Michael Jordan wanted to win badly, and he went to absurd lengths to do so. He turned opponents into enemies and enemies into villains. It didn't take much imagination for Jordan to turn the "Bad Boy" Pistons — whose game plan was to physically batter him into submission — into archvillains.
Other times, as in the case of LaBradford Smith, Jordan used his imagination so well that he created an enemy out of an innocent second-year opponent by pretending Smith told him, "Good game."
It's fitting, then, that ESPN's "The Last Dance" documentary on Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls highlights villains in each pair of episodes. Every story needs an antagonist, and Jordan's is no different, even if he had to create some of them himself.
Sporting News ranks the top five villains from "The Last Dance":
5. LaBradford Smith
Smith wasn't actually a villain. Truth be told, he was just a young player who happened to have the best game of his career, a 37-point outburst on 15-for-20 shooting, against Jordan in 1993. That was a mistake.
Jordan said Smith told him, "Good game, Mike" when Jordan was walking off the court. Jordan said he thought Smith was mocking him, so he vowed to match Smith's 37 points in the first half the next time they played, which happened to be the next night.
Jordan only managed to put up 36 in the first half and finished with 47. Years later, Jordan admitted Smith never told him "Good game" and that he made up the story for motivation.
"The Last Dance" revealed other stories that Jordan used for motivation, such as George Karl not speaking to him at a restaurant when the Bulls were playing Karl's Sonics in the 1997 Finals. It sounds crazy. It was crazy. But it worked.
4. Jerry Reinsdorf, Bulls owner
Reinsdorf doesn't come out of this looking too bad. He said in the documentary that he told Scottie Pippen not to sign the long-term contract that made him criminally underpaid at the end of it.
He publicly defended Jordan's decision to leave the Bulls for a shot at an MLB career and even kept paying Jordan his NBA contract when he was in the minor leagues.
But Reinsdorf still defends the team's decision to go into a rebuild despite winning six championships in eight years and having a 33-year-old Jordan. He hired Jerry Krause as general manager and stuck by Krause's proclamation that Phil Jackson would be let go as head coach even if the Bulls went 82-0 in the '97-98 season.
Reinsdorf didn't end the Bulls dynasty, but he didn't keep it going either.
3. Michael Jordan
Jordan is a superhero, but also a villain. His villainous behavior included a gambling habit (a "competition problem," he called it), punching teammates and regularly being a jerk, as first documented by Sam Smith in his book "The Jordan Rules."
When the Bulls drafted Toni Kukoc out of Croatia in 1990, Jordan didn't like that Krause thought so highly of the forward, so he made life miserable for his future teammate in the '92 Olympics.
Jordan was so obsessed with competition that he even made bets with security guards over who could pitch a quarter closest to a wall, which viewers got to watch in behind-the-scenes footage. He took any jab he could at Krause.
Yet many of those traits are also what led Jordan to so much success. He was addicted to winning. In "The Last Dance," we see the flaws of a man — who was once universally admired — and still root for him with ease.
He's an antihero of sorts, in the realm of fictional characters like Tony Soprano or Walter White. You can't watch him and think he's normal, but you also can't not watch him.
2. The 'Bad Boys'
The name itself is villainous. The Pistons came up with the "Jordan Rules" as a way to stop the unstoppable foe — physically punishing him with hard fouls and constant double-teams.
It worked. They beat Jordan en route to NBA championships in 1989 and 1990, the last two years before the Bulls' first three-peat. Jordan went the first six years of his career without a Finals appearance. Despite ungodly numbers, he just couldn't get past Detroit.
Then, Jordan went into the 1990 offseason, added 15 pounds of mostly muscle, and never looked back.
When the Bulls finally broke through against the "Bad Boys," the Pistons' image as villains skyrocketed. They walked off the court before the final horn when Chicago swept them in '91. Jordan never forgot.
Almost 30 years later, he still thinks Isiah Thomas is an a—hole, which has hurt Thomas's legacy. Thomas has a legitimate case as the second-best point guard of all time. He orchestrated the Pistons' offense when they were winning championships. On his way to those championships, he took down Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Jordan, the three most iconic players of his generation.
Yet, he's not viewed in the same light as those three, which is the price he has to pay for beating — and angering — Jordan.
1. Jerry Krause, Bulls GM
No. 1 is obvious. Krause built the iconic '90s Bulls and then tore them down. He wanted credit for the franchise's success but never got it.
This documentary has brought viewers inside the mind of Jordan, showcasing his obsession with winning. It's safe to say he would have had success wherever he ended up in the NBA. But Krause surrounded him with championship-level talent in Chicago.
He spent the No. 5 pick in the 1987 draft on a lanky kid out of Central Arkansas named Scottie Pippen. He brought in Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman, traded Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright, and filled the roster with the likes of Steve Kerr and Ron Harper.
Reinsdorf hired Krause in 1985, the year after Jordan was drafted. From that moment on, Krause made it known that organizations won championships, not just players and coaches. The documentary makes it known that Krause so heavily desired credit because of his upbringing.
"Jerry had the little man problem. He grew up a little fat kid," author Mark Vancil said in the first episode. "He was always the underdog, and he couldn’t control the part of him that needed credit."
With Jordan, Krause was like a man who won the lottery and started giving Ted Talks on how to get rich. To his credit, he won the lottery and didn't go broke. He surrounded Jordan with one of the best coaches and wingmen of all time, and he ended up in the Hall of Fame because of it. But Krause was so desperate to prove he deserved acclaim for the Bulls' titles of the '90s that he blew up a dynasty to invest his fortune in a 2000s frontcourt of 7-footers Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry.
Krause did deserve more credit than he got, but as "The Last Dance" shows, the blame for ending one of the greatest runs in NBA history outweighs all of it.