11 September 2009, Springfield, MA, USA
Thank you. Thank you.
I told all my friends I was just gonna come up here and say ‘thank you’ and walk off. I can’t. There’s no way. I got too many people I gotta thank. In all the videos, you never just saw me; you saw Scottie Pippin. Every Championship I won. I’ve had a lot of questions over the last four weeks, and everybody’s saying well ‘why’d you pick David Thompson?’ I know why, and David knows why, and maybe you guys don’t know why, but as I grew up in North Carolina, I was 11 years old in 1974 I think when you guys won the championship. And uh, I was an anti-Carolina guy – I hated UNC, and here I ended up at UNC. But I was in love with David Thompson. Not just for the game of basketball, but in terms of what he represented. You know, we all – as Vivienne said – we go through our trials and tribulations. And, he did. And I was inspired by him. And when I called him and asked him to uh, stand up for me, I know that I shocked the sh1t outta him. (applause, laughter)
I know I did. But…he was very kind and said ‘yea, I’ll do it.’ And that wasn’t out of disrespect to any of my Carolina guys – they all know I’m a true blue Carolina guy to the heart. Coach Smith, Larry Brown, Sam Perkins, James Worthy – you know, all of those guys.
Well it all starts with my parents – you guys see all the highlights; what is it about me that you guys don’t know? Uh, as I sat up here and watch all the other recipients stand up here and they give the history; there’s so many things I didn’t know about Jerry Sloan. I know he lived on a farm, but I didn’t know he was in a small classroom from the first grade to the eighth grade. Even David Robinson – obviously I’ve known David for some time and you know, I’ve found some things out about him, and even with John I found some bad things – or good things out about him. (laughs) And even Viv – Viv, I’ve known Viv for years. Her and my father and my Mom spent a lot of time on the Nike trips and I found out a lot of good things about her, but what about me that you guys don’t know?
I got two brothers – James and Larry – they’re 5’4″, 5’5″ in height. (laughs) They gave me all I could ever ask for as a brother in terms of competition. You know you would think – my brother Larry is an ideal situation where small things come in small packages; this dude fought me every single day. And to the extent that my mother used to come out and make us come in because we were fighting way too much. And my older brother was always gone – he served in the Army for 31 years. (applause)
And the competition didn’t stop there – my sister, who is one year younger than me, Raz, never wanted to be home by herself. She took classes – extra classes to graduate from High School with me, to go to University of North Carolina with me, and to graduate – prior – than me. (laughs) And you guys sit there asking where is my competition or where did my competitive nature come from? It came from them. It came from my older sister, who’s not here today. And my father, who’s not here today – obviously he’s with us in all of us. I mean my competitive nature has gone a long way from the first time I picked up any sport – baseball, football, ran track, basketball – anything to miss class, I played it.
So they started the fire in me – that fire started with my parents. And as I moved on in my career people added wood to that fire. Coach Smith, you know what else can I say about him? (applause) You know, he’s legendary in the game of coaching. And then there’s Leroy Smith. Now you guys think that’s a myth. Leroy Smith was a guy when I got cut he made the team – on the Varsity team – and he’s here tonight. He’s still the same 6’7″ guy – he’s not any bigger – probably his game is about the same. But he started the whole process with me, because when he made the team and I didn’t, I wanted to prove not just to Leroy Smith, not just to myself, but to the coach that picked Leroy over me, I wanted to make sure you understood – you made a mistake dude. (laughter, applause)
And then there’s Buzz Peterson, my roommate. Now when I first met Buzz – all I heard about was this kid from Ashville, North Carolina who’s player of the year. I’m thinking, ‘well he ain’t never played against me yet, so how did he become Player of the Year?’ Is that some type of media exposure? You know I came from Wimbleton; you know we had two channels, channel ABC and channel NBC, that was it. I never saw NBA sports at all when I grew up; we didn’t have CBS affiliation in North Carolina in Wimbleton, so Buzz Peterson became a dot on my board. And when I got the chance to meet Buzz Peterson on the basketball court or in person – Buzz was a great person, it wasn’t a fault of his. It was just that my competitive nature – I didn’t think that he could beat me, or he was better than me as a basketball player. And he became my roommate. And from that point on, he became a vocal point – not knowingly; he didn’t know it – but he did. And Coach Smith, the day that he was on the Sports Illustrated and he named four starters and he didn’t name me – that burned me up! Because I thought I belonged on that Sports Illustrated. Now he had his own vision about giving a Freshman that exposure, and I totally understand that, but from a basketball sense I deserved to be on that Sports Illustrated, and he understand that.
And it didn’t stop there. You know, my competitive nature went right into the pros; I get to the Bulls, which I was very proud that – at the time Jerry Rice <> on the team. It was another organization. And Rob Thorn drafted me. Kevin Lockey was my first coach. Kevin used to take practices and put me in the starting five, and he’d make it a competitive thing where the losing team would have to run. So now I’m on the winning team, and half way in the game, half way in the situation, he would switch me to the losing team. So I take that as a competitive thing of you trying to test me – and 9 times out of 10 the second team would come back and win no matter what he did. So I appreciate Kevin Lockey for giving me that challenge – you know providing that type of fire within me; he threw another log on that fire for me.
Jerry <> – I mean what else can I say? The next year I came back, I broke my foot and I was out for 65 games. And when I came back I wanted to play; you know he and the doctor’s came up with this whole theory that you can only play 7 minutes a game, but I’m practicing 2 hours a day. I’m saying ‘well, I don’t think – I don’t agree with that math, you know?’ And back then it was about whoever had the worst record got the most balls and the ping pong balls and you know you can decide what pick you’re gonna have, but I didn’t care about that, I just wanted to win. I wanted to make the playoffs. You know, I wanted to keep that energy going in Chicago. So I had to go in his office, and sit down with him and say ‘Jerry, you know I feel like I should play more than 14 minutes, I’ve been practicing 2 hours.’ And he said ‘MJ, I think I have to protect the long term investment that we’ve invested in you.’ And I said ‘Jerry, I, I really think I should be able to play.’ And he said ‘let me ask you this, if you had a headache?’ And you know at that time it was about 10% chance that I could re-injure my ankle or my foot. And he said ‘if you had a headache and you got 10 tablets and one of them is coated with cyanide, would you take the tablet?’ And I looked at him and I said ‘how bad is the headache? depend on how bad the headache.’ Jerry looked at me and he said ‘Yeah ok I guess that’s a good answer, you can go back and play’. And he let me go back and play.
You know, Jerry provided a lot of different obstacles for me, but at the same time the guy gave me an opportunity to perform at the highest level in terms of basketball, and the Bulls – the whole Bulls organization did a great justice for me and all of my teammates – believe me I had a lot of teammates over the 14 years that I played for the Bulls. You know I respected each and every one of them, I just wanted to win. You know, it’s how you want to look at it. And then along came Doug Collins who was caught in the whole midst of this Jerry Kraus and Jerry Rainsdorf. And, at the same time, you know when I was trying to play in the summertime, he said ‘well, you’re a part of the organization and the organization said you can’t play in the summertime’ and I said ‘Doug, you haven’t read the fine print in my contract. In my contract I have the ‘love the game clause’ that means I can play anytime I want, any place I want.’ (laughs) And Doug looked at me and said ‘yea, you’re right, you’re right.’ And that’s how we became a little closer in terms of Doug Collins and myself. And Jerry Kraus is right there, and Jerry is not here – I mean obviously, I don’t know who invited him, I didn’t, but uh. I hope he understands, I hope he understands it goes a long way, and he was a very competitive person and I was a very competitive person. He said ‘organizations win championships’. I said ‘I didn’t see organizations playing with the Flu in Utah. I didn’t see them playing with a bad ankle.’ Granted, I think organizations put together teams, but at the end of the day, the team has to go out and play. You know, so in essence, I think the players win the championship, and the organization has something to do with it – don’t get me wrong. But don’t try to put the organization above the players, because at the end of the day the players still got to go out there and perform. You guys gotta pay us, but I still gotta go out and play.
Obviously, you see my kids – Jeffrey, Marcus, Jasmine – I love you guys. I think you guys represent a lot of me; a lot of different personalities. Your Mom, you represent them as well. You know I think that you guys have a heavy burden. I wouldn’t want to be you guys if I had to, because of all the expectations that you have to deal with – I mean look around you, they’re charging $1000 tickets for this whole event. It used to be 200 bucks. But I paid it, you know, I had no choice. I had a lot of family, a lot of friends I had to bring in… so thank you Hall of Fame for raising ticket prices, I guess.
But you guys – I love you guys – you guys, just so you know, you got a whole host of people supporting you; family, friends, people that you don’t know. Relatives coming out of the woodwork, you know, no matter how you look at it. But I think we taught you right – your Mom and I – and hopefully you can make the right decision when the time comes.
My Mom, what else can I say about my Mom. My Mom never stays still. You think I’m busy? She’s always on the go. And without her – she’s a rock – she’s unbelievable. Right now she takes over two jobs. (applause) She’s an unbelievable woman. If I’ve got anybody that’s nagging me each and every day, it is her. And she constantly keeps me focused on the good things about life – you know how people perceive you, how you respect them, you know what’s good for the kids, what’s good for you. How you are perceived publicly, take a pause and think about the things that you do. And that all came from my parents, you know it came from my Mom. And she still at this stage – I’m 46 years old – she’s still parenting me today. And that’s the good thing about that lady, I love her to death. I love her to death.
And I’m going to thank a couple people that you guys probably wouldn’t even think that I would thank. Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, George Gervin – now they say it was a so-called ‘freeze out’ in my rookie season. I wouldn’t have never guessed, but you guys gave me the motivation to say ‘you know what, evidently I haven’t proved enough to these guys. I gotta prove to them that I deserve what I’ve gotten on this level’. And no matter what people may have said – if it was a rumor, I never took it as truth – but you guys never froze me out, because I was just happy to be there, no matter how you look at it. And from that point forward I wanted to prove to you, Magic, Larry, George, everybody – that I deserved to be on this level just as much as everybody else. And hopefully over the period of my career I’ve done that, without a doubt – you know even in the Detroit years, we’ve done that.
Pat Riley. I mean, you and I, we go way back. I still remember in Hawaii – you remember in Hawaii, you and I – I was coming in and you were I guess leaving and you decided to stay a couple extra days, but you were in my suite. And they came and they told you you had to get out of my suite. And you slid a note underneath my door – although you had to move; you did move – you slid a note, saying: ‘I enjoyed the competition, congratulations. But we will meet again.’ And I took the heart in that because I think in all honesty you’re just as competitive as I am, even from a coaching stand point. And you challenged me every time I played the Knicks, the Heat – and I don’t think you were with the Lakers – but anytime I played against you, you had Jordan-Stoppers on your team, you had John Starks who I loved. You even had my friend Charles Oakley saying ‘we can’t go to lunch, we can’t go to dinner, because Pat doesn’t believe in fraternizing between the two of us.’ And this guy hit me harder than anybody else in the league and he was my best friend. Patrick Ewing – we had the same agent, we came at the same time, but we can’t go to lunch. Why is this? You think I’m gonna play against Patrick any different than I play against anybody else? Nah, nah. And then you had your little guy, who was on your staff, who became the next coach after you – Jeff VanGundy. He said I conned the players, I befriended them and then I attacked them on the basketball court. Where did that come from? I just so happen to be a friendly guy. I get along with everybody, but at the same time when the light comes on I’m just as competitive as anybody you know. So you guys I have to say thank you very much for that motivation that I desperately needed. (applause)
Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson is a – to me, he’s a professional Dean Smith. He challenged me mentally, not just physically. You know, he understood the game, along with Tex Winter. They taught me a lot about the basketball game – Tex being the specialist – you know I could never please Tex. And I love Tex. Tex is not here, but I know he’s here in spirit. I can remember a game coming off the basketball court, and we were down, I don’t know 5-10 points, and I go off for about 25 points and we come back and win the game. And we’re walking off the floor and Tex look at me and says ‘you know, there’s no ‘i’ in team’. And I said ‘Tex, there’s not, there’s not an ‘i’ in team, but there’s an ‘i’ in win.’ (laughs, applause). I think he got my message: I’ll do anything to win. You know, if that means we play team format, we win. If that means I have to do whatever I have to do, we gonna win no matter how you look at it.
And then we had all those media nay-sayers. Oh ‘scoring champion can’t win an NBA title.’ Or ‘you’re not as good as Magic Johnson, you’re not as good as Larry Bird – you’re good, but you’re not as good as those guys.’ You know, I had to listen to all of this – and that put so much wool on that fire that it kept me – each and everyday, trying to get better as a basketball player. Now I’m not saying that they were wrong – I may have looked at it from a different perspective. But at the same time, as a basketball player I’m trying to become the best that I can, you know, and for someone like me who achieved a lot over the course of my career you look for any kind of messages that people may say or do to get you motivated to play the game of basketball at the highest level, because that is when I feel like i excel at my best.
And my last example of that – and the last one that you guys have probably seen – I hate to do it to him, but – he’s such a nice guy and uh. When I first met Bryan Russell – John <> will remember this – I was in Chicago in 1994. I was working out for baseball, and they came down for a workout and shoot-around and I came over to say hello. And at this time I had no thoughts of coming back and playing the game of basketball, and Bryan Russell came over to me and said ‘you know what man, why’d you quit? Why’d you quit? You know I could guard you. If I ever see you in a pair of shorts. If I ever see you in a pair of shorts.’ Remember this John? (laughs)
So when I did decide to come back in 1995, and then we played Utah in ’96, I’m at the Center Circle and Bryan Russell is sitting next to me and I look over at Bryan and I said ‘do you remember this conversation you made in 1994, or when you ‘I think I can guard you, I can shut you down, and I would love to play against you.’ ‘well you about to get your chance.’ And believe me, ever since that day, he got his chance. I don’t know how succeeding he was, but I think he had his chance, and believe me I relished on that point and from this day forward if I ever see him in shorts I’m coming at him.
I know you guys gotta go – I know I’ve been up here a lot longer than I told my friends I was going to be up here. I cried. I was supposed to go up here say ‘thank you’ and walk off, and I didn’t even do that, so uh.
As I close – the game of basketball has been everything to me. My refuge. My place I’ve always gone when I needed to find comfort and peace. It’s been a source of intense pain, and a source of most intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. And one that no one can even imagine. It’s been a relationship that has evolved over time, and given me the greatest respect and love for the game. It has provided me with a platform to share my passion with millions in a way I neither expected nor could have imagined in my career. I hope that it’s given the millions of people that I’ve touched, the optimism and the desire to achieve their goals through hard-work, perseverance, and positive attitude. Although I’m recognized with this tremendous honor of being in the basketball Hall of Fame – I don’t look at this moment as a defining end to my relationship with the game of basketball. It’s simply a continuation of something that I started a long time ago. One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50. (laughs) Oh don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears are often just an illusion. Thank you very much. Looking forward to it.