One of the best parts of the release of The Last Dance documentary about Michael Jordan was the accompanying gaze of the players and coaches of the time. And Jeff Van Gundy, who took on Jordan’s subsequent Chicago Bulls as head coach of the New York Knicks, said that people misunderstand what made these teams so fantastic.
Now an ESPN analyst, Van Gundy joined the NBA as an assistant with the Knicks from 1989-1996 before taking up the position of head coach and retaining him from 1996-2001. And he told Mike Greenberg, ESPN’s Get Up host, what caused problems for the Knicks teams.
“I think those Jordan-led teams were incredible for what they did; it’s obvious. But I think the way they did it is a little misunderstood, especially against a team like the Knicks,” said Van Gundy. “I thought offensively that they were good, driven by Jordan’s greatness. But where they were superior to us was that we had a hard time scoring. Their defense was exceptional. And the second part, because you tried to double Jordan, especially late, where they hurt us was with the second blows. We had difficulty both doubling Jordan and keeping them away from the offensive ballots. So they were teams well put together, but they were gathered around his greatness and around the consistency of a huge defense and an exceptional rebound.”
Greenberg discussed Jordan’s competitiveness – arguably the biggest takeaway in the 10-part series – and asked if this distinguished Jordan from his peers.
“I think many guys in our league have a great competitive instinct and I was lucky enough to train someone like Patrick Ewing, who had the same competitiveness as anyone else,” said Van Gundy. “But I think what Jordan has done is was to have that great competitive series combined with an incredible athleticism and a set of skills that he developed over time that allowed him to combine all three to become without a doubt the best player he has ever played. “