John Calipari recalls intimidating stare down from Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan made a career out of intimidating opponents, and that intimidation factor was felt by opposing coaches as well. John Calipari experienced that first-hand, and the college basketball legend isn’t afraid to admit it.
ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance” spent some time covering the 1998 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which was a tough series for the Chicago Bulls against the New Jersey Nets. The Bulls swept the series, but Calipari’s Nets took them to overtime in Game 1. It was during that hard-fought game that Jordan took aim at Calipari.
In the latest episode of ESPN’s “Coffee with Cal,” Calipari recalled how Jordan stared him down at one point during Game 1 and flashed a “0” symbol at him. Calipari didn’t know what it meant, but he tried to avoid Jordan and not motivate him any further.
“For me, when he came up to me and we’re in a timeout, I ain’t saying s— to this guy, there’s not a word I’m saying,” Calipari said, as transcribed by Rob Schaefer of NBA Sportd Chicago. “And when I walked (away) and he followed me, I’m not saying anything. So I turn around and I look at (Nets assistant coach) Kenny Gattison, and I said, ‘Is he still there?’ Because, again, if you made this dude mad. I mean…”
Jordan didn’t stop staring at Calipari, and Calipari turned around to see the six-time champion flashing the “0” hand symbol at him.
“So I look back up at him, and he went like that (makes ‘0’ sign). And I go, ‘Kenny, what’s he talking about?’ (Kenny said) ‘I don’t think he’s gonna let Kerry Kittles score,” Calipari recalled.
Kittles scored 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting in Game 1. He didn’t score a single point in the second half, which is when Jordan locked him down. Kittles, who also appeared on “Coffee with Cal,” said Jordan had the ability to “flip the switch” whenever he wanted.
“I caught the brunt of it as a young player in the league, where I had it going one night in the first half, and then he switched on me in the second half and I don’t think I scored a bucket in the second half,” Kittles said. “That was Michael in a nutshell.”
Some people feel that “The Last Dance” has shown that Jordan was a bully to both teammates and opponents. While Jordan definitely did go to some great lengths to motivate his teammates, that is all part of what made him great. Calipari’s story is another example of that.