How Michael Jordan’s “Old School” Mentality Drove Him to Greatness

Michael JordanTo coincide with the launch of my new book, Old School Grit, I’ve been discussing what it means to have an “old school” mentality.

I recently wrote about the “old school code” that some of the greatest coaches of all time lived by. Today, I want to talk about the “old school attitude” that drove Michael Jordan to become the greatest basketball player ever.

Jordan will always be known for his incredible work ethic and his extreme competitiveness, but a certain old school principle was another one of the driving forces behind his success. MJ believed that you are not entitled to anything and you must go out and earn everything you get…


We had to earn what came to us. I never knew any other way, so I never thought otherwise. There wasn’t a line of corporations looking to invest in young NBA players in 1984. Those kinds of deals happened because of what you were doing on the floor. It’s often the other way around today, which makes it a lot harder for young players to realize the depth of their potential. It’s hard to spend all summer working on one aspect of your game when you have already received the payoff. I never had that problem.

I wanted to PROVE what I could do.

When my play started providing me with rewards, then I wanted to prove I deserved them. I never felt the desire to rest on what I had accomplished. I never felt like I deserved to drive a Bentley when I got my first contract, or live in a mansion. Those things might be symbols of success to some people, but there are a lot of people who confuse symbols with actual success.

When we won one championship, then I wanted to win two in a row. When we won two, then I wanted to win three in a row because Larry and Magic never won three straight.

Nothing of value comes without being earned.

That’s why great leaders are those who lead by example first. You can’t demand respect because of a title or a position and expect people to follow. That might work for a little while, but in the long run people respond to what they see.

I practiced hard every day because I wanted every one of my teammates to know what I expected out of myself. If I took a day off, then I knew they would, too.

Just like my high school coach, Clifton “Pop” Herring, used to say: “It’s hard, but it’s fair.”

I live by those words.


– Michael Jordan, from his book Driven from Within

An old school mentality means never expecting success to be handed to you. It means never expecting to receive anything you haven’t gone out and earned yourself. It means never being satisfied with past successes and always pushing yourself further.

That’s an essential “old school” principle. And Michel Jordan exemplified it.