You could name on one hand the American legends who have scaled the heights Michael Jordan climbed in his career, athletes like Serena Williams and Tiger Woods — figures so far above and beyond their contemporaries that they transcended their sport.
Michael Phelps, 23-time Olympic gold medalist, belongs on that Mount Rushmore. The single-most dominant athlete in Olympic history with 28 overall medals — more than anyone ever — Phelps knows what it’s like to challenge yourself, and those around you, to reach, and achieve, far beyond anyone else at every level.
Phelps spoke to Yahoo Sports recently, and allowed that the first time he met Jordan, he was just like the rest of us, tongue-tied and in awe. But in Jordan, he recognized a kindred spirit, someone whose relentless need for achievement and victory matched his own.
“For me, MJ was everything growing up,” Phelps said. “That was the guy I wanted to be. I wanted to do in swimming what he did in the sport of basketball. In my opinion, he completely changed and grew the sport of basketball to an unbelievable place and heights. That’s really what I kind of replicated my career off of.”
Like the rest of us, Phelps watched “The Last Dance” with rapt attention. Unlike the rest of us, Phelps saw a measure of himself in Jordan.
“I guess to put it quite blunt, everyone’s saying he was an [expletive], but I would say the same thing about myself,” he said. “I was an [expletive] when I was training because I wanted to help everybody make sure they had the same exact chance that I had. We’re all in there working together as a team. Even though it’s an individual sport, we want the best for each other. I’m going to challenge them. And I’m going to make sure that they’re getting stresses in practice that they’re going to face in a meet.”
Was he successful? Put it this way: Phelps won so many medals in relay events — 12 — that even without his individual medals, he’d be tied for ninth-most medals in Olympic history. If you had Phelps — or Jordan — as a teammate, you might not have enjoyed practice ... but you’d end the season with hardware.
You can see the rest of the Michael Phelps interview as part of Yahoo’s livestream event “Reset Your Mindset At Home” on May 20 at 4PM ET. Thought leaders, newsmakers, and experts will discuss and share insights on overcoming adversity and living life to the fullest. Brought to you by Yahoo Life.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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