?
JORDAN: I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say it's worse. There is some drug awareness out there. I must admit, it's still prevalent. But it's not worse. They've tried in the NBA to implement some provisions to monitor drug use, to eliminate it and totally get rid of it. To some degree, it is working.
MRS: It seems like for the first time in football, baseball and basketball, both on the union's side and in management, they are understanding what drugs are and that they have to do everything in their power to stop their use. Was that the case in the past?
JORDAN: No. Drug use was hidden in a lot of sports a long time ago. Now it's out in the open, be it steroids in baseball or steroids in football. Steroids have never been prevalent in professional basketball. But you got a lot of marijuana smoking and drug use like cocaine. All that stuff has been in the NBA. We've been able to curtail it and try to eliminate it, but it's very tough to eliminate. I think marijuana is still strong in the NBA. I'd like to see that paid more attention to. I think [NBA Commissioner] David Stern has done a great job to eliminate all those issues, but no one is going to be able to eliminate it completely.
MRS: Do you miss the excitement of basketball?
JORDAN: Yes. I have to stay away from it because of it. I wouldn't say it's an addiction, but it's a passion. When you have a passion, you want to do it as much as possible. Addiction means you can't help yourself. I have a strong passion for the game of basketball.
MRS: Michael, I'm now giving you the opportunity to create the Dream Team of Michael Jordan, of all players of basketball. You're on the team, and you can name four other guys at different positions. That doesn't mean there aren't 20 other great guys for those positions, but you can explain your picks.
JORDAN: That's a very good question. It's going to be somewhat biased because I didn't play back in the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, some of the great stars prior to me. And it's very tough because I'm friends with a lot of players today.
But if I had to pick a center, I would take Olajuwon. That leaves out Shaq, Patrick Ewing. It leaves out Wilt Chamberlain. It leaves out a lot of people. And the reason I would take Olajuwon is very simple: he is so versatile because of what he can give you from that position. It's not just his scoring, not just his rebounding or not just his blocked shots. People don't realize he was in the top seven in steals. He always made great decisions on the court. For all facets of the game, I have to give it to him.
Power forward: There's James Worthy, whom I love, and he is a North Carolina guy. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, whom I adore and is a good friend, and Charles Oakley. But in terms again of versatility, it has to be Larry Bird. The things he could provide to you all around: his demeanor, his work ethic and his versatility once again.
The idea here is I would build a versatile, multitalented team able to do so many different things. When the defense comes at you, they have to guard a lot of different areas, and that makes Larry Bird the choice for me.
Small forward: That is the toughest part because I played with one of the best small forwards, Scottie Pippen. He is as versatile as it comes. He handles the ball. He's a good defensive rebounder. I would be hard-pressed to pick someone else at the small forward position, even though I know Dr. J [Julius Erving] is sitting right there, too, especially in terms of excitement. And there's Dominique Wilkins, too. And you'd have to think about Elgin Baylor, even though I never saw Baylor play, or played with him. But from what I know, and what he could provide, it's Scottie Pippen. I know that's being biased to some degree. But I can't help it.
Point guard: That's easy. Magic Johnson. Because of his height, you'd have a tough time defending him. It's a beautiful thing to see a 6-foot 9-inch guy rebound the ball and start the break.
It would be the all-time tallest team, putting me at the two guard. And coming off the bench would be Jerry West to replace me. I love Jerry West.
MRS: Who in your mind is the best shooter you've ever seen?
JORDAN: Best shooter. Oh, boy. That's a great question. Pure shooter?
MRS: Or clutch shooter. I have another one here, best clutch player. You can combine the two if you want.
JORDAN: [Laughs]
MRS: Did you ever watch the Big O [Oscar Robertson] play?
JORDAN: Yeah, I watched him play. He was an all-around player, but I wouldn't say he was one of the best shooters. But he was one of the best all-around players, in the same category as Magic Johnson, who could rebound, assist and score. Pure shooter, I would say Brian Winters, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks. He had the most beautiful stroke of all the people whom I can think of. You could go, too, with John Paxson, who was next to me in the backcourt in Chicago. Clutch. He doesn't have the best form. But Reggie Miller. Or maybe Jerry West; it's hard picking one.
MRS: Best rebounder?
JORDAN: Moses [Malone]. No doubt it was Moses.
MRS: Most unselfish, a real team guy who put himself second, third, last, whatever, just cared about winning?
JORDAN: You could think of a lot of players like that in the pros. But to pick one, who would have the biggest impact on a game where you had a chance to win, that would be Magic Johnson.
MRS: Best coach?
JORDAN: I played for very few coaches.
MRS: The Dream Team has to have a coach.
JORDAN: I can't pick Coach Smith. I would take him because of my own preference. But Phil Jackson is by far the best professional coach, and that's a close call with Larry Brown and Pat Riley.
MRS: Where do you think Phil Jackson is going to go? You think he'll stay with the Lakers?
JORDAN: He loves L.A, and he has a great connection with L.A. I think he would consider that.
MRS: But he played for the Knicks.
JORDAN: I think it's between the Knicks and the Lakers.
MRS: The Harris Poll named you the most popular athlete in America for the past 13 years.
JORDAN: Why 13?
MRS: I don't know. [Laughter] Because they've been doing it for 13 years. Explain to me why you are the most popular athlete in all sports. That's an extraordinary achievement.
JORDAN: You ask me, and I wouldn't know. My personality is my personality. I'm very real when people see me. The way that I'm protected, I am as close to normal as anyone could be. In terms of my accolades and the way I played the game, those things had something to do with it, along with the marketability of Michael Jordan. And I don't quit. I'm a very competitive person. That could be taken in a lot of different ways. Some people take it in a negative way, and some people take it in a positive way.
MRS: You don't quit. You work hard. You don't speak out like a child. There have been players who have gone public with a lot of complaining that ends up hurting them, but you've been fairly pure and quiet.
JORDAN: I think things out well. When I speak, I speak with conviction. If I feel like it's something that best suits me and my person, I deal with it. I say it. I have no problem speaking out publicly about issues. But for personal things, and for things about personal selfishness, or wanting more money, I don't do that. Once I give my word, that's it. I don't go back to renegotiate. I don't renegotiate my contracts.
MRS: How did you get into endorsements? There have been other celebrities, but you took endorsements and ran with it in an unconventional way on a huge stage. How did this happen?
JORDAN: When I came into the pros, I never knew anything about the business aspect outside of basketball. All I focused on was basketball. The beauty was what my agents, David Falk and Donald Dell, did back in the Bulls days. They took what I did on the basketball court and attached a marketing value to it, and connected me to companies that had the same values that I had from the basketball standpoint. Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Hanes, Sara Lee. Those type of things. They built a connection from a puzzle that they pieced together because of what I portrayed on the basketball court.
I didn't go into the NBA thinking, "OK, now I'm going to capitalize on all these marketing dollars." It just happened. If you asked my agents how they created this mixture, they couldn't tell you. It was just one of those things. We entered the league in an era when the marketing of athletes became prevalent. It became one of the biggest things. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson should have been there first. Their reputations should have given them opportunity. But they didn't foresee it and they didn't capitalize on it. Initially, I think it became a sticking point in our relationships, because I was getting things that from a success standpoint they were entitled to or should have at least had the opportunity to obtain. But the timing was perfect for me.
MRS: It's been 20 years since Nike launched the first Air Jordan shoe, and today, it's turned into Brand Jordan, a significant business for Nike. How did the relationship happen, and what role do you play today?
JORDAN: I never wore a Nike shoe until I signed with Nike. I wore Converse in college, and I was a big Adidas fan. Then Nike came to me about creating my own shoe. They wanted to put my name on my shoe, and [let me] have input into the design of the shoe. I'd never heard of that before. It was a great pitch. It gave me an opportunity to learn more about the shoe industry, and they gave me an opportunity to create. I sat down with the designers and I talked to them about my personality and things that I like and things I feel people may like. We put all those thoughts into a brand, into the Jordan brand and into the shoe.
Things just started to progress. The public adapted to it and accepted it. We continued to create and lead, and the public kept following and following. It has continued for 20 years. We pride ourselves on putting certain values in the products. Determination.
Ron Comrie Lakewood Ranch, Florida, United States, December 26, 2012 1:49pm ET
Can you please tell me the name/style of the Movado watch Michael Jordan is wearing on the cover photo? Thanks.

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