'Such a mystique': Famous Michael Jordan criticism lives on decades later

Chris Young
Sports Reporter
The release of The Last Dance has brought a famous Jeff van Gundy criticism of Michael Jordan back into the spotlight. (Photo by Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Michael Jordan is known for his ruthless competitive streak, but ‘The Last Dance’ documentary might have inadvertently revealed the truth in one critic’s assessment of the Bulls legend.

Former New York Knicks and Miami Heat coach Jeff van Gundy, a legendary figure in NBA circles who went on to forge a lengthy career in broadcasting, notoriously suggested Jordan’s almost god-like affect on his opponents was the work of a ‘conman’.

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As the coach of New York in 1997, Van Gundy said in an interview a few days before playing the Bulls in Chicago that Jordan’s ‘mystique’ served to aid him as much as his sheer skill did.

“I think for some reason he’s so good and he’s done it for so long that there is such a mystique about him,” he said.

“Everybody wants to be like him, be as good as he is, make as much money as he does, be able to do all the off-court things.

“You watch him game-in and game-out and he sidles up next to guys and smiles at them, pats them on the ass, and then he goes out there and kicks their ass.

“And they hug him after the game like that was some great thing that he got 45 on them. I don’t understand it.”

In typical Jordan fashion, Van Gundy’s comments didn’t go unnoticed.

Jordan dropped 51 points in an 88-87 Bulls win, all while putting the clamps on Knicks leading scorer Allan Houston - who shot a woeful 5-18 from the field.

Asked about that interview some years later, Van Gundy stood by his assessment, despite the brutal schooling Jordan dished out against his Knicks.

“It wasn’t like I was breaking new ground there, was I?” he queried.

Michael Jordan addresses retirement conspiracy theory

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” has reached the first retirement of Michael Jordan, and the producers opted to ask Jordan, David Stern and those around them about one of the more curious conspiracy theories in basketball history.

As many know, the theory goes like this: Jordan enjoys gambling, to the point that it prompts then-NBA commissioner Stern to investigate him for any violations of the NBA rulebook. Seeking to avoid embarrassment, Stern suspends Jordan for 18 months, but allows him to keep the suspension a secret and play baseball instead.

Asking Jordan about the theory led to a firm denial.

“I didn’t retire because the league kicked me out or they suspended me for a year and a half. That is not true. There’s no truth to that,” Jordan said. “I needed a break. My father just passed. And I retired. And I retired with the notion that I wasn’t going to come back.”

Asking the man on the other side of the supposed conspiracy yielded similar results.

And when NBA communications advisor Brian McIntyre was asked, the answer was even more blunt.

“How can I put this delicately? ‘Total bulls**t,’ Can you use that?” McIntyre said.