Michael Jordan gained notoriety in the NBA by being one of the most competitive players of his generation. However, some may not know, but his unbridled competitive drive was rooted right within the four walls of the Jordan household.
Many are already aware of how Michael's older brother Larry Jordan used to school him in their backyard, but according to MJ's former North Carolina Tar Heels teammate Buzz Peterson, it was the other older brother, James Jr., a.k.a. Ronnie, who first showed Mike what dominance and competition were all about.
"I've always thought this myself: OK, here is the youngest of three boys. They go outside to play ball. James (who's also known as) Ronnie, you know, he's a lot older, and so I guess Larry and Michael go against him, and he's probably roughing them up. And Mr. Jordan is there and said, 'OK, you two if you want to get involved, if you want to play with him, don't come back here crying. Handle your own.' And then he leaves (the nest), and then there's Larry. And Larry and Michael kind of got this instilled in them. 'You better be tough. You've got to have this winner's mentality,'" Peterson told The Athletic in 2020.
"And once you mix the height and that athletic ability that Michael has, and that desire to win was instilled in him, this is what you've got. There's your makeup," he continued.
Having learned about Ronnie, it's kind of hard not to wonder what if he chose to pursue an NBA career like Michael. The outcome would've been interesting, but Ronnie didn't have the same passion for the game as Mike. Instead, he preferred to serve his country and joined the army.
In the army, Ronnie proved that he was also an achiever like Michael. In fact, he obtained the highest rank of any enlisted signal soldier as Command Sergeant Major of the 35th Signal Brigade during his time in the army.
"Would you like to hear about my proudest moment?" Ronnie's mother, Deloris, once revealed. "I was so emotional, I couldn't take it. Hearing from all of the new recruits about how he kept them focused. That's what it's all about. How you affect the lives of others."
Like Michael, Ronnie is also a very private person. He wasn't fond of the clout, so he rarely talked about his ultra-popular younger brother in public. Of course, Deloris knew his son more than anybody else, and that's why when the family celebrated Ronnie's retirement for three days, she begged Michael, who was already the Chicago Bulls superstar at the time, to just come over after the party to prevent people from shifting their attention to him.
"I wanted Ronnie to have his day," Deloris added. "Then Michael called and said his car broke down [which, they later joked, he couldn't fix himself], and I secretly thought, 'Good, Ronnie will get the attention and acknowledgment he deserves.'"
Given Ronnie's low-profile lifestyle, it's no surprise that not much has been publicly said and written about him. In fact, even Michael respects his older brother's privacy so much that he seldom talks about him too. But while we may never get to really learn more about Ronnie's basketball skills, Michael was humble enough to let us know about Larry.
As most die-hard MJ fans know, Michael owes it all to Larry. He simply likes to put it that way.
"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my brother Larry," Jordan once confided. "Larry pushed me, and we used to fight after every game, but through that fight, you know, emerged someone like me. He supports me, and he works for me and the team, and I never would have gotten this far without him."
Peterson and Jordan go way back to 1980. They were both in senior high school when they crossed paths with each other and realized that they share the same dreams and aspirations. They wound up becoming teammates at UNC, and throughout those years, Buzz got the opportunity to know more about Jordan and his family, especially his wonderful parents.
Peterson may anoint Ronnie or Larry as the first people to ignite Mike's competitiveness, but he could outright say the overall character that made him such a great basketball player came from his parents.
"His parents, what a tremendous job they did of raising those kids. To know Ron and know James and Larry and Roslyn — all of them — they are just a really neat family. A good family. And after a while, you can see how the parents instilled the kids. They are all successful. They all took different paths. And then you look at Michael, and you say, 'All right, why is he this phenomenal basketball player?'," Peterson reflected.