Jerry Sichting felt Michael Jordan’s wrath.
The former Purdue guard played in the NBA from 1980-90 and often came across Jordan. There was one incident when Sichting was playing for the Portland Trailblazers during the 1988-89 season that stands out to this day.
A few years earlier while playing a good game with the Pacers vs. Jordan, Sichting had the gall to talk some trash to MJ. And Jordan didn’t forget it.
“I was kind of mouthy at times on the court,” said Sichting. “And I said a few things to him. I was having a good game. … I think he remembered me.
“Then I go to Boston. And then I was traded to Portland about three years later. At one point in a game, he walked over—somebody else was shooting a free throw—and he put his hands on his shorts and stood next to me and said: ‘You’re not near as good when you don’t have that green uniform.’ “
Jordan never forgets.
“Just playing against him and coaching against him when I was in Minnesota,” said Sichting. “He was amazing. There’s never been another player like him.”
No former Purdue player (1975-79) faced Jordan more than Sichting, who played for the Pacers, Celtics, Trail Blazers, Hornets and Bucks. The point guard from Martinsville, Ind., also coached in the NBA from 1995-2019—save for a short stint on the staff at Marquette. The 63-year-old Sichting has seen it all in the NBA.
The Martinsville, Ind., native is now retired and living in Phoenix. And he has enjoyed watching the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series on the Jordan’s 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team. It was Jordan’s final season with the franchise and culminated with the Bulls winning their sixth NBA title in eight years.
“I think it’s pretty well-written,” said Sichting, who played 10 seasons in the NBA and averaged 6.9 points and 3.3 assists. “He’s had a remarkable life, to say the least.”
Playing mostly in the Eastern Conference, Sichting battled often with Jordan, who entered the NBA in 1984-85. Sichting was a fourth-round pick of the Warriors in 1979, got cut and came back in 1980 to make the Pacers as a free-agent.
“Well, luckily for me, I was shorter and I didn’t really get matched up or have to guard him that much,” said Sichting. “I was with the Pacers his rookie year. Actually, my last game with the Pacers was in Chicago Stadium against the Bulls. There were about 15 or 16 games left in the year. We weren’t going to the playoffs. They were in kind of a playoff fight and were either the eighth or seventh seed and made the playoffs, but he got beat.”
It was when Sichting joined the Celtics in 1985 when he was involved with some epic games vs. Jordan, whose star was rising quickly. And Game Two of the Celtics-Bulls 1986 playoff game in Boston Garden–when Jordan scored 63 points in a loss–still resonates.
“He had broken his foot earlier in the season and sat out,” said Sichting. “And then he came back with just about two weeks left in the season. The documentary shows that he wanted to come back, he wanted to play and get in the playoffs. And he did just that.
“Not only was he healthy, he had of all this pent-up energy. He had an amazing amount of stamina and energy. He took care of his body. For somebody to be able to get that many points in a big, physical playoff game in that era, especially when there was hand-checking, guys could get hit, there were no cheap fouls … it was just incredible.”
In Game One of the series, Jordan tallied 49 going primarily against Dennis Johnson, a Hall of Famer and regular on the NBA all-defensive team.
“I’ll never forget, after every game, (Johnson) used to carry the stat sheet with him into the shower and slap it up against the wall with all the water and humidity and stuff,” said Sichting. “It would just stick there.
“All he started talking about was the 49-point game, saying: ‘That kid is pretty good, but he’s never gonna have a game like that again.’ And then the very next game, he had 63.”
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The Celtics won the game, and the series, on the way to the NBA title. Still, Sichting came away impressed.
“That’s the one memory I really remember about that series,” said Sichting. “He was doing that against the best team on the planet. We had all these big guys (Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton), it’s hard to get to the rim and he had Dennis Johnson guarding him and it was like he was out there by himself.”
Like most, Sichting was impressed with Jordan’s wondrous athletic skills, but that isn’t what set Jordan apart from others in the eyes of Sichting.
“He had (athletic ability), plus he had the fundamentals,” said Sichting. “His footwork, his shooting technique … he wasn’t a great shooter when he came in the NBA, but he became better and better and better. But his footwork and his balance and all the fundamentals that he had is what made him.
“There’s been a lot of great athletes in the NBA. But he had that, plus the basketball IQ, plus the competitiveness. He would put his hand down your throat and pull your heart out. Year after year, game after game, he just wouldn’t let his team lose.”
Does Sichting think Jordan is the best player of all-time?
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Bill Russell won more championships, but he had a team of Hall of Famers with him. Jordan had Scottie Pippen, he’s a Hall of Famer. But other than that, he won six championships with good players. Phil Jackson was a coaching genius. But he was the whole team. I mean, Jordan was really the whole team.”