Bulls fight: That time Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr traded blows
MANILA, Philippines – Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr enjoyed monumental success teaming up for the dynastic Chicago Bulls in the late 1990s as they shared 3 straight NBA championships.
In one of those title runs, Jordan trusted and assisted Kerr for the game-winning shot in a closeout match in the finals.
But their relationship did not exactly get off on the right foot and it involved the two players trading blows.
It was the Bulls' training camp in 1995, months after the team was booted out of the conference semifinals by the up-and-coming Orlando Magic led by Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, and Horace Grant.
At the time, Jordan had just played 27 games in his return to the NBA following his stint as a minor league baseball player and was entering his first full season back as a basketball player.
The Bulls hardly looked like the team Jordan left when he temporarily retired in 1993 as general manager Jerry Krause brought in new faces, among them Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman, and Ron Harper.
In one of the scrimmages, Kerr was tasked to defend Jordan by head coach Phil Jackson and intensity filled up the atmosphere soon after.
Words, shoves, and elbows were exchanged.
Jordan lost his cool and punched Kerr in the face, leading to a instant melee that was immediately broken up by their teammates.
"All the anger, all the comments of people saying that I was not the same Michael Jordan – I was letting everything go," Jordan narrates in an animated video by The Buzz featuring the infamous fight.
Kerr suffered a black eye, but not without landing a punch on Jordan.
"I have a lot of patience as a human being but I tend to snap at some point because I'm extremely competitive too," Kerr says in a teaser of the latest episodes of the documentary The Last Dance.
Kerr adds: "I'm just not really good enough to back it up usually. But I'm going, I'm going to fight."
Thrown out of practice and realizing what he had done, Jordan called Kerr to apologize and they quickly buried the hatchet in the next practice.
"We two grown men and teammates stood there for 20 minutes apologizing to each other. From that point on, I always respected him," says Jordan.
Kerr says the fight was a turning point in their relationship, adding Jordan got in the face of his teammates only to bring out the best in them.
"[Jordan] made me play better," Kerr tells Bill Simmons in his Book of Basketball podcast in November.
"Michael put so much pressure on everybody and you just kind of realize that I got to step up and bring my game to another level."
That season, the Bulls won the title over the Seattle Supersonics after setting an NBA record of 72 regular season wins, a mark incidentally broken by Kerr – now a head coach – and the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
In the Bulls' title-retention bid against the Utah Jazz in 1997, the on-court partnership between the two players culminated when Jordan assisted Kerr for arguably the biggest shot of his NBA career.
With Game 6 of the finals tied at 86 with less than 10 seconds remaining, Jordan – after attracting a double team from John Stockton – located Kerr just above the free throw line for the go-ahead jumper.
Pressured to knot the score, the Jazz turned the ball over during an inbound play and paved the way for a Kukoc dunk that wrapped up the series and gave the Bulls their fifth crown over 7 seasons.
"For me, Michael was definitely testing me and I responded and I feel like I passed the test and he trusted me more afterwards," Kerr says on NBA on TNT regarding their practice altercation.
The dust-up gets featured in Episode 8 of The Last Dance, which streams on Netflix on Monday, May 11. – Rappler.com