It didn’t take much to push Michael Jordan to destroyer-of-worlds mode. Sometimes, all you had to do was exist.
Just ask LaBradford Smith.
It was an innocuous regular season game in March 1993, between the twice-defending champion Bulls and the lottery-bound Washington Bullets. Smith, who averaged 6.7 points in an unremarkable three-year career, had the night of his life, scoring 37 points in a 104-99 defeat in Chicago.
“LaBradford Smith had a game. I mean he had a game of games,” B.J. Armstrong said in a present-day interview. “And for whatever reason, Michael couldn’t make a basket.”
Indeed, Jordan scored 25 points in the game (on 9-for-27 shooting) to Smith’s 37. According to Jordan, Smith had this to say on his way off the court that game.
“Nice game, Mike.”
Again, innocuous. But that was enough to stoke Jordan’s competitive fire for the Bulls’ next game — incidentally, the second of two consecutive matchups with the Bullets, this one in Washington D.C.
“We’re flying to Washington,” Armstrong continued. “(Jordan said) tomorrow, in the first half, I’m gonna have what this kid had in the game.”
Lo and behold, Jordan poured in 36 in the first half of the context, finishing with 47. Smith notched 15 points. The Bulls won 126-101.
Michael Wilbon, now of ESPN and formerly of the Washington Post, remembered the game as a targeted embarrassment of Smith. But he also recalled another crucial nugget: Jordan had made the perceived slight from Smith up.
"Fast forward to decades past the incident and there's a rumor that this never happened," Wilbon said in the documentary. "LaBradford Smith never put his arm around Michael and said, 'Nice game, Mike.' A couple of writers went up to Michael and said, 'Did this ever happen?' And Michael with a smile was like, 'No, I made it up.'
"There's nothing he would not do to get himself to the place where he's going to beat you."
Sometimes, all it took was existing. Smith was out of the league by the end of 1993-94 season. But his role in this tale will endure forever.