Playboy: Let's talk about the Detroit series in last year's play-offs. You blew through New York and Philadelphia, and then came the Pistons.
Jordan: We were waiting for this. We had the home-court advantage. And we defended our home court the last six or seven times. The first game was a key because you knew they were going to throw shit at us. Pippen knew what Dennis Rodman was going to do. He couldn't let him get into his head. Just play, turn your face and keep going. We won both games in Chicago, so we went up to Detroit and said, Let's sweep them.
Playboy: Could you see the fear in their eyes?
Jordan: Yeah. They couldn't rattle us. They tried everything to rattle our confidence.
Playboy: Such as?
Jordan: Throwing punches, throwing guys at you, talking shit. So I'm saying, Well, these guys talk trash all the damn time to everybody. Let's see if they can handle some trash-talking back to them. So I started talking it to 'em. With Mark Aguirre, I said, "This is not your home. You're not in Chicago anymore. You live in Detroit. This is our home." Rodman, I said, "Rodman, best defensive player? Jump your ass over here if you think you're the best defensive player in the league." And that irritated the hell out of him. Every time he'd go past me, boom, knee me in the corner, knee me in the back. He was trying to frustrate me. And I was trying to do exactly what he would do. I'm trying to knock the hell out of Rodman. I'm telling Scottie to bring him off the screen--boom, I knock him. Rodman got pissed off because we were doing the same shit that he would do. I knew I was getting to him.
Playboy: How about Isiah?
Jordan: He was really passive. I think that he was so confident that they had something on us that, in a sense, he wasn't needed to win. He was just going to be the director instead of being the aggressor. Once he tried to be aggressive, it was too late.
Playboy: Have Pistons players tried to hurt you?
Jordan: Laimbeer has. The first time it happened, I thought it was just an initiation into the league. And then the crap started happening every time on the break, he and I angling off at the break. He doesn't even try to block the shot. His whole body is coming at me. And I'm going up in the air, I can lose control, anything can happen. I'm irritated by it but I handle it. I'm waiting for my last year.
Playboy: Is Laimbeer worse than the rest of them, even Rodman?
Jordan: No, I think Rodman and Laimbeer are just alike. They try to live up to their image of being assholes.
Playboy: The Detroit series was a remarkably thorough beating.
Jordan: That's why they walked off the court. We embarrassed them. To sweep them four-zip, it was embarrassing. Defending champions, embarrassing. It was like good overriding evil.
Playboy: What do you mean by "evil"?
Jordan: It was their style of basketball. If you knock a person down on a hard foul, you pick that man up and say, "Are you all right?" The Pistons will knock you down, then, if possible, kick you. They try to use that crap as an intimidator. The evil came out of their attitude, the unsportsmanlike actions. That bad-boy image brought them some gold, but it also brought them a lot of shame.
Playboy: It drives Detroit nuts to hear you say things like that. They feel you don't give them any respect.
Jordan: Respect for what?
Playboy: All their success.
Jordan: It's true. Everybody knows it. They were smart enough to utilize their image and win. They didn't win just off brute force. They had talent enough to win. But they could still have that talent without the brutality.
Playboy: Did it surprise you during the last game when they walked off the floor before time had expired?
Jordan: Yeah, it really did. Isiah Thomas is the president of our players association and yet he is going to orchestrate that unsportsmanlike conduct? Three years in a row, I pushed myself to shake their hands and wish them luck and told them to bring the championship back to the Eastern Conference.
Playboy: That had to be hard to swallow.
Jordan: Hard to swallow, but out of sportsmanship, this is what you're supposed to do.
Playboy: When did you realize that the N.B.A. title was within your grasp?
Jordan: In the first game against the Lakers. They played their asses off, we played terrible, but we still had a chance to win down the stretch. That's all we needed from that point on. That gave us our confidence. It was a moral victory for us in the first game. Then in the second game, we went right back and pounded them. Gave us that confidence back that we lost.
Playboy: Most people looked at it from the standpoint that the Lakers got a game in Chicago.
Jordan: Yeah, but the momentum changed. It's not like it just changed hands, we grabbed it.
Playboy: What were the emotions like before game five against the Lakers?
Jordan: We were just determined.
Playboy: Were you scared?
Jordan: Nope, I wasn't scared. We had three chances to win one, right? I wasn't nervous. We went in there relaxed.
Playboy: When did it hit you that the championship was yours?
Jordan: When [guard] John Paxson started knocking down shots. He was measuring them, boom, he was just knocking them down. I missed some of the excitement by not doing it in Chicago. If we had done it in Chicago, we probably wouldn't have lived, because the fans would have killed us. But it was nearly as bad in L.A.
Playboy: What happened in the locker room after the final game? It looked like you were overwhelmed with emotion.
Jordan: I tried to fight it, but I couldn't. I suppressed a lot of disappointment over the years. When we won it all, I became more emotional than I have ever been. I don't regret it. It was something I had to let out.
Playboy: Is there going to be any challenge to the Olympics?
Jordan: You know, it's one of those situations where the challenge is going to be playing together as a team. When you look at the talent and the teams we're supposed to play against, it's a massacre. It should never be close. We taught them the game of basketball. We've got people who have the ability and the height. We're talking about the greatest players that play the game now and the team is the best team that's ever been put together. Who's going to beat us? The Japanese? The Chinese? They can't match up to the athleticism we're going to have on this team. Not to mention the mental advantage we're going to have here with Magic, or whoever's gonna play the point. You have Stockton, Barkley, me, Robinson, Bird...come on. These are the people that the Europeans look up to, so how can they beat us? If any game is even close, it will be a moral victory for Europe.
Playboy: What will you do if Bill Laimbeer or Isiah Thomas makes the Olympic team?
Jordan: I would respect them as team-mates and we would play as a team.
Playboy: You still would do it?
Jordan: If I walk off now, you think there's not going to be a controversy? I would do it to avoid all the publicity and feelings between us. Americans shouldn't be that way when they're representing the country. You just have to do it.
Playboy: Why do you think Magic wants to play in the Olympics? What does it matter, given what he's accomplished?
Jordan: He has accomplished everything possible in terms of basketball except for one thing: He's never played in an Olympic game. Never had that gold medal. And that can be eating at him. He probably would take that risk knowing that he might give up a day or two of his life. You know what? If I were in his position, I probably would do it, too. I'm going to be in his corner all the way. It adds something to your life when you win a gold medal. You hear the whole world cheering for you. That's far greater than any other cheering you're going to hear in basketball.
Playboy: Even greater than the N.B.A. title?
Jordan: Yeah. The title is for Chicago and the Bulls fans around the United States, but the Olympics are for everybody in the United States and then some.
Playboy: For all the credit, respect, celebrity and money that have come to you in your career, you remain a black man in a country dominated by white corporate structures. Recently, you have even taken shots from black writers who suggest you're not black enough.
Jordan: I realize that I'm black, but I like to be viewed as a person, and that's everybody's wish. That's what Martin Luther King fought for, that everybody could be treated equal and be viewed as a person. In some ways I can't understand it, because here we are striving for equality and yet people are going to say I'm not black enough? At a time when actually I thought I was trying to be equal? I try to be a role model for black kids, white kids, yellow kids, green kids. This is what I felt was good about my personality. Don't knock me off the pedestal that you wanted me to get onto. I get criticized about not giving back to the community--well, that's not true. I do. I just don't go out and try to seek publicity from it. I could hold a press conference on everything that I do for the black community. But I don't choose to do that, so people are not aware of it.
Playboy: Does the accusation sting?
Jordan: Yeah, it's really unfair. Because they ask for more black role models, yet they're stabbing me when I'm up here trying to be a very positive black role model.