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Dan Majerle is the first to admit he’s partial, but to him, the answer to the question the former NBA standout and current Grand Canyon University men’s basketball coach receives from every recruit he speaks with is simple.
Michael Jordan for $200, Alex.
The question? The better player — Jordan or LeBron James?
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 1, 2018
Majerle can speak firsthand to Jordan’s greatness. During his 14-season NBA career, Majerle was tasked with the daunting challenge of trying to check Jordan countless times, including in all six game of the 1993 NBA Finals and Majerle and his Phoenix Suns teammates took on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
“Well, you need a lot of help,” Majerle described his approach on trying to D up on MJ to Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic in 2012. “I don’t know if there was a game plan. That’s why he was the greatest in my opinion, because he didn’t have a weakness. You can’t say, ‘Make him shoot a jump shot.’ You can’t say, ‘Make him post up.’ You can’t say, ‘Stay off him or get up on him,’ because he’s pretty much got the whole repertoire in his offense.”
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Majerle was regarded as a rugged defender — earning the nickname, “Thunder Dan” — during his playing days. Coming out of Central Michigan, he was part of coach John Thompson’s 1988 Olympic squad that played in The Games in Seoul, Korea.
Two years later, Majerle held then-76ers star Charles Barkley t0 12 points, though Barkley didn’t give Majerle credit.
“I was just tired,” Barkley told reporters. “Dan Majerle can’t guard me. I’ll kill him next time.”
Majerle earned second-team All-Defensive Team honors in 1991, which recognized his as one of the NBA’s top 10 defenders.
The next season came the aforementioned confrontation against Jordan in the Finals and even Barkley, by then Majerle’s teammate on the Suns, had changed his mind on Majerle’s prowess on the defensive end of the floor.
“Nobody’s going to stop Michael Jordan,” Barkley said. “But I’ll put Dan Majerle on anybody.”
Jordan averaged 32 points a game leading up to the Finals. He had posted games of 54, 49, 57, 64 and 52 points during regular-season play.
“There were going to be some nights when you could play the best defense possible, and it wasn’t going to matter,” Majerle told Haller. “He was still going to score, so my whole thing was … make him work as hard as possible.”
Jordan is legendary for talking a lot of junk on the court, but Majerle was way too smart to utter responses.
“I learned to leave him alone and not say a whole lot, because guys like that, if you talk, it gets him more fired up and then he takes it personal and really wants to kill you,” Majerle told Haller.
Turns out, Jordan did so, anyway.
With Majerle and point guard Kevin Johnson trying to contain Jordan, he averaged 41 points as the Bulls won the series in six games.
Despite that, Majerle said he loved the challenge of trying to check the guy he believes to the best player in the history of the game.
“I loved guarding him,’’ he told Haller. “It’s something I can tell my kids. … I had a chance to play against him, and he was one of the greatest, so I take a lot of pride in being able to be matched up with him.”