Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan was only afraid of one person in his entire basketball carrier – “He kept me humble, but he challenged me”

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan explains what made Dean Smith the only man he ever feared in basketball and why it was good for his growth as a player.

Michael Jordan was the ultimate alpha dog in the game of basketball, with a mindset that is almost non-existent in today’s NBA. In addition to his immense talent, Jordan was a hard worker who accepted challenges and understood that training hard was the only way to improve and be ready for every opponent and team that came his way.

This type of demeanor and mentality was instilled in Jordan early in his basketball career when he was still a freshman at UNC. The late great coach Dean Smith was known for running a tight ship during practices and demanding that his players be hardworking and focused.

Jordan loved the challenge Smith put on him

When Jordan joined the basketball program at UNC, he immediately saw that Coach Smith was serious and was the right mentor for him at that stage of his young basketball career. In Driven From Within, he explains the challenges Smith would impose on the team and Jordan personally. He admitted he was initially shocked by Smith’s intensity in practice, but appreciated it because it humbled him and it was this type of challenge he was looking for to further elevate his game.

“Coach Smith would challenge you mentally. I remember my first mistake. I went to the baseline and tried to make a layup and he just yelled ‘where do you think you are?’ Do you think you’re back at E.A. High School Laney? You’re not. You’re in college. Do you think that was a good shot? Obviously, you can’t say yes. He made you feel. He never called anyone out. He was the perfect guy for me. He kept me humble but challenged me.

Jordan admitted that he was afraid of Smith

As a coach, Smith had a structure in place that worked, and Jordan himself was surprised at how well-organized the training sessions were in the sense that everything was on time. Even after leaving UNC, Jordan never saw a coach who had such authority in practice and had the utmost control over the timing of every drill, and set the right tone for his players. Although Smith was extremely passionate during practices and was not shy about yelling and screaming at players, Jordan was surprised that Smith never called anyone out, which is unusual for coaches who use this type of coaching method in practice.

“But I was scared of Coach Smith because he was a big name in the state of North Carolina and I was such a small-town kid. Jordon said I never thought about calling him anything other than a Coach Smith. It was intimidating how he did.” guided training sessions. I’ve never seen practice run the way it was in North Carolina. Every minute was thought out. If a workout was supposed to end at 3:10, it ended at 3:10 and the next one started. I never thought he was the type of guy to get on the floor the way he did in practice. He screamed and screamed. He never did that in the game. I was shocked by how he got into training, how he controlled every minute, and how he taught. The workout was challenging, which was right up my alley.

They made learning fun.”

During his tenure at UNC, Jordan won one NCAA Championship in 1982, defeating the Georgetown Hoyas in the finals. Jordan has never been shy about admitting that Coach Smith was one of the most influential people in his life, not only because he taught him the fundamentals of the game and how to become a champion, but he was also another father figure in his life. Smith preached hard work, consistency, and teamwork as the cornerstones of success, and Jordan fully embraced it throughout the rest of his storied NBA career.

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