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For the past five weeks, Ahmad Rashad has relived countless Chicago Bulls games he’s covered and the greatness of Michael Jordan.
While he has watched “The Last Dance” documentary, the former “NBA on NBC” sideline reporter who developed a close friendship with Jordan has remembered how the NBA legend motivated himself to become one of the most competitive athletes. .
Rashad will turn back the clock again to the days as host and executive product of “NBA Inside Stuff” when he leads a round-table discussion with various undisclosed NBA stars of the 1990s on the league’s Twitter account on Sunday at 7 pm ET.
USA TODAY Sports caught up with Rashad to reflect more on his time covering Jordan’s Bulls.
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How often did Jordan ask you for insight about anything opponents might be saying about him?
Rashad: “Never. He would tell me, and I would be shocked. He would say after a game, ‘That guy said I wasn’t that good. Let’s see what he’s dealing with now.’ I don’t see that as being weird in any sort of way. If there is any athlete that tells you they haven’t done that, then they are probably not very good or they are lying. Michael always needed a challenge.
Phil Jackson was the master at this. Michael told me many times that he was so fortunate to have a coach that got the best out of him. He said Phil challenged him on a daily basis. If he got too many points and not enough rebounds or not enough assists, Phil would challenge him. Then Michael would go out the next night to show Phil he can do it.”
Ahmad Rashad and Michael Jordan stand together during the national championship game between UNC and Villanova in 2016. (Photo: Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)
You shared the story about seeing Jordan get upset before the 1996 NBA Finals when Sonics coach George Karl walked past him at a restaurant without acknowledging him. What did you think of how Jordan reacted to those slights?
Rashad: “I did it myself. I would search for things. When I was getting ready to play against a certain defensive back (Editor’s note: Rashad played in the NFL), I would search for things said about me to get me more fired up. If that person said, ‘He’s not that good or I’m going to cover him.’ That’s all that I needed. Michael was really good at it. But most athletes do that, anyway.”
Kendrick Perkins praised you for setting the model on how to foster good relationships with NBA players, while still doing your job. What was your approach?
Rashad: “It was important to me that when I was growing up, there weren’t many African Americans on TV doing sports. I wanted to set that example to African American athletes that you can do it just like Kendrick had said. It makes me feel wonderful. One of my dear friends became Michael Jordan. That gave me a lot of access there. But I had access to everybody from Larry Bird to Magic Johnson to all of the other guys. They knew I had been an athlete before and they knew who I was and that I had been through similar athletic things.”
What did you make of criticism that you were too close to the players?
Rashad: “I thought it came from a jealous person that wished they were close to them. I’m not going to explain I was an all-pro football player and these guys would know me. It’s not like I just stepped out of the street. I was a football star before I was doing these other things, so there’s a huge fraternity there. It’s easy for me to know these people and it was easy for them to know me. I never felt like I had to make any sort of excuse for being too close. We were doing sports. It was entertainment. It wasn’t like it was investigative reporting.”
How did you try to handle the interview you had with Jordan about his gambling?
Rashad: “He calls me on the way to arena and says, ‘Go get a cameraman. Let’s do this interview and get over with it. There’s something I want to say.’ I realized because he hadn’t been talking to a lot of people that there was going to be some jealous people that would take a shot at me because I was interviewing him. So rather than me just go and do the interview, I talked to (former NBC chairman) Dick Ebersol and told him, ‘This is what I have. What I need you to do is write all the questions.’ I don’t want anybody saying this was on me and I didn’t ask the right question. You write all the questions and I’ll ask those questions.’
He wrote the questions. Then we went out and we did it. Once we finished, I stopped the interview and said, ‘Listen, is there anything else that we missed?’ Do we need to go further with this? (Jordan is) sitting here right now and we can ask him whatever we want to. Tell me what else we need to do.’ Everybody said, ‘Nope, this is okay and this is fine.’ That’s what happened.”
What story sticks with you the most about covering the Dream Tream?
Rashad: “That the Dream Team played against each other every day. The greatest games ever were the practice games they played. Everybody was talking smack. It wasn’t Michael the only one talking. Magic Johnson was really good, too. They were showing up at the YMCA and had the greatest player in the world going at each other trying to prove something as opposed to just practicing. That was the fun of it. At the end of the day, everybody agreed with this, including Magic; those guys had been the great stars of the league and Michael was the now.
For every one of these guys, they were the ones that took the last shot. So who would for the Dream Team? I knew when I asked MJ, he would say him. What else is he going to say? But if I would’ve asked Magic or Clyde (Drexler) or anyone else, they would’ve said the same thing.”
What window did you have into the relationship MJ had with Kobe Bryant?
Rashad: “He was really impressed with his competitive nature. He saw himself in Kobe. I remember the time that when Michael wasn’t playing, we were out there at a Lakers game. After the game, me, Michael and Phil were just talking. Kobe came in. Phil was trying to get Michael to come out to practice and show the guys something. So I started instigating a little bit on who would win one-on-one. Michael was looking at him like, ‘Oh man, you a young fella.’ Kobe was like, ‘Look, I don’t know. You can just bring your tennis shoes. I can give you some tennis shoes and we can play tomorrow.’ Kobe never backed off. So when we were walking out of the arena, Michael looked at me and said, ‘I really like that guy. I really respect that kid.’”
What did you take away from Michael’s eulogy at Kobe’s memorial?
Rashad: “We had already cried together. We flew out together. I knew it was coming. I knew he would not be able to hold it together. We already had this conversation and felt the hurt to the depths of your soul. It was nothing but true. None of it was written down. It was all from his heart.”
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