BJ Armstrong had the best seat in the house when it came to witnessing Chicago Bulls teammate Michael Jordan evolve into the NBA’s most dominant player.
The six-time champion, five-time MVP and 14-time All-Star led the NBA in points per game in four of his first six seasons after being drafted in 1984, before doing so again in 1990-91 as he won his first NBA championship with the Bulls.
It was from then that Armstrong saw Jordan begin to step into his role as a decisive-influence and a team leader, with opponents making no secret of specific plans to try and foil him.
“What I saw was the growth of his game as he understood that he was a great player, he understands his impact on the game,” Armstrong said on Sky Sports’ Heatcheck.
“What I really saw was his growth of understanding how to win the game. As great as an individual player as he was, he really was able to integrate his talent into the group and understanding that ‘my goal now as a player who is averaging 32, 33 points a game is to not just to go out and score points, my game now, my role is to win the game’.
“He basically stopped playing basketball in that regard and what I mean by that is he really took on the responsibility of how to win the game every time he stepped on the floor.
“It was beautiful to watch, especially after we won our first championship. He really was playing a different game.”
His talent warranted the creation of the Jordan Rules, a strategy employed by the Detroit Pistons designed to limit Jordan by challenging him physically in all areas of the game and varying the look of the defense.
Jordan led the league in points per game in each of his six Championship-winning seasons with the Bulls and by the end of his career in 2003, following two seasons with the Washington Wizards, had averaged an NBA record 30.1 points per game.
“He learned how to manipulate the game, he learned how to really bend the rules of the game, understanding that he wasn’t going to play just one-on-one basketball, he was playing one against two, one against three,” added Armstrong.
“In many cases, you saw with the Detroit Pistons, they had the Pistons rule. He was playing against a team and he really just took on a different challenge as he was exploring the rules and the NBA game.”
The Bulls have won just five playoff series since their last Championship in 1997-98 and sit 11th in the Eastern Conference having been officially eliminated from the post-season.
While young players have shown signs of promise, it is perhaps a tone-setting playmaker that the Bulls currently lack as they pursue a return to success.
“This team will always come down to two essential ingredients,” he said.
“You need talented players and they are in the group of teams, if you will, that are acquiring as much talent as they can.
“They have a great young talent in Zach LaVine, they have great young talented players. But talent alone won’t just win. You have to get an exceptional player that’s going to give you an advantage.
“I would continue on the path they’re going through which is through the draft and trying to find a group that will mix. It’s going to take talented players and then probably the most important ingredient if you’re going to have any sustainability which is a team that is healthy and that requires the mental toughness to go out there and play through injuries.
“And you need a little luck along the way.”
Tune into Sky Sports Arena from 8pm Wednesday as B.J. Armstrong joins the Heatcheck team to talk Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls and his all-time starting five players