The day Michael Jordan threatened to kill him was when Bill Wennington knew that his working relationship with the greatest basketball player who has ever lived would work well.
The Montreal-born center had nine professional seasons behind it when he signed with Chicago in 1993-94 and teamed up with Jordan for the last three titles of the Bulls dynasty.
But he still had to be tested by Jordan, who focused on winning first, then making friends, and was known to subject teammates to an on-and-off-court wrestler to test whether they had the courage that he believed they had to fight for titles.
Wennington recalls brutally competitive practices and an even more unforgiving locker room environment, in which Jordan, like the meanest child in the break, almost systematically chooses teammates to annoy and harass them. It wasn't always very funny when Jordan led the pack when they gathered.
“The training room was like a barber shop, in which it competed against various players from time to time and mentally challenged you. Will you fight back Wennington said, who played 720 NBA games in eleven seasons and is now part of the Bulls broadcast team.
“I understood that and when it started there were 13 people against one. And I knew that one day it would be my turn … You can't win that argument. I realized that I had to do something different.
“When they started with me, I just let it go. And within five minutes they got bored because I didn't fight back. But I knew it couldn't end there because I couldn't make Michael and the rest of the team think, "Well, he won't fight back."
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Wennington has timed his move.
“So I walked around the room about an hour later when we were all showering and said, 'You know, Mike, I've been here for a while and it's a lot of fun if you start chirping about everyone but i'll tell you what: i'm smart enough – because i went to St. john's, not to north carolina – that i can't win debate 14 against one … but here's what will happen next time start this argument or start with me: you will come into this locker room the next day and there will be a 12 foot snake in your locker room – because I understand that he doesn't like snakes.
"He says:" You will be a dead man; You will be the dead man on the floor, I will kill you. "
"I said," That's fine. I'll be the dead man right here, and you'll be the one with a snake in your locker. "He just looked at me and said," Get the (explorer) out. "
"And nothing has ever happened."
What happened behind the curtain of one of the great sports dynasties is revealed in The Last Dance – a highly anticipated 10-part documentary that debuts on ESPN on Sunday evening in the United States and on Netflix in Canada on Monday night.
The 10-hour film is based on never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage collected by NBA entertainment cameras embedded in the Bulls as they tried to extend their championship run, although it was clear that the team shortly before that was to be dissolved.
The documentary contains hundreds of contemporary interviews, including several hours with Jordan, who was fully involved in the project. The expectation is that the lengthy – but probably not long enough – film will refresh its legacy in the eyes of generations who have seen it live and will explain its aura to younger fans who missed the show for the first time.
It was originally planned to be shown on free evenings during the NBA final in June. But when the world came to a standstill due to COVID-19, ESPN made the decision to postpone the release date.
With millions of people starving because of new sports content and the continued power of the Jordan myth, it promises to be a rare "monoculture moment," as NBA insider Nate Jones put it on Twitter recently.
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Whether you saw Jordan, played against Jordan, played with Jordan or just heard about Jordan and saw highlights on YouTube, it is expected to be a must on TV.
Alvin Williams was 45 years old and was a teenage basketball star in Philadelphia when Jordan claimed to be the best ever.
"Coming from Philly, Dr. J (former 76 legend Julius Erving) was the type who could do anything nobody in the world could do," says Williams. "And then Michael came, it's like you're upset because someone like your superhero has overtaken. And then I got older and understood the game a little better. I started to understand how difficult it was at this level and then when I finally got the chance to be close to him and it was like, wow. "
One of Williams’s welcome moments in the NBA was to go into a game as a rookie in season 97-98, look around, calculate, and come to a frightening realization that he was guarding No. 23.
Williams was a second choice from Villanova who tried to make a name for themselves with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Jordan was the most famous athlete in the world and convinced as the best basketball player of all time.
It went as expected. Jordan caught the ball in the middle of the post, rated Williams, drifted to the three-point line, and dropped a triple over Williams to close the first quarter.
"It was like he was looking at me and trying to increase the level of difficulty," says Williams, who became a Toronto Raptor a few weeks later through trading.
The cops from 1997-98 were like a massive rock & # 39; n & # 39; roll act that ended up in the city, turning everything upside down and bringing the city to a standstill.
"I only remember how I left this arena after shooting this morning and how full it was outside," says Williams, who played eight years and 417 games in the NBA, but only once against Jordan and the bulls at their peak. "… and I thought," Wait a minute, I wonder why so many people are here, "and then I realized that they were there to see Chicago shoot around … it was a whole different world . "
Even those who lived in the Jordan bubble are curious to see what it looked like more than 20 years later.
"I mean, if you go through it, I don't think we understood it exactly or understood exactly what happened because you're right," Wennington says. "I hear about it from all sorts of aspects – media, friends, people I played against, players I played with and who never played against us." It's amazing and I think going back in time will be a lot of fun. "
Those who were too young to understand exactly what Jordan and the Bulls were about are even more excited about how the legend was built.
"Oh man, I can't wait," says Norm Powell, who was just five when Jordan won his last title and retired for the second time when the Bulls dynasty was about to end dissolved. "I watched the Instagram videos and followers for this. I think it will be one of the most dopey documentaries that will be released.
“I mean Jordan had a huge impact, not just on me but on the game as a whole. I don't think I have to go into it too much. I think we all know how Jordan has influenced basketball. But I remember sitting down at home and watching the VHS tape Michael Jordan again and again up to the max. I only remember Michael Jordan's voice-over at the end of this (documentary) and he said, "There will be a player taller than me," and that was so motivating for me when I was little.
"I would say, 'I will be taller than Michael Jordan', and I would go out and work on my game, dribble up and down the street, and try to copy the things he was in this documentary. So Jordan had an impact on why I play the game. "
Jordan's legacy is certain. He doesn't need a documentary to brighten that up.
His record of six championships in six NBA finals and six MVP finals speaks for his dominance. His impressive individual achievements speak for his excellence: he was eleven times all-NBA of the first team and ten times all-defense of the first team.
But the why and the how? These are questions that generations of fans – including those who played against him – want to have answered.
"I'm so excited to see what happened. What were the arguments, what were the disagreements, what were the challenges," says Williams. "If you're so good, you'll often have things like that. I mean, of course, that they're great players, but that brings great personalities. So what happens in these changing rooms behind the scenes? That will be the most interesting piece. I think then you will really see what NBA life is like. "
According to Richard Deitsch, moderator of Fan 590, in a play he wrote for The Athletic, Jordan expressed his concern during the documentary that disclosing his notorious competitive advantage could be upsetting to some.
"Look, winning has a price," says Jordan in episode 7, according to Dietsch. “And leadership has a price. So I took people with me when they didn't want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn't want to be challenged. And I deserved it because my teammates who came after me didn't endure all the things I endured.
“When you joined the team, you reached a certain standard by which I played the game. And I would take no less … When people see this, they will say, "Well, he wasn't really a nice guy. He could have been a bully." Well, you are. Because you never won anything . "
Jordan as a tyrant is nothing new to Wennington, who had to gain Jordan’s respect in the run-up to Chicago’s second three-goal, which culminated in the 1997/98 season.
If it meant that Jordan was threatening to kill him for a nonexistent snake, then so be it.
"It was him, he just curled feathers to see if you were there when it matters," Wennington says. "Because (when we played Indiana against Playoffs) Reggie Miller ruffled your feathers and Antonio Davis and Dale Davis will kick you in the butt, so what are you going to do? Will you fight back or sit on the bench?
"And that's exactly what you want. You want to be part of the team – and to be part of the team, Michael has to trust you."
Was Jordan a nice guy or a bully?
"I never had a problem with Michael," says Wennington. "Because he played to win and I also loved to win."