After being featured in the first episode of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan’s first NBA head coach says he knew Jordan would become a star after coaching him for one season but didn’t know just how big he would become.
Kevin Loughery played 11 seasons as a guard in the NBA, including eight-plus with the Baltimore Bullets. He averaged 15.3 points and 3.7 assists for his career. He started his coaching career as a player-coach for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1972-73 season, then got into coaching full time. Loughery coached in the ABA from 1973-1976, then in the NBA from 1976-1995.
Loughery was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls from 1983-1985. During his second season on the job, Loughery watched Jordan introduce himself to the league. Jordan won Rookie of the Year after averaging 28.2 points, 5.9 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 steals.
But even though he got to watch Jordan compete at every practice and every game, he wasn’t expecting him to one day become one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if not the greatest.
“To say maybe you have the best player of all time after only having him for one year, I couldn’t say that,” Loughery said on Glenn Clark Radio April 21. “But I knew we had a star who would be an All-Star in the NBA.”
Loughery, 80, says he knew Jordan was a star during training camp.
“The only thing we were skeptical about — and we weren’t that skeptical about it — was if Michael was able to handle the basketball and take it anywhere on the floor,” Loughery said. “The third day when we had our one-on-one drills, we found out he could do that extremely well. And that’s when we knew we had a star.”
Jordan led the Bulls to a 38-44 record as a rookie in 1984-85, an 11-game improvement from the previous year. But Loughery says he wasn’t aware of the situation that was going on away from the court, dubbed “the Bulls’ traveling cocaine circus” during “The Last Dance.”
“As a coach, you’re not involved in the daily lives of players. You’re not in college,” Loughery said. “I never saw any of that. The problem I would have with it is if it was a problem for the way a player performed, and I never saw it in practice or in a game.”
But one thing Loughery knew for certain was that Jordan wanted to win and carried himself with the utmost confidence. Footage in “The Last Dance” of Jordan demanding better of his teammates during practice when Scottie Pippen was out weren’t one-time occurrences. Jordan constantly demanded more from his teammates in practice, even as a rookie.
“Once we started scrimmaging, there was no doubt about his competitiveness, and the players weren’t happy with Michael in a way because he demanded that they play as hard as he played in every practice and every game,” Loughery said. “He never took a day off, and in any drill that he was involved in, he wanted to win.”
“It’s always a test at the beginning for the veteran players to see how good this guy is and what is he all about,” Loughery added. “But the one thing they didn’t realize is that the first day [Jordan] walked into camp he became the leader of the team in his mind.”
Loughery said that “nobody has as much self-confidence in their individual talents and abilities as he did.” Jordan ended up leading the Bulls to six championships and a 72-10 season (1995-96). Loughery, who coached Jordan for just one year before becoming the Washington Bullets’ head coach, says Jordan was a joy to work with because of his drive.
“The biggest thing you could have about a player to enjoy coaching is not only talent but when you’ve got someone to kind of come out and compete and play hard every night, that’s the player you enjoy being around,” Loughery said. As far as a coach, that’s the people you enjoy being associated with and that’s the situation I’ve had with Michael. … He has to win. He can’t come second in anything.”
To hear more Loughery, including his thoughts on playing in Baltimore, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA Photos