How Michael Jordan, Walter Payton forged a unique bond

Eric Strobel
NBC Sports Chicago

There are many candidates to be on the Mt. Rushmore of Chicago sports, but the many greats and heroes of championships and record-setting seasons of yore are really only fighting over two spots. That's because Michael Jordan and Walter Payton are set in stone as two peerless players not just of their eras, but in the histories of their respective sports. How lucky was Chicago to not only enjoy both of these players over their illustrious careers, but have them overlap for four seasons in the mid-1980s? What you may not know was that while the two men were dominating on the court and the gridiron, they struck up a friendship off it. A young Jarrett Payton had a front-row seat to watch these two greats in intimate settings, and he reflected on what brought these two bright stars into each other's orbit in an interview with Laurence Holmes on the Under Center podcast. 

"I think they clicked because of their willingness and their want-to. They wanted to be the best; I think it was their desire to be great that brought them close together. Some people just want to get by, they're just like, ‘I'll take 2nd place, I placed!' My dad and Jordan were like, ‘No, when it's all said and done, I want to say I left it all on the field or the court, and I want to be in that debate where people say that I'm the best, and I'm in that conversation.' There's not a lot of people in those conversations, especially not in sports."

They also clicked because of their shared insatiable desire for competition. Jarrett recalled an evening where Jordan came over to the Payton residence to play cards with Walter, and the two men played until the wee hours of the morning, much to the surprise of young Jarrett. "Those two battled at everything that you can imagine, from Ms. Pac Man, to pool, Space Invaders… they were up to about 3 in the morning. I remember getting up that next morning and asking my dad, ‘Dad, why were you guys up so late?' He says, ‘Son, when you get two people like us in a room, nobody wants to lose.'"

Neither man wanted to lose, and neither man wanted to let down the fans of their adopted home city of Chicago. Sure, expectations were high due to their continued excellence, but both Jordan and Payton wouldn't have had it any other way.

"When you play for this city, it's a lot, man. My dad told me, it was a lot, and a reason why his determination not to sit out games when he was hurt was because he loved the people of Chicago. They treated him like family. Michael, too. When you say those names, you think of Chicago. He always carried that in his heart, and Mike does, too."

How Michael Jordan, Walter Payton forged a unique bond originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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