Michael Jordan's Mentality - A Complete Breakdown & Analysis

basketball mindset Feb 09, 2024
michael jordan mentality

What was Michael Jordan's mindset like?

Michael Jordan is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. To be the best, something has to make you stand out from all the rest. 

For starters, MJ was a 6x NBA Champion, 5x NBA MVP, 14x All-Star, and a 2x Olympic Gold Medal winner just to name a few of his accomplishments.

He averaged 30.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 5.3 assists per game in his career too. There's no denying Jordan had the basketball talent.

But again, to be the best of the best in a league where everyone is talented and athletic, something else has to make you stand out.

For MJ, that was his mental game. Michael Jordan's mindset made him stand out. Jordan had that killer mentality, that mental toughness, that "never stop striving to be better" attitude, and that relentless pursuit of greatness and perfection.

Michael Jordan's mental game was the foundation of his greatness. 

In this complete mindset breakdown, discover exactly which mental attributes Michael Jordan was most known for along with some of his most famous quotes.

Learn from Michael Jordan on a variety of topics like success, confidence, work ethic, resilience, overcoming failure, and more so that you can understand how to think like MJ and have a Michael Jordan mentality yourself.

You might like: Top 50 Michael Jordan Quotes About Basketball and Life >>


Michael Jordan's Winning Mentality

At the core of Michael Jordan's mindset was his unwavering desire to win. MJ had the will to win at all costs.

"My innate personality is to win at all costs. If I have to do it myself, I’m going to do it."

This winning mentality was evident in MJ's relentless work ethic, his competitive drive, and his refusal to accept anything less than winning, success, and being the best.

"I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win."

One of the most iconic examples of MJ's winning mindset was during the 1997 NBA Finals in what was known as "The Flu Game." After 4 games, the series was tied 2-2. Game 5 was pivotal, putting the winner one game away from winning it all. 

The night before the game, Jordan came down with what was deemed at the time as flu-like symptoms. During "The Last Dance" documentary however, Jordan cleared the air and claimed that it was actually food poisoning which likely came from the pizza he had ordered.

Jordan was told by his trainer Tim Grover that there was no way he would be able to play in Game 5 given the symptoms he was experiencing, but that didn't stop him. Not only did MJ play, but he scored 38 points, including a crucial three-pointer in the final minutes, leading the Chicago Bulls to a victory and a 3-2 series lead.

"If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."

MJ had so little energy physically, yet his mental toughness, determination, and relentless pursuit of winning carried him through the game and allowed him to succeed anyway. Mind over matter. "The Flu Game" - the perfect example of Michael Jordan's winning mentality.

Read also: The 24 Best Kobe Bryant Mamba Mentality Quotes  >>


Embracing And Learning From Failure

“To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.”

Another mental strength that MJ had mentally that made him such a great player was his growth mindset perspective about failure. He had the ability to embrace failure and use it as a stepping stone to success. Overcoming obstacles and setbacks was something he prided himself in. 

Instead of being discouraged by a failure or a setback, he saw them both as opportunities to learn, grow, and evolve. He understood that they are an inevitable part of the journey to success and achieving your goals.

"I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." 

It is common for athletes to fear failing, but instead of fearing it, MJ embraced it. This growth mindset allowed him to bounce back from any form of adversity even stronger and more determined than before.

An example of Jordan's growth mindset towards failure was his experience of being cut from his high school basketball team. Instead of letting this discourage him, he used it as motivation to work even harder and prove himself.

"It doesn't matter if you fall down, it's whether you get back up."

Jordan was motivated to learn and grow from that experience. He dedicated himself to improving his skills and ultimately developed himself into one of the greatest basketball players of all time. 

You might like: How to Mentally Prepare For a Basketball Game (5-Step Routine) >>


Jordan's Unshakeable Confidence

To even make it to the NBA, let alone be one of the best to ever play, you have to have an incredibly high level of confidence and self-belief.

Confidence was a key component of Michael Jordan's mentality. He believed in himself and in his ability to succeed and overcome any challenge.

"I have total confidence in my skills."

Jordan was never afraid to put the team on his back, to take the game-winning shot in pressure moments, or to do whatever it took to win. He always had the confidence in himself that he would succeed.

“There’s only one Michael Jordan.”

One memorable instance of MJ's confidence in action was during the 1992 NBA Finals, famously known as the "Shrug Game." In Game 1, Jordan hit six three-pointers in the first half. He then shrugged his shoulders, almost as if to say, "Yup, this is what I do."

In an interview, a reporter said to MJ, "You had the utmost confidence. Your confidence level was through the roof. Where is it now?" MJ responded with, "On top of the roof."

Off the court, Jordan's confidence translated into his business ventures. As an entrepreneur and businessman, he wasn't afraid to take risks or pursue opportunities because he always had the belief that he could succeed. 

Related: How To Boost Your Confidence In Basketball | 10 Tips >>


MJ's Attitude About Fear And Limits

Michael Jordan wasn't one to let fear hold him back. He wasn't afraid to take risks or embrace challenges head-on and he never allowed self-doubt to hold him back.

"I've never been afraid. I've been nervous, but afraid means you're not confident in your skills. I have total confidence in my skills so I'm not afraid."

One example of Jordan's fearlessness was his performance in the 1991 NBA Finals. In the '91 Finals, the Chicago Bulls were facing the dominant Los Angeles Lakers and star player, Magic Johnson.

Jordan didn't care. He rose to the occasion averaging 31.2 points per game in the series and leading the Bulls to their first NBA championship. 

MJ's ability to perform at a high level on the biggest stage demonstrated his fearlessness. At the same time, Jordan never placed any limits on himself and he wasn't afraid of limits that others placed on him.

"Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion."

An example of this was Jordan's decision to pursue a career in baseball after he retired from basketball for the first time. Despite not playing baseball since high school, Jordan joined the minor league team Birmingham Barons.

Although his baseball career didn't last very long, his willingness to step out of his comfort zone and try something that other people deemed impossible was a testament to his fearlessness and determination to push beyond his perceived limits.


“If it turns out that my best wasn’t good enough, at least I won’t look back and say I was afraid to try.”

Related: The Importance Of Overcoming Limiting Beliefs >>


Embracing Pressure 

Rather than fearing pressure or crumbling in pressure-filled moments, Michael Jordan thrived under it. He embraced the spotlight and played his best when the stakes were highest. He wasn't afraid of the moment.

There are tons of examples of MJ's success under pressure. He hit 9 buzzer-beaters throughout his career and plenty of other last-second shots. In Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, with the series tied at 3-3, Jordan scored 33 points including the game-winning shot which won him his third consecutive NBA championship. 

"Its better to shoot and miss, then to let time run out and wonder what if."

One of the most famous examples was during the 1998 NBA Finals. In Game 6 against the Utah Jazz, with only seconds remaining and the game tied, Jordan nailed a game-winning shot, known as "The Last Shot." This won the Chicago Bulls their sixth championship.

Throughout his career, Jordan consistently rose to the occasion when the stakes were highest. Whether it was hitting game-winning shots or making key defensive stops, Jordan's ability to embrace pressure set him apart from other players.      

Related: How To Be Clutch In Basketball By Letting Go Of Fear >>


MJ Had An Elite Work Ethic

Michael Jordan's work ethic was legendary. He consistently worked hard and put in the time and effort to master his craft. He had a relentless pursuit of greatness, always striving to get better and always striving to out-do himself. 

"If you do the work, you get rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life." 

Brendan Haywood, a former teammate of Jordan said, "MJ would be there at 8 am even when practice didn’t start until 11 am. That work ethic was insane. One time, the veterans didn’t have to be there that day. So I asked him why he was there. He said: ‘The better question is why did I beat you here?"

“Champions do not become champions when they win an event, but in the hours, weeks, and months, and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely a demonstration of their championship character.”

Another great example of MJ's work ethic was when early in his career, he struggled in the NBA playoffs. The main reason was because of the Detroit Pistons, known as the "Bad Boys," at that time. The Pistons repeatedly eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs.

Instead of getting down about it or losing confidence, Jordan used those losses as motivation. He found areas of his game that he could improve. He used his struggles against the Pistons as an opportunity to improve and come out stronger.

Eventually, MJ led the Bulls to victory against the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, showing that his hard work had paid off. 

"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

Jordan's work ethic was not limited to his skills on the court either. He understood the importance of physical fitness and conditioning, as well as mental training and staying mindful and present.

It's no coincidence Michael Jordan evolved into the player he was. He earned it.

Read also: How To Get Better At Basketball - The Ultimate Guide >>


Handling Criticism And Expectations 

Another characteristic that made Michael, Michael, was how he dealt with the criticism and expectations of others. He never allowed other people's expectations to define him. He had an unwavering belief in his own abilities and he did not let himself be affected by external opinions.

“If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”

A prime example of this was Jordan's baseball career. Despite facing a lot of skepticism and criticism, Jordan approached the challenge with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Sure, it probably didn't go how he wanted to ultimately, but that didn't stop him from trying. Had Jordan listened to his critics, he wouldn't have even attempted to play baseball in the first place.

"Another day, another opportunity to prove everyone who doubts you wrong."

Another example was when MJ came out of retirement for the second time to play for the Washington Wizards. A lot people doubted that he could be an effective player as he was 38 at that point.

Instead of listening to the critics, MJ did what he did best which was to stay true to himself and believe in himself no matter what other people thought.

"It's heavy duty to try to do everything and please everybody. My job was to go out there and play the game of basketball as best I can. People may not agree with that. I can’t live with what everyone's impression of what I should or what I shouldn't do."

Related: Handling Criticism in Basketball >>


The Importance Of Mindfulness

Mindfulness played a major role in Michael Jordan's mentality. During his time with the Bulls, Phil Jackson brought in a mindfulness expert named George Mumford to teach the Bulls about mindfulness and meditation.

MJ credited meditation with helping him focus in pressure moments: 

"You feel that the crowd is silent, and that moment begins to be the moment for me. That's part of Zen Buddhism and as soon as you get into that state, things start moving slowly and you start to see the court very well. Then you read what the defense is trying to do and I saw it at that moment." 

By practicing mindfulness off the court, MJ was better able to say present and calm in moments of chaos on the court.

Related: The Complete Guide to Getting in the Zone in Basketball >>

Guided Meditation: Pregame Meditation for Basketball Players >>


Inspiring Greatness In Others 

Michael Jordan's mindset not only propelled him to greatness, but it also inspired those around him to strive for excellence too. His leadership skills and ability to bring out the best in his teammates were instrumental in the success of the Chicago Bulls during their championship runs.

Jordan was demanding and set high expectations for his teammates which helped bring out the best in them. 

Jordan led by example, consistently giving 100% effort on the court, whether it was a game or in practice. MJ's leadership set the standard for the entire team and it created a winning culture.

Jordan was also a vocal leader, not afraid to call out teammates for lackluster efforts. He knew that to win multiple championships, he couldn't do it alone.

You might like: 92 Scottie Pippen Quotes On MJ, Bulls, Basketball, Work Ethic & Life >>


Other Lessons From Michael Jordan From "The Last Dance"

The Netflix documentary series "The Last Dance" gave even more insights into the mindset of Michael Jordan. It showcased his confidence, dedication, competitiveness, and unrelenting pursuit of greatness.

Here are some of the best Michael Jordan quotes from The Last Dance that show what made Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan: 

• "There were so many times that Tex used to yell at me saying, ‘Move the ball, Move the ball! There is no ‘I’ in team.’ I said, ‘There’s an ‘I’ in win.’"

• "I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen, and that’s why I consider him my best teammate of all time. He helped me so much in the way I approached the game, in the way I played the game. Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen."

• "I don’t have a gambling problem I have a competitiveness problem."

• "My mentality was to go out and win at any cost. If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me."

• "Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken?"

• "I wasn’t a Phil Jackson fan when he first came in. He was coming and taking the ball out of my hands."



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