Jeff Hornacek is an NBA lifer, playing for 14 years from 1986 to 2000 before entering the head coaching ranks. While he's been out of the league since 2016, some old memories will eventually be drudged up of Hornacek's time as shooting guard of the Utah Jazz. He was also a central figure of the 1997-98 team that lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in that year's finals. That season, of course, is the focus of ESPN's extremely popular Jordan documentary The Last Dance, with episodes 5 and 6 scheduled to be aired this coming Sunday.
Hornacek guarded Jordan for much of those Finals. On Monday, FOX Nation will release Guarding Jordan With Jeff and Abby Hornacek, a special feature on Hornacek's experience going up against Jordan at the peak of his powers. Jeff's daughter, Abby, is a travel, sports, and lifestyle host for FOX and will host the program. In an excerpt acquired by The Big Lead, Abby asks Jeff if he had any tricks for guarding His Airness, and his answers are about what you'd expect given everything we now know about Michael Jordan the player and the man.
"You know, the biggest thing was I was just trying to make him shoot jump shots. You know, if he's going to beat you by making fifteen jump shots, then he beat you," Hornacek said. "You don't want to let him go to the free throw line, which was almost impossible because I think he averaged about 10 free throws a game, you know, and maybe catch him out and make that he's off a little bit from the outside. But that rarely happened and the one big key was don't make him mad."
Abby then posed the natural follow-up: What happened when you made Jordan mad?
"Well, you know, he was the ultimate guy that loved the challenge. And I'm sure it'll show throughout this documentary how when he's challenged with something, as competitive as he is, he's just going to take it to the end," Jeff said. "You know, I think I've heard stories from Gary Payton, the guys who were trash talking ... I was never trash talking so it wasn't a big deal."
The legacy of Jordan's competitiveness has only grown in scope in the 22 years since he was backing down Hornacek in the post during those Finals. It comes as no surprise that he should warn against getting Jordan angry. That's when he was at his most dangerous. And just like other dominant superstars in NBA history, all you can really do is make life difficult for Jordan and pray he's having an off night.
Sometimes, that's all you can do when faced with overwhelming greatness: hope. Hornacek confirmed as much here.
You can view the full interview, in which Hornacek will revisit his time as a player on the Utah Jazz and the challenges, both mental and physical, he faced guarding Jordan one-on-one during the 1998 NBA Finals, on Monday, May 4 on FOX Nation.