Steve Kerr says Michael Jordan punching him in the face during 1995 training camp ‘helped our relationship’
"The Last Dance" documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls has shown a side of Michael Jordan that's lived mostly in lore before now — where he's pushing his teammates with fury and demanding the best of them at all costs.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a teammate of Jordan's for four seasons, has perhaps the most quintessential example of Jordan going hard on his teammates.
During training camp for the 1995-96 season in which the Bulls won an NBA-record 72 games, Jordan and Kerr began trash-talking, according to a 2013 ESPN recounting of the fight. Eventually, Jordan used his physicality to try to psychologically break down a much slimmer Kerr, who opted to fight back after a forearm to the chest, according to then-coach Phil Jackson's account his book, "Eleven Rings."
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Steve Kerr was teammates with Michael Jordan for five seasons with the Bulls, winning three championships. (Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler, NBAE via Getty Images)
Jordan responded by punching Kerr, and the two had a mini boxing match before teammates intervened. Kerr left with a black eye.
"I was like the kid in "Jurassic Park" who got attacked by the velociraptor," Kerr recalled in a 2016 interview with VICE.
In an interview on Wednesday night for "NBA on TNT," Kerr explained how that altercation shaped his relationship with Jordan and made both players better.
“I feel like I passed the test and he trusted me more afterwards.”@SteveKerr discusses how a practice altercation with MJ helped grow their relationship on #NBATogetherpic.twitter.com/yUwghEt513
"I would say it definitely helped our relationship, and that probably sounds really weird," Kerr said. "I wouldn't recommend that to anybody at home. … For me in that case, Michael was definitely testing me, and I responded. I feel like I kind of passed the test and he trusted me more afterwards."
Kerr went on to become a key role player for the Bulls. Jordan passed to Kerr off a double-team for the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals to clinch Chicago's fifth title (and second in a row). Kerr and Jordan would three-peat.
The encounter also helped Jordan. In Jackson's book, "Eleven Rings," Jordan is quoted explaining how the fight with Kerr helped him trust teammates: "It made me look at myself, and say, ‘You know what? You’re really being an idiot about this whole process.'"
Kerr explained Wednesday how the fight was less severe than it might sound in today's game.
"It has to be understood in the context of intense competition," Kerr said. "One thing that was more prevalent back then than now was the intensity of practices vs. now. I think we're smarter now with preserving our players. We don't have as many practice days. It's more about rest and recovery. They were a huge part of the Bulls and Michael setting a standard for our play. There were practice fights on every (NBA) team that I played on. It wasn't really a huge deal in the grand scheme of things."
On Tuesday, Kerr disagreed with Jordan's stance that teammate Scottie Pippen was being "selfish" by purposely missing the first half of the '97-98 season for surgery when he was aggravated with Bulls management for low salary and trade rumors. Kerr said Pippen was so "beloved" by teammates and they understood his frustration.
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