Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time; sorry, there’s no debate. The former Chicago Bulls legend won the NBA Finals six times in six tries, reinvented the sport and inspired a new generation of athletes to build a brand outside of just sports — something that no one had done nearly as successfully prior to MJ doing it.
For anyone who got the chance to watch Michael Jordan in his prime — or those who have had to settle for just highlights elsewhere — there’s one thing that was obvious: when the moment was the biggest and the pressure was on, Jordan wanted the ball in his hands, knowing that he could deliver regardless of the high-stress situation. He trusted himself. He knew he could get the job done. And, even if he failed, he knew it wasn’t going to be due to lack of preparation.
Given all that success, how did someone like Jordan calm his nerves when the moment was so big? Preparation and fundamentals, knowing that, once you put the work into something, you’ll accept the result in the end. Yep, it’s that attitude that the Basketball Hall of Famer lived by during his playing career.
Talking to ESPN‘s Jackie MacMullan for a feature about NBA players and high-stress situations, Michael Jordan went into further detail about that mindset during pressure-packed moments. Here’s what he had to say, per Business Insider:
The secret to staying calm in high-stress situations came down to practice. Jordan built his fundamentals — whether they be free throws, defense, or passing — through practice.
“The only way to relieve that pressure is to build your fundamentals, practice them over and over, so when game breaks down, you can handle anything that transpires,” he told ESPN.
By the time the game came around, Jordan knew for a fact he could perform because of the practice. That way, he didn’t have to feel the doubt or concern that lead to nervousness.
“People didn’t believe me when I told them I practiced harder than I played, but it was true,” Jordan told ESPN. “That’s where my comfort zone was created. By the time the game came, all I had to do was react to what my body was already accustomed to doing.”
“That’s where my comfort zone was created,” Jordan said. “By the time the game came, all I had to do was react to what my body was already accustomed to doing.”
It’s pretty incredible to hear Michael Jordan say he practiced harder than he played — especially since he played pretty damn hard — but it’s probably true. Remember, this is a guy who used to ride his teammates harder than anyone during practice, knowing that the fundamentals for being successful in games came during the time nobody else was watching. Hell, the legendary story of MJ fighting current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr during a scrimmage as members of the Chicago Bulls is well-documented. It’s why Jordan expected so much of his teammates; because he was going to outwork everyone else to become great, and he wanted the same from everyone else.
That old adage about practice making perfect? It might seem cliche, but don’t tell that to Michael Jordan, as it helped him remain calm, cool and collected when the going got tough during games. MJ learned to deal with failure on his own time when nothing was at stake and he became better when dropped into a high-stress situation — and it’s advice worth noting for yourself.