While we were all in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us gathered on Netflix to watch “The Last Dance,” a docu-series about the 1997-1998s. Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan was king then, and all roads to glory led through him.
During that run to their second treble of the decade, the Bulls found themselves facing off against the charlotte hornets in the second round. We saw a clip of Jordan between Games 2 and 3 after the Hornets stunned the Bulls by taking Game 2 in Chicago to steal home court advantage. And during the game, Jordan’s former teammate on the perimeter, BJ Armstrong, badmouthed Jordan.
As we watched MJ contemplate this moment between Games 2 and 3, he was smoking a cigar and holding a baseball bat at his locker. He was talking to his teammates, but really he was just talking to himself and harnessing the power of insignificance, something no one weaponized as masterfully as he did to provide even more motivation to complete a task, let alone a task. defeat the underdog in a playoff series matchup.
“Let’s see if that trash talk starts when it’s 0-0 instead of a five, six point lead,” Jordan professed as he put the cigar in his mouth and gripped the bat with both hands. “That’s where it starts. That’s the sign of a good man, if you can talk s- when it’s an even score.”
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Jordan would lead his Bulls to three straight wins, averaging 30 points per game in those three wins. The Bulls won by 14, 14 and nine points, and we didn’t hear much of the rest of that series from the Hornets. The message had been sent, a message as old as time in the world of sports. Don’t give extra motivation to your opponents. Don’t give them bulletin board material.
The ebb and flow of that series was very homey. The Suns won the first two games in Phoenix, outscoring the Mavs by seven and 20 points, respectively. The Mavs responded with two wins in Dallas to even the series at 2-2. When they returned to Phoenix for Game 5, the Mavs were embarrassed. After getting an early eight-point lead in the first eight minutes of the game, the Mavs completely fell apart. The Suns led by three points at halftime and then completely crushed Dallas in the final 24 minutes.
The Suns ended up winning the game by 30 points, and it looked like things would end soon for the Mavs. Devin Booker spoken to Luka Doncic throughout the game, just as the two had been exchanging words throughout the series. Towards the end of the fourth quarter, we saw a skirmish between Bismack Biyombo and Marquese Chriss, like everyone else, puffed out their chests at those times.
The Suns were a team that liked to talk trash, and we know that Dončić is never a stranger to throwing a few words on a basketball court. Booker and Dončić had a moment in Game 5 where he took heavy contact on a foul, lay face down on the ground for 11 seconds, smiled at the person recording on his phone, went face down again for another couple of punches, he rolled onto his back so his teammates could help him and dubbed it “Luka’s Special”, in reference to Dončić embellishing fouls throughout his career.
Devin Booker called it the “Luka Special” after he was fouled and dropped to the ground. pic.twitter.com/Y78CSggDAH
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) May 11, 2022
As the Mavs walked off the court in defeat, Dončić started chanting this for anyone to hear.
“Everyone acts tough when they get up,” Dončić said. “Everyone acting tough.”
He paraphrased and repeated those words from Jordan 24 years earlier, words that occurred the year before Dončić was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. However, the difference between those two who express the same sentiment is quite severe. Jordan established himself as the greatest player of all time. His team, the Bulls, was a heavy favorite over the Hornets, and a two-point loss that included negative comments from a former teammate when the Hornets were winning five or six didn’t exactly raise the stakes of the situation. Well, not because of anyone other than Jordan’s competitive nature.
Dončić, on the other hand, had just been embarrassed in the last 24 minutes of action. His team was destroyed by the top-seeded Suns, a team that had won 12 more games than the Mavs for the most in the league. nba. She was responding to the ruckus between Biyombo and Chriss, but she was also sending a message to Booker, jae crowder and no one else to listen. No friends. Not former colleagues. Enemies of the series. Thorns in the sides of the Mavs. The sash hanging over the neck of his season.
Dončić, while a fantastic player who projects to be a historic figure in professional basketball when his career ends a long time from now, hasn’t been successful in the playoffs. His only win in the series in three years? A six-game series wins over implosion utah jazz. Prior to that, two first-round series outings at the hands of the Pair of scissors, including a seven-game series loss in the previous postseason as the Mavs went up 3–2 in the series. And yet he echoed Jordan’s indirect challenge.
Everyone acts tough when they’re awake.
In Game 6, the Mavs defeated the Suns in Dallas. Dončić had 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and just one turnover in 35 minutes. Dallas was plus-15 in their minutes on the court, won every quarter and ended up taking the night with a 27-point victory. But the Mavs still had to get back to Phoenix for Game 7. The home team had won every game in the series, and it’s rare for a team to lose a Game 7 on their home court. Since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976-77, only 26 teams had lost a Game 7 at their home stadium in 106 games.
What happened in Game 7 was truly amazing. Not only did Dallas win the game in Phoenix, but the Mavs completely kicked the Suns’ butt that night.
Dončić backed up his tough talk after Game 5 by dropping 35 points in 30 minutes of action. The Mavs led by as many as 46 points in that game. The Suns crowd was stunned from the start. Phoenix had a 10-point deficit after the first quarter. It is not a big thing. Those get erased all the time in the NBA. The Mavs’ 30-10 second quarter put Dallas up 57-27 at halftime. That… usually doesn’t go away.
You know what else is not deleted? This image of Dončić trolling Booker during the first half as the Mavs were killing Phoenix’s 64-win season in the desert.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 16, 2022
He was the face of the Suns-Mavs series, as much as Dončić blurting out that everyone talks tough when they’re up there. There was nothing for Booker to do but take the loss. He hears the booing. He sees the expressionless faces of his teammates and the Suns fans in the arena. He hears the Mavs talk grow louder as their season fades into the night. Eventually, the Mavs won by 33 points and advanced to their first Western Conference final since winning the NBA championship in 2011.
Releasing, “Everyone acts tough when they’re up,” Dončić had to deliver in the next two games without much NBA history of doing so. Shout that and be left empty? The internet clowns you until you win a championship. Yeah you win a championship. But Dončić acted tough when he was down. And then he trolled when he was awake, and the series ended. This is how you build a legend and a tradition.
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(Illustration: John Bradford / the athletic; photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)