Larry Hughes speaks about his time with the great Michael Jordan and how to create advantages through the skill of mental preparation.

Written by Larry Hughes & Brendan Bowers, Sponsored by the Larry Hughes Basketball Academy

During the final season of his legendary career, I was blessed with an opportunity to play alongside the GOAT, Michael Jordan. His Airness was in the second of two seasons with the Washington Wizards when I arrived in 2002, after spending my previous year with the Golden State Warriors. Like so many of us, I grew up idolizing Michael while he dominated the League and led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. Now, I had a chance to learn firsthand from one of the greatest competitors to ever live and I’d be sure to take full advantage.

 

Jordan’s best days were certainly behind him when we teamed up in Washington, but he was still showing up fully prepared on a nightly basis. Many people forget, but—despite turning 40 years old that season—MJ appeared in all 82 games and averaged 20 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Along the way, he also helped the 24-year-old version of myself to truly understand how to use mental preparation as a skill that creates advantages on and off the basketball court.

I learned a lot from MJ during the time we spent together. But, what I learned more than anything was how to properly approach the game of basketball from a mental perspective. His mental approach, especially at that point in his career, really helped him create an advantage over his opponents. Even though he was now a little older than the rest of us on the court, he nevertheless brought great mental focus to each game, making Michael an unstoppable force on the basketball court throughout his career. His preparation for knowing his opponent, knowing the team, and then using that information to figure out what his advantage was on a nightly basis really made him effective. He used his mental preparation to create advantages that he’d exploit throughout the season, and that’s something that always stayed with me.

Jordan’s mental preparation created enough of an advantage to help him lead our team with 1,640 total points. His scoring average was only topped by teammate Jerry Stackhouse, who checked in at 21.5. Alongside MJ and Stack, I did my part to help carry a young roster into playoff contention by averaging 13 points, five rebounds and three assists while soaking up as much knowledge as I could from the best to ever do it. We finished five games out of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, but would use that experience as a building block for the future.

The lessons I learned from Michael about the mental aspects of the game were very important for me during the rest of my career. That willingness to truly compete, to do whatever it takes on and off the court to prepare to win is very important. It is an aspect of the game that we teach our kids now in the D1 program—how to prepare mentally on and off the court. I think it’s been said, and it’s really true, that the game of basketball is 90 percent mental. The majority of success comes from being mentally sharp and mentally prepared. Michael’s willingness to mentally prepare  provided him an advantage over his opponent, and that’s a skill we’re developing with our kids on a daily basis.

In the D1 program, we believe that creating advantages on the basketball court through effective mental preparation is a skill that needs to be taught and developed at a young age. What we try to do with our kids is to help them with the fundamentals of a strong mental approach by putting them in adverse situations. We put them in situations where they’re uncomfortable to force them to compete and grow. We also ask them to remember what they learn and apply it.  I think that’s where kids begin to develop their mental skills, mental toughness, and fundamentals. From there, we keep building, keep teaching, and keep developing that mental approach like we do with other fundamentals of basketball. Those that master and develop their mental capacity at any level are the ones who are most successful. Michael Jordan is the greatest example of that for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep sharing what I learned from him with the kids we work with.