For most professional basketball players, the game is their ultimate passion. It has taken blood, sweat, and tears to help them get to the NBA, and once they get there, they want to go out on the court every night to perform at the highest level and help their team win.
They soon end up realizing, though, that winning is not always in the best interests of their teams, and Michael Jordan found that out in his rookie season. MJ, who was on his way to winning Rookie of the Year, recalled during an interview with GQ in 1989 how the Bulls were trying to lose a game towards the end of the regular season in the hope of getting a better matchup in the playoffs.
Michael Jordan is sitting on the bench, and he can't stand it. He started the game by scoring nineteen points in the first quarter and giving his team the lead, but since then he's been on the bench more than usual. It's the second-to-last game of Jordan's rookie season, and it's the night he learns a bitter lesson. It turns out that by losing this game—and finishing with a poorer record—the Bulls can get a more favorable matchup for themselves in the playoffs.
Jordan says, "Here I am, trying to win, and he [then coach Kevin Loughery) is giving the game away. The fans started booing. They knew what was going on. And we lose. I got so pissed off. That's when I first found out that basketball was a business. I just knew it. Man, I was so pissed off, tears come from my eyes I was so pissed off!"
For a competitor like Jordan, this was outrageous as not trying to win every game was ridiculous in his eyes, and doing so just to avoid some other team in the postseason wasn't something that sat well with him. It was then that he realized it was just a business, which pissed him off.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the following season, Jordan would end up breaking his foot 3 games into the campaign, and while he wanted to come back and help the team make the playoffs, the Bulls' top brass didn't want that. They hoped he'd stay away for as long as possible so that they could tank and get a better draft pick, but Jordan wasn't going to be denied.
He managed to return in time and helped them win 6 of their last 10 games to sneak into the postseason. He would then go on to have that memorable 63-point outing against the Celtics in what still remains the record for most points in a playoff game. They would still end up losing that game as well as the series, but his time would come years later, of course, as Jordan would go on to win 6 championships and cement himself as the GOAT.