Originally appeared on USAToday.com Published 8:39 p.m. ET June 8, 2018
Note: While many NBA fans have said if LeBron James’ supporting cast did more, the Cavs would be more competitive. BJ Armstrong, a former member of Jordan’s supporting cast, shares his perspective. Armstrong says everything new is old, everything LeBron is Jordan. His take on James and the Cavaliers:
The NBA Finals are giving me a feeling of deja vu. Everyone keeps saying all LeBron James needs is help. Maybe true but, with the greatest respect, he also needs to help himself.
In 1989-90 I became one of the group known as the Jordanaires, a/k/a the Bulls. From the day I arrived in Chicago, I knew what everyone else on the team did: Michael Jordan was a phenomenal talent. Yet, as the team deferred to MJ’s talent, we could not get past the hurdle of defeating the “Bad Boys” Pistons in the conference finals. Seeing the Cavs in these Finals, I’m seeing the way we were playing then. It’s textbook isolation basketball. Back in the last century, MJ would get the ball and the rest of us on the team would all stand around while he scored. It was a sight to see, but it wasn’t team basketball. What it was was all of us enabling MJ to showcase his best individual talent.
At some point, MJ realized that, as great as he was, he alone could not beat the Pistons. That’s what the Jordan Rules were all about — employing a defensive scheme with the sole purpose of limiting hero basketball. Similarly, LeBron has to commit to the team’s system of play. So far, he’s been incredible, but he’s not been a willing participant in the team. This is where trust comes in. He has to trust the system.
It reminds me of when everyone was telling Jordan he didn’t have enough to win. His teammates just weren’t good enough — me being one of them. What was really missing was the trust to win. Once MJ found that trust, we beat the Pistons and went on to win the NBA championship many times over. In doing so, MJ discovered that his teammates WERE good enough, because he was part of the team.
Greatness is empowered in a system where you pass the ball, not pound it. Everyone has to be committed to this system. The best player on the team has to realize that he needs the team in order to win — and I don’t mean passing the ball when he gets double-teamed. He, and everyone else, has to buy into the system. MJ passed me the ball not because he was being double-teamed, but because he trusted we were playing together as a group. Michael’s greatness was, in part, knowing how to move the pieces on the board in the triangle offense system of play. Isolation basketball will always be part of the game. But the system has to be predicated on ball movement and, more importantly, player movement.
LeBron James has proven he can lead by example. My wish for LeBron is to understand the following: He’s an exceptional leader because he leads by example. The next step on the road to Legend, which he’s already on, is to trust he’s the best player in the best system anywhere in basketball. Then his coach, the system and his teammates — the TEAM — will be good enough to win.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Franchise player potential with natural god given abilities such as mobility,
exceptional footwork, very agile and great size and frame. Accurate from
the perimeter, can extend to the 3point line. Reliable free throw shooter.
Has all the potential to be a hall of fame type player. Offensive game is
Still a work in progress, has times where he’s not dominant, difficult first half
of the season with the off court distractions and a Arizona team that has been at times more focused on individual players increasing theirdraft stock.
NBA COMPARISON: Greg Oden ( Before Injuries)
Defensive game changer that will only get better, 7’9” wing span. Runs the
Floor very well, agile with very good coordination. Can shoot from mid-range
aggressive rebounder that stays active. Offense is a work in progress,
effective on catch and finish, lob target. Sky’s the limit once his offensive
skills develop. NBA COMPARISON: Rudy Gobert
Very versatile athletic mobile forward with a lot of bounce. At 6’11 the left
left handed skilled athlete that has motor that will find him among the
top rebounders on the next level. Good lateral quickness allows him
to be able to switch out and stay in front of guards and wings. Ball handling
needs tighten up his offensive game is still developing. Not a good free
throw shooter. Not a good 3point shooter, still needs work.
NBA COMPARISON: Chris Bosh
6’7 shooting guard that has offensive versatility, can spend time at the point
Guard position. Polished game, good court vision. Has the ability to create
his shot and others when playing the lead guard. Comfortable from the
3-point line. Lacks lateral quickness and speed, defensive liability.
NBA COMPARISON: Drazen Petrovic
6’10 small forward with a 7’0 wingspan high level athlete with good coordination
fluid and versatility high character guy, very mature. Smooth shooting stroke with
proper form, pure shooter high efficient and consistent scorer. Ball handling needs
to improve, especially his left hand. Will be interesting to see how much rust his
game will have after not playing this season. Doesn’t create off the dribble and
break down defenses straight line driver. NBA COMPARISON: Danilo Gallinari
Exceptional scorer, Steph Curry like shooting range, very crafty scorer off the
dribble. Compact release on his jump shot, The best shooter in college basketball.
Has done a tremendous job getting his teammates the ball in open spots, with great
vision in the half court and in transition. Turnover prone, trying to make risky passes
at times and passing out of double teams. Has had the green light to put up long jumpers early in the shot clock
without moving the ball or looking for a better opportunity first. not explosive enough
stay in front of quick guards, will have to play the passing lanes a lot to create steals
NBA COMPARISON: Mike Bibby
Throwback type of player, not afraid of contact. 6"10 with a 7'3 wingspan mobile, post-game is still a work
in progress, has enough to get it done in college. Very good rebounder, can finish with
either hand around the basket. Power dunker, not a liability in putting the ball on the floor
for a straight-line drive. Needs to add more technique to his footwork, isn’t very quick when reacting on defense and closing out on shooters. NBA COMPARISON: Karl Malone
6’10 athletic big man with good hands and touch around the basket. Can finish with either hand, doesn’t hesitate to shoot with his left hand ... Good rebounder on both ends. Keeps the ball high after rebounds, not letting smaller defenders get a hand on it. Great defensive potential. Low release on his shot, could use more arc. Post-game is raw, lacks technique around the basket. Doesn’t handle double teams well.
NBA COMPARISON: Noah Vonleh
Lead ball-handler and a scorer. He's constantly in attack mode looking for buckets. His elusiveness off the dribble naturally leads to playmaking. Plays with great physicality, athleticism, and aggression. Has a 6’6.5 wingspan and a 8’0 standing reach, He's a player that embraces the spotlight and energized by the bright lights doesn’t back down when facing tough competition. is shot selection could also use some polishing. Tends to force the issue at times, tries to make the flashy play instead of keeping it simple. Streaky shooter, more of a combo guard than a true point guard, question will be if can run a
NBA team. NBA COMPARISON: Eric Bledsoe
Strong build good size and strength for a NBA shooting guard. can defend multiple
positions. Because of size will be able to help a NBA team immediately. Gifted athlete that is a very good scorer off the dribble, decent shooter from all over the floor. Excellent
motor, can see time also at the point guard position. Streaky shooter, can struggle to finish
plays in traffic, can be too passive at times. NBA COMPARISON: Russell Westbrook
A dominant shot blocker with very good aggressiveness and timing to be a
dominant rim protector. Offensive game has a lot of promise shows the ability to create offense for himself at an early stage. Post moves, inside game is still a work in progress
footwork and touch around the rim show promise. Excellent in the open floor as he has elite level run/jump athleticism. Prone to making mental mistakes, lazy passes and unnecessary turnovers at times. Needs to develop better timing in sealing his man and setting a wide base for post passes. NBA COMPARISON: Larry Sanders
At 6'8 very coordinated and fluid for his size and age. Runs the floor well and excels as a finisher in transition, attacks the basket with aggression. Isn’t afraid of contact, has a very
good motor. Gets off the ground quickly, rebounds well and has a knack converting offensive boards into point. Difficult to match up with; his size allows him to shoot over perimeter players and he’s too quick for bigs on the perimeter. Very accurate outlet passer. At times can settle for contested pull up jump shots, will have to improve getting to the rim off the dribble. Has a tendency to keep his head down when making moves on the perimeter. His ball handling can tighten up and his half-court game needs polish.
NBA COMPARISON: Tobias Harris
Very athletic and quick in the open floor. Separates himself, on another level athletically to other point guards in this class, excels in transition. Great body control, adjusts well in midair. Good ambidexterity. Has a lot of shift in his game. Handles the ball very well and breaks down the defense. Can over dribble and try to do too much, needs to let the game come to him a little more. Tries to make the home run play too often rather than keeping it simple. Can improve as a decision maker and cut down on his turnovers. Needs to work on his shooting. NBA COMPARISON: Maurice Cheeks
Very athletic, combination forward that has made an immediate impact in college basketball. He is an aggressive scorer that can score in a variety of ways, and he also is a solid rebounder. High energy player. Brings consistent aggression every possession of every game. Shooting has shown improvement in the past year. Has the ability to make shots from a variety of spots on the floor. What will be his position? undersized for a player that spends a majority of time in the paint, can guard multiple positions Has some ball handling ability, but it's a high dribble that must be lowered and proven against real competition.
NBA COMPARISON: Justise Winslow
Good Shooter from all over the floor, good playmaker. Excels at scoring on the move, solid defensive player that can get steals and blocks. Smart athlete that can post up smaller players. Foul prone, has moments of being careless with the ball on offense which leads to turnovers .Doesn’t always commit to hitting the boards and rebound. NBA COMPARISON: Otto Porter
At 6'7 his length, skill and ability to do a little bit of everything makes him one of the top wing players in this draft. He’s been an important player for an Oregon team still working to blend a lot of new pieces. Still a work in progress as a scorer, his rebounding, playmaking and defensive potential are all attractive. His three-point shooting has been decent. Brown came up playing point guard and is used to having the ball in his hands, which is a strength but also an adjustment factor in the context of his eventual NBA fit. Needs to work on developing a first step off the dribble, can be a bit turnover prone. Has moments where he doesn’t take over, too passive on offense. Not an elite athlete. NBA COMPARISON: Jamal Crawford
While out for the season with a shoulder injury, he has a strong frame, 7'3" wingspan and two-way potential, able to defend, rebound and handle the ball. Shoulder issues the likely reason for his inconsistent shooting. Rock solid motor, long arms with big hands. Needs to improve putting the ball on the floor, may struggle to guard quicker players, can be too passive on offense. NBA COMPARISON: Poor man's Paul Milsap
6’3.5 combo guard with solid length: a 6’7 wingspan, Shoots very well and consistent from three off both the catch and dribble. Has a quick release, only needs a little bit of space to get his shot off and draws fouls on three-point attempt consistently. Good court vision and ball handling ability. Shoots well off screens, also good pick and roll ball handler ... Shoots and scores well from midrange. Solid touch on floater, reliable free throw shooter
Body is still a long way from being NBA ready, good athlete and although smooth, he’s not incredibly explosive lacks strength. NBA COMPARISON: D'Angelo Russell
Elite level athlete, great speed and vertical leap. Quick off the ground, good offensive player in transition as well as the half court. Handles the ball pretty well, an area of his game that is improving. Can create space and offense for himself, gets to the rim with a quick first step. Reacts well to the defense as well as help defenders, drives to the basket are not predetermined. Good ambidexterity good body control. Crashes offensive boards and can tip-slam rebound out of his area. Great competitor, plays with high energy, aggression, and confidence.
His shooting is a weak point and it remains to be seen whether or not he becomes a good three-point shooter. His release on his shot is a bit low. Will have to work hard to make outside shooting a strength of his game. Needs to avoid over-driving and getting caught in the lane. Still learning how to get teammates involved and developing his passing skills. Isn't a natural passer NBA COMPARISON: Ricky Davis
Smooth three-point shot. Can get his shot off the dribble and is also an excellent catch and shoot player. He's a real sniper from downtown.
Has tight handles and is able to dribble through traffic and keep the ball low to the ground. Impressive for a 6-9 player. Has good open court speed. Might not be a highlight reel dunker but he's got plenty of athleticism and can really get out on the break.
Uses ball fakes well to move the defense. Seems to always be one step ahead of the defense and keeping them off balance. Shows an impressive ability to score off the bounce and is able to drive with either hand. Has some blow-by speed.
May struggle to guard quicker players, not an elite athlete, must get stronger. Has short wingspan for a player his size, inconsistent motor. Can be turnover prone.
NBA COMPARISON: Sam Dekker
A big-time slasher who can really get off the floor and attack the rim. Excels in transition and is a pure all-around scorer with a nose for the basket. He has really nice shooting form and shows good promise to develop into a high level three-point shooter. He gets good elevation on his jumper and has a smooth, quick release. Needs to work on his off hand and overall ball-handling abilities. Lacks consistency on his outside jumper and has a way to go before he's a true knock-down threat from 3 point land. Needs to let the game slow down and do a better job of playing within the offense. Can force the issue at times. Is still learning the game. NBA COMPARISON: Eddie Jones
Good shooter from all over the floor fairly good scorer off the dribble. Excels at scoring on the move, Decent play maker, fairly good defensive player Solid athlete. Needs to improve his passing ability, not an elite ball handler. Does not collect enough steals or blocks, Late bloomer. Can be too inconsistent in games
Very good shooter, especially from deep, decent scorer off the dribble. Can post up smaller players, excels at scoring on the move. Very good free throw shooter, adequate playmaker. Decent defensive player. Smart player that has a good feel for the game. Needs to improve his rebounding, unselfish to a fault. Not overly explosive, must get stronger. NBA COMPARISON
Richards has all the tools and is just scratching the surface of his potential but is very raw. He doesn’t project as a first option offensively but he does a lot of the little things well and impacts both sides of the ball. Can be passive at times. Doesn’t handle double teams well. Tries to put the ball down in traffic. Needs to keep the ball high in the post and after rebounds. Limited face up game. Has much room to expand his range. NBA COMPARISON: JaVale McGee
Adequate shooter, especially from mid-range, decent scorer off the dribble. Excels at scoring on the move, solid athlete. Great size to play out on the wing, can struggle to score in traffic.
Needs to improve his rebounding and his position defense. Must get stronger
Active finisher around the basket
fairly good low post scorer. Decent scorer off the dribble. Excels at scoring on the move, decent playmaker for a player his size. Good defensive player gifted shot blocker, gifted athlete. Needs to improve his shooting Needs to improve his passing ability and improve his rebounding.
Can be overly aggressive, which can lead to fouls. Can struggle to guard shooters, may need to get stronger.
NBA COMPARISON: Jason Thompson
Solid scorer off the dribble, very good shooter from all over the floor. Very good free throw shooter and very good playmaker that can run the point.
Fairly good defensive player, solid athlete
smart player that has a good feel for the game. Great size to play either backcourt position. Inconsistent shooter, unselfish to a fault. Can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers, needs to improve his rebounding. Can be too inconsistent in games. NBA COMPARISON: Delon Wright.
Excels at scoring on the move, fairly good shooter from all over the floor. Adequate scorer off the dribble very good free throw shooter. Prolific scorer that can put up points in a hurry, fairly good playmaker
decent defensive player that can get steals. Solid athlete
A long lean shot blocker who is raw but has NBA, project that can pay off down the line. Very long wingspan, rock solid motor. Strong finisher around the basket,
excels at scoring on the move. Needs to improve his face-up game, and free throws. Does not always commit himself to the boards
May tend to have lapses defensively
Can be quite foul prone
Must get stronger
Still learning the game. NBA COMPARISON. DeAndre Jordan
Excels at scoring on the move, adequate scorer off the dribble good playmaker that sees the floor well. Adequate rebounder, fairly good defensive player that can get steals
Good athlete. Great size to play multiple positions. Needs to improve his shooting
may have shot selection issues, can play too wildly on offense. Can be foul prone
must get stronger.
Good shooter, especially from deep
adequate scorer off the dribble. Excels at scoring on the move, decent playmaker
moves fairly well off the ball on offense.
Decent rebounder, adequate defensive player better athlete than advertised.
Lacks an elite first step off the dribble,
can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers. Can be too passive on offense. Can struggle to guard quicker players, not an elite athlete.
Excels at scoring on the move
Adequate scorer off the dribble. Fairly good playmaker, good rebounder.
Good defensive player that can get steals, solid athlete. Can be too passive on offense, can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers
Plays in a zone defensive scheme
Relative unknown commodity.
A big-time athlete with great strength and a smooth game. Could develop into an elite two- way prospect. Good size to play out on the wing rock solid motor with
large hands. Needs to improve his shooting. May be quite raw offensively, needs to improve his rebounding. Must get stronger. NBA COMPARISON: Michael Kidd Gilchrist.
Creative when driving to the basket, utilizing his big hands to palm the ball ... Has put a few unsuspecting defenders on posters. Straight line speed is above average and helps him flourish in transition. Uses his jumping ability to snag rebounds that you would think were out of his range. Positions himself well to be in the right place for rebounds. Excellent free throw shooter (85.8 percent for his career). Willing defender, understands team defensive concepts.. Body shows that he works hard in the weight room to maximize his natural strength. Streaky shooter, can be prone to hoisting up questionable shots. Can miss shots wildly around the basket, can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers.
Needs to improve his rebounding, struggles to guard quicker players.
Can be too inconsistent in games
Reputation for being a dirty player
NBA COMPARISON: Bob Sura
Good scorer off the dribble, adequate shooter especially from mid-range.
Excels at scoring on the move, very good free throw shooter. Adequate playmaker
Good defensive player that can get steals. Big enough to play out on the perimeter. Streaky shooter, can struggle to score in traffic. Lacks an elite first step off the dribble. Not an elite ball handler, struggles to use his left hand.
Needs to improve his rebounding, plays in a zone-heavy defensive scheme.
NBA COMPARISON: PJ Tucker
Long powerful post-up player that is still growing into his body and getting into better shape. Good rebounder and very good shot blocker. Great strength to play inside. Needs to improve his shooting, must expand upon his low post moves. Can struggle to finish plays in traffic, terrible free throw shooter.
NBA COMPARISON: Sharone Wright
Strong finisher around the basket, good inside scorer may have stretch big potential. Terrific rebounder, adequate defensive player, gifted shot blocker.
Athlete, great size to play the center position. Bad free throw shooter, can be prone to hoisting up questionable shots.
Needs to improve his playmaking skills, may be quite raw offensively. Can be undisciplined defensively, which can lead to fouls. Relative unknown commodity
NBA COMPARISON: Dwight Howard
Strong finisher around the basket, excels at scoring on the move. Decent scorer off the dribble, decent shooter, has stretch big potential. Tremendous free throw generator, good playmaker with very good hands. Fairly good defensive player
solid athlete, has a long wingspan.
Must extend his shooting range, has a slow release. Needs to improve his low post game,
and improve his free throw shooting.
Can struggle to finish plays in traffic, not an elite ball handler. Needs to improve his rebounding, may struggle to defend quicker players. Can be foul prone
May be a classic tweener. NBA COMPARISON: David West
Good scorer off the dribble, adequate rebounder and adequate defensive player. Fairly adept at collecting steals and blocks solid athlete. May have significant upside.
Excels at scoring on the move, good scorer off the dribble. Fairly good playmaker that has solid court vision.
Tremendous rebounder, good defensive player that can collect steals and blocks.
Solid athlete, rock solid motor. Awful free throw shooter, does not draw enough free throws. May struggle to make shots consistently with his right hand, may have shot selection issues. Not an elite ball handler, can be quite turnover prone.
Can have lapses defensively, not an elite shot blocker. Must get stronger
NBA COMPARISON: Thad Young
Active finisher around the basket, adequate low post scorer. Good defensive player, gifted shot blocker.
Gifted athlete rock solid motor.
May be quite raw offensively, needs to improve his rebounding. Quite foul prone,
needs to add strength
Overshadowed by a higher profile teammate.
Very good shooter from all over the floor,
adequate scorer off the dribble.
Excels at scoring on the move, decent playmaker moves fairly well off the ball on offense. Adequate defensive player, good shot blocker for a player his size.
Good athlete. Has had time on the court, game will have rust. Needs to improve his passing ability, not an elite ball handler. Can play too wildly on offense, needs to improve his rebounding. Not an elite athlete, must get stronger.
Good scorer off the dribble, good shooter from all over the floor. Excels at scoring on the move, tremendous free throw generator. Very good free throw shooter
prolific scorer, decent playmaker. Solid athlete. Can be a streaky shooter, lacks an elite first step off the dribble. Tends to force the issue too much on offense. Needs to improve his rebounding, struggles to guard quicker players. Does not collect many steals or blocks, may be a bit undersized to play the off-guard position. Has missed time due to a PEDs suspension. NBA COMPARISON: Rodney Stuckey
Plays bigger than he really is, do it all forward. Fairly good low post scorer, fairly good scorer off the dribble. Improving shooter, decent playmaker and gifted rebounder. Good defensive player, good shot blocker for a player his size. Good athlete, strong upper body has long arms. NBA COMPARISON: Smaller Draymond Green
Good shooter from all over the floor, fairly good scorer off the dribble. Excels at scoring on the move. Very good free throw shooter fairly good playmaker
Adequate rebounder. Adequate defensive player, solid athlete
Lacks an elite first step off the dribble, can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers. Can pick up quick fouls
Must add more strength, Only average size for his position. NBA COMPARISON:
Decent scorer off the dribble, excels at scoring on the move. Adequate playmaker, fairly good defensive player that can get steals. Very good athlete
shot selection issues, lacks an elite first step off the dribble. Does not draw enough free throws, can play too wildly on offense. Needs to improve his rebounding, can be undisciplined defensively. Undersized to play the point,
too inconsistent in games.
Talented point guard with a high basketball IQ, defensive menace with great size on the perimeter. Not a true point guard, can get caught up with scoring the ball. Will need to focus on developing his point guard instincts in order to maximize his potential. NBA COMPARISON: Michael Carter Williams
Excels at attacking the basket, good shooter from all over the floor. Prolific scorer, good playmaker decent rebounder for a player his size. Can be a streaky shooter, may be a bit undersized to play the point, relative unknown commodity.
Fairly good scorer off the dribble, excels at scoring on the move. Very good free throw shooter, fairly good playmaker
decent rebounder for a player his size.
Good athlete, versatile player that can play either backcourt position
Smart player that has a good feel for the game an elite first step off the dribble.
Can struggle to finish plays in traffic, struggles to guard quicker players.
Does not collect enough steals or blocks
may need to get stronger, Is not overly explosive has had multiple foot injuries.
Decent scorer off the dribble, may have stretch big potential. Adequate playmaker & rebounder. Fairly good defender that can get steals , blocks and
has huge hands. May need to improve his outside shot, has a slow release.
Lacks an elite first step off the dribble,
needs to improve his free throw shooting.
Not an elite ball handler, can struggle to guard stronger players. Can be foul prone, must get stronger.
Adequate scorer off the dribble, excels at scoring on the move. Very good rebounder solid athlete, Has large hands
rock solid motor. Needs to improve his shooting and his passing ability. Not an elite ball handler, can be too passive on offense. Does not receive enough playing time, can be too inconsistent in games.
Excels at attacking the basket, good shooter from all over the floor. Fairly good playmaker, tremendous rebounder. Decent defensive player, solid athlete.
Can be a streaky shooter, not an elite ball handler, must work on his left hand.
Does not collect many steals or blocks,
needs to add strength. Has limited experience against top competition
Relative unknown commodity
Fairly good shooter, especially from deep,
fairly good scorer off the dribble. Very good free throw shooter, decent playmaker
adequate rebounder solid athlete. Streaky shooter, may have shot selection issues. Needs to improve his passing ability, can be too passive on offense.
Does not collect enough steals or blocks
Good shooter from all over the floor, adequate scorer off the dribble. Excels at scoring on the move, adequate playmaker and defensive player.
Solid athlete that has great size to play out on the wing, smart player that has a good feel for the game. Streaky shooter Lacks an elite first step off the dribble
Does not draw enough free throws can be careless on offense, which can lead to turnovers. Can be too passive on offense
needs to improve his rebounding.
Can have lapses defensively
Strong finisher around the basket, developing a post-up game. Sets good screens on offense, fairly good rebounder
and steals solid athlete. Decent free throw shooter, work in progress.
Can be quite foul prone
Can have lapses defensively
Good low post scorer, decent scorer off the dribble. Rock solid rebounder, adequate defensive player that can get steals. Good athlete, smart player that has a good feel for the game. Must extend his shooting range, bad free throw shooter. Not an elite shot blocker, not an elite athlete. May have trouble adjusting to NBA tempo
Decent low post scorer, adequate scorer off the dribble. Decent shooter from all over the floor, very good free throw shooter. Good playmaker, solid rebounder. Lacks an elite first step off the dribble. Can be a reluctant shooter, can struggle against length and athleticism.
Can have lapses defensively, does not collect many steals.
Excels at scoring on the move, can post up smaller players. Adequate playmaker
decent rebounder for a player his size.
Good defensive player and shot blocker for a player his size. Solid athlete, has good size to play out on the wing. Can be a streaky shooter, lacks an elite first step off the dribble. Does not always commit himself to the boards.
Originally appeared on Si.com by By MATT DOLLINGER July 10, 2017
B.J. Armstrong is approaching his 50th birthday. It’s a fact that makes any 90s basketball fan cringe just a little bit.
Yet the former Bulls point guard and Michael Jordan sidekick still looks like he could give a contender meaningful minutes off the bench. It’s been 17 years since Armstrong played his last game in the NBA, but the boy-ish smile and young-at-heart enthusiasm has endured over the years. Rather than setting up teammates on the court, Armstrong is now setting up clients off it, serving as an agent at Wasserman for players like Draymond Green, Derrick Rose and Josh Jackson. It’s easy to see why players are drawn to him. With a delivery that’s half John Calipari, half Denzel Washington from Training Day, Armstrong speaks with passion about the business of basketball. And with the rings (three) and seasons (13) to back it up, his words come with a certain weight.
Armstrong broke into the agent business in 2006 after a short stint as a special advisor and scout in the Bulls’ front office. Since then, Armstrong has been using the same skills that made him an effective point guard to become an effective powerbroker in the NBA. He’s helped his clients get drafted, sign contracts and endorsements and navigate the many problems NBA players navigate on a daily basis.
“Crisis management is what I do all day, everyday,” Armstrong said. “When things are going good, I get nervous.”
Armstrong sat down with SI.com earlier this spring to discuss his life as an NBA agent and some of his favorite memories as a player (the name “Michael Jordan” comes up once or twice).
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On his mantra as an agent: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. If I could just be an agent, this would be an easy job. But I deal with the people and the problems they have.”
On whether his playing experience helps him as an agent: “It doesn’t that much. You may go to a restaurant the first time because the chef was popular. But you’re only going to come back if the food is good. People might say, ‘Oh, B.J. Armstrong is an agent? I remember him.’ But if the quality of the work isn’t excellent, people aren’t coming back. So I quickly realized that being B.J. Armstrong might have gotten me the meeting, but it won’t help me achieve that I want to achieve in this business.”
On signing Derrick Rose, a fellow point guard from Chicago, out of college: “Even when I got Derrick, that might have helped me get the meeting, but it didn’t help me sign the kid. It became very apparent to me that it got me in the door, but it wasn’t going to keep me there. I learned that the first day on the job. But I also realized that I wish I had someone to talk to that had already been through what I was about to go through. To ask those questions. Or to find out how they dealt with this. So there were a lot of things that I saw as a player that I wish I could have spoken to someone about. I just saw a need and wanted to give people an opportunity to talk to someone as they go through it.”
On if there was a moment as a player when an agent left him wanting more: “It wasn’t that necessarily. Agents do their job and represent their client in the business of basketball. These agents do their job and many of them do their job very well. But the basketball business is a different business. They go over the contract, they make sure their player is protected and that it’s executed. But in the basketball business, that’s totally different. The business of basketball is one thing, the basketball business is another. When I saw that, I decided it was important to help these young people understand the basketball business.”
On who taught him the most about being an agent: “My whole life, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time and play with Michael Jordan. So all of the things people talk about—building their brand, being the best, being a champion—I just happened to have been standing next to the guy who was doing all of these things at the height of his career. I had a front-row seat with no one in front of me. There was no one between me and him as I was watching all of this. It just tickles me to hear all these players saying what they want to do, when I actually saw it happen! Then I hear other people telling people how to do it, but the guy who actually did it was the guy I played with. So, my mentor was my experience. I firmly believe there’s no replacement for experience. No one told me about it, I saw it. I went to the commercial shoots with MJ, I talked to him about why he made that decision or why he chose Gatorade or Hanes or whoever. I can’t have a better teacher than that. I actually saw the guy who executed maybe one of the best marketing campaigns ever.”
On players trying to emulate MJ as a businessman: “I was very lucky and very fortunate to see it and I think I would have a pretty good idea if I see it again. I’ll be able to recognize it. Because it takes a very unique set of circumstances for all of those things to come together, and I give Michael credit, he saw it, and when he saw it he recognized it and more importantly he executed it. He was prepared for the moment clearly, but he was genius in that he recognized the opportunity in front of him in the moment. It was an amazing accomplishment by him and the people around him to help him navigate that situation.
On if he calls Michael Jordan for advice: “It’s funny, when you have a relationship like that, I don’t talk to Michael about business, he’s my friend. ‘How you doing, how’s your family, you good?’ That’s it. If he needs something, he knows he can call me. So I never mix my friends and my business. He’s my friend, we had great times together, we have a lot of things that we share and we share the most valuable thing we have: our time. So that’s a relationship I want to keep sacred. So I never call and ask for business advice. When I call, it’s for a laugh. I’m sure he has enough problems without me adding to his plate and vice versa. And that’s the great thing, because I know when he does call me, it’s for a laugh. So when he calls or my former teammates call, it just takes me back to a good place.”
On dealing with the Hornets outside of MJ: “I talk to [Horents GM] Rich Cho all the time! We talk business. I like Rich. So the Hornets have always been great to deal with. But it’s always funny, because I know he’s aware of my relationship with Michael. I’ve always wanted to ask this to Rich. Rich is probably wondering: ‘Why don’t you just call Michael?’ But no, I’m calling you Rich!”
On his chats with MJ: “We always talk a little trash. At 50, I think I can beat him 1-on-1 now. He had me at 20, but at 50, I think I got him. So I’m waiting on the chance.”
On if NBA players encounter more problems today than players of his age: “What’s been crazy is the evolution between journalism and social media. And that’s what I’m dealing with. So, I’m a huge proponent and advocate of leadership. Either lead or get out of the way. Problems have existed since the beginning of time. Wherever there’s people, there’s problems. All of these things that are happening now were happening then, minus this [points to his cell phone]. Now people are like, ‘Ahh, this is crazy.’ But it isn’t crazy. It’s: ‘Who has the skillset to deal with these problems?’ Because I’m a huge proponent of leadership, and I take responsibility. How do I deal with knowing every time my client goes out the cameras will be there? I didn’t have to deal with that as a player. I didn’t have to deal with everything I say being out instantly into the world. I didn’t have to deal with that. Same thing athletes are doing today we did, minus phones. So this isn’t crazy. If you have a problem, you should call me. Because that’s what I do. I deal with problems.”
On if he sees himself as a “fixer”: “I just happen to love problems. Because I see problems as opportunities.”
On his goals as he approaches 50: “The one thing I love about this business is you never know what’s going to happen next. This business is constantly changing. What is the goal? The goal is to get these kids to take ownership of what it is they’re doing.”
On if social media is a nightmare for players: “I actually think social media is genius for the players. Social media is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to today’s athlete—if he sees it. You and I, when you were 10, ESPN was a huge machine. When I was coming up, television, if you were on television, WHOA! The Super Bowl was like, WHOA! Did you see the game on television? Did you hear the news on television? My kids, they’re 16, 13, and I’ve got a one-year-old. My kids don’t even watch TV. My 16 and 13 year olds don’t even watch TV. Think about what I just said. You and I couldn’t wait to watch SportsCenter or a sitcom, but my kids don’t even watch TV. That’s how powerful social media is.”
On how being a point guard translates to being an agent: “I grew up as a point guard, and as a point guard you learn how to navigate situations. Without communication, there can be no cooperation. I learned as a guard and a young kid that cooperation is more important than competition. The biggest thing I learned from Michael Jordan, when I met him, was how to communicate with him. Yao Ming was just on my podcast last week, Yao Ming said something that I learned as young kid but never knew how to articulate. I grew up in Detroit but went to a private Catholic school in the suburbs. I was living in two different worlds: the city of Detroit and the school where there were 5,000 kids and there were one or two people of color in the entire school. There was this world, and that world. Yao Ming said on my show that the first three years of your life, you learn how to talk. The rest of your life, you learn how to listen.
When I went to school out here, I had to learn how to listen to people because they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. So it forced me to understand how to communicate with people, which ultimately helped me as a player. This is how Scottie Pippen communicates, or Bill Cartwright. So I always thought I was like a Vegas card dealer. I shuffle the cards, I go pass, pass, pass, shot for B.J. Pass, pass, pass, shot for BJ. Sometimes I’d skip me! Sometimes other people would need an extra card because he’s struggling. When I went to college I learned how to navigate these worlds. Once I saw that, I learned the kids that grew up in the north were different than the kids who grew up in the south. Once I figured that out I learned how to cooperate which ultimately has helped me in every thing. I learned what unity and cooperation can do. Everyone talks about competing. But it’s only when you learn how to cooperate and learn what a team is all about. There’s been a lot of teams with great individual players, there’s going to be a game played with a lot of individual players, but it’s the only the players that are going to surrender to the team that are going to win the game.
On watching MJ learn those same lessons: “It took him eight years to figure it out. He didn’t win a championship in year one. It takes time for everyone. Everyone is on their path. But once he did figure it out, and because he was a massive talent, he went on to great things.”
On his favorite MJ story: “My favorite MJ story came when he retired the first time. We probably spoke more then than when we actually played together. I always wondered, ‘Why does he still care who the best player in the NBA is when he wasn’t even playing in the NBA?’ Why am I still going over scouting reports with Michael Jordan and he doesn’t even play anymore? Why was he still asking me: ‘B.J., make this guy go left tomorrow night and see what he’s going to do and tell me what he does.’ Why was he still involved in the details of the game to that level? And I miss that because we were discussing details. ‘Tell me what happens if you go under a screen on him. Will he shoot or pass? B.J. go double-team him tomorrow and tell me how he reacts.’ I miss that. I don’t miss playing, I don’t miss scoring, but I miss these conversations. His level of detail and excellence was so high. When he retired, his attention to detail was even more superior because he was able to just observe the game. He was watching basketball and just looking at it. And then when he did come back, he didn’t miss a beat because he was already engaged mentally. His attention to detail was far superior than anything I was around—and I was still playing the game! He was asking me for scouting reports! You don’t have a skill like that and just shut it off. That’s something that belongs in the universe. It’s not yours. Who cares how someone passes the ball out of a double team? Unless you’re so obsessed with something. Did he cut? Did he stand? What did he do? Who the f— asks those questions?”