In this day and age, the debate over whether or not it’s okay for athletes to trash talk is as old as time. In the past, Michael Jordan was a big offender. In fact, the NBA changed its rules so that former players can’t do so anymore. But, as it turns out, the best players in the world have a way around that. They just have to be really, really good.
Michael Jordan is one of the most recognizable and respected athletes in the world today and rightfully so. After all, he was the first athlete to win the NBA Finals MVP and the first to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award three times. Jordan, who won six championships during his career, is one of the most dominant players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers, and he has put his stamp on The NBA’s greatest team achievement—the six-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls. The NBA Hall of Famer has one of the most iconic brands in all of sports and, as such, has inspired countless athletes and fans to pursue their own athletic dreams.
At the height of their rivalry in the mid-90s, Michael Jordan and Dikembe Mutombo were known for trash talking one another. Both players were All-Stars, had led their respective teams to NBA titles, and were among the League’s best players. However, the famed rivalry never had a true heel to turn to for some smack. That all changed, however, in the 2001 Eastern Conference finals between Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Mutombo’s Philadelphia 76ers. With the series tied at two games apiece, it seemed that the Bulls had the advantage. Instead, Jordan, who had been playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist, had other plans. With the series on the line, Jordan took his game to new
Michael Jordan had never dunked on former NBA All-Star center Dikembe Mutombo before the 1997 Eastern Conference playoffs, but everything changed due to some trash talk from Atlanta Hawks head coach Lenny Wilkens.
Throughout his NBA career, Jordan experienced a transformation. His Airness used to be a dominating slasher and force in the air, but later in his career he evolved into a smart scorer who wowed with footwork and fadeaway shots. Even in his latter years, Jordan had plenty of bounce, as Wilkins, Mutombo, and the Hawks found.
Michael Jordan refused to go to the hoop, according to Lenny Wilkens, prior of the 1997 Eastern Conference playoffs.
Michael Jordan was forced to drive into Dikembe Mutombo by Lenny Wilkens | JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
For any one defender, guarding Michael Jordan was a difficult job. By moving Jordan to the help defense, Lenny Wilkens and the Atlanta Hawks sought to relieve pressure on Steve Smith.
Before the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1997, Wilkens said that his team intended to force Jordan out of his comfort zone by forcing him to go to the basket, where he would be met by shot-blocking menace Dikembe Mutombo.
According to Sports Illustrated, Wilkens stated, “[Jordan] doesn’t appear to want to take the ball to the basket as often.” “So that’s one little win if we can compel him to do something he doesn’t want to do.”
Smith was Jordan’s main on-ball defender most of the time. He played the same role with the Miami Heat in his early years. However, Wilkens and the Hawks were more concerned with forcing Jordan to score over Mutombo and Christian Laettner, than than allowing him to operate in the post.
Michael Jordan, on the other hand, was never one to back down from a battle. Wilkens fueled his desire to prove he still had a spring in his step, something Mutombo had done during All-Star weekend.
Jordan utilized Dikembe Mutmobo’s iconic finger-wag motion on a billboard.
Shot-blocking was Dikembe Mutombo’s bread and butter. He won three block championships and four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards because to his frightening inside presence. It also encouraged him to trash-talk Michael Jordan.
At the 1997 All-Star Weekend, Mutombo and Jordan had a back-and-forth in which Mutombo attempted to get Jordan to confess he had never dunked on Deke. Jordan, as obstinate as usual, refused to admit that he had failed to place Mutombo on a billboard. Meanwhile, the Hawks’ center said that it never occurred.
It, of course, happened.
In the 1997 Eastern Conference playoffs, Atlanta stole Game 2 from Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, but Chicago rallied by winning the following two games. The Bulls had an opportunity to wrap up the series at home at the United Center, and Jordan took advantage of it.
After a failed Chicago jumper, Jordan had the ball in the corner. He ran a fast give-and-go along the baseline with Bulls center Luc Longley, meeting Mutombo near the rim. Jordan smacked it straight in the face of Mutombo, imitating Deke’s signature finger-wag celebration and receiving a technical foul in the process. The Bulls would go on to defeat the Hawks and win their sixth NBA title.
Being exposed to potential poster-worthy jams is a part of being an excellent shot-blocker. However, because of Mutombo’s chastisement earlier in the season and Lenny Wilkens’ claim that Jordan didn’t want to take the ball to the hoop against the Hawks, this one was particularly notable.
Wilkens should have known better, maybe.
ICYMI. Former #Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens claims he never spoke with Ron Harper about defending Michael Jordan on The Shot, but he would have chosen Craig Ehlo anyway. #TheLastDance https://t.co/HQfyv4Qm8p
May 9, 2020 — Sam Amico (@AmicoHoops)
From a basketball standpoint, Lenny Wilkens’ intention to push Jordan into the help defense made sense. Nonetheless, the Hall of Fame head coach should have known better than to openly poke His Airness.
Wilkins and Jordan faced off on many times, particularly during Wilkens’ tenure as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jordan regularly won such confrontations, defeating “Jordan stopper” types and torching the Cavs for numerous game-winning shots in the playoffs.
MJ may not have been the same athletic marvel in 1997 as he had been earlier in his career, but he showed Wilkens and Mutombo that his pride was not to be taken lightly.
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