Larry Bird Labels Michael Jordan Play 'One-Dimensional', Tired of 'Same Shots'

NBA Icon's Remarkable Season Raises Team Play Questions.

by Nouman Rasool
Larry Bird Labels Michael Jordan Play 'One-Dimensional', Tired of 'Same Shots'
© Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In the 1986-87 NBA season, Michael Jordan's remarkable scoring prowess came to the forefront, as he achieved an astounding average of 37.1 points per game. This remarkable feat placed him alongside the legendary Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to surpass the 3,000-point mark in a single season.

Jordan's scoring dominance was particularly evident in his taking 32% of the Chicago Bulls' shots, averaging 27.8 field goal attempts per game. This approach to the game, especially in an era dominated by the likes of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, known for their team-centric play, sparked widespread debate and critique.

Larry Bird, a contemporary of Jordan and known for his unselfish playstyle, openly critiqued this approach, stating, "I don't like to watch the same guy take every shot. That's not what the game is all about." This comment underscored a growing sentiment that Jordan's style, though effective in scoring, might be lacking in overall team contribution.

The Bulls, with Jordan at the helm, concluded the '86-'87 season with a modest 40-42 record, securing the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their playoff run was short-lived, as they were swept by the eventual champions, the Boston Celtics, in the first round.

Despite the early exit, the Bulls' achievement in reaching the playoffs was notable, particularly given the team's roster challenges. After losing four key scorers from the previous season, the Bulls leaned heavily on Jordan's scoring ability.

The team's dependency on Jordan was further highlighted by the fact that only two other players, Charles Oakley and John Paxson, averaged double figures in scoring.

Scoring Brilliance Raises Questions

Jordan's individual performances were nothing short of historic.

He opened the season with a 50-point game against the New York Knicks and continued to deliver high-scoring games, including two 61-point games. Despite his personal success, concerns were raised about the potential negative impact of such a ball-dominant style on the team's overall performance.

Comparisons were drawn with players like Magic Johnson and Bird, who were celebrated for elevating their teammates' play.

Jordan, undeterred by the criticism, continued to excel individually but faced challenges in translating his performances into team success.

The Bulls experienced consecutive playoff disappointments against the Detroit Pistons from 1987 to 1990, highlighting the need for a more well-rounded team approach. The narrative began to shift in 1991. The Bulls, now with a deeper roster and under the guidance of coach Phil Jackson, overcame their rivals, the Pistons, and went on to win the NBA championship against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Jordan, who was named Finals MVP, not only maintained his extraordinary scoring but also demonstrated a more complete game, including significant contributions in rebounds and assists. This championship win marked a turning point in Jordan's career, reshaping the perception of his play from being one-dimensional to that of a well-rounded, team-centric leader, solidifying his status as the league's top player.

Michael Jordan