O.J. Mayo is willing to admit it: When he was one of the most sought-after high school players in the country, he made the mistake of talking trash to Michael Jordan at the Bulls legend's summer camp, and the Greatest Of All Time made him eat his words.
"Better scream for mama," Mayo remembers Jordan telling him, as the Hall of Famer proceeded to knock down turnaround jumpers in his face.
Jordan recently revealed in a promotional video interview for the "NBA 2K14" videogame that he stopped the action at one of his summer camps to deal with a yapping Mayo, who was first profiled in Sports Illustrated in 2005 when he was a 17-year-old sophomore. Already several years into his retirement and well past his 40th birthday at the time of the exchange, Jordan described clearing the gym of bystanders so that he could teach the teenaged Mayo "a lesson" about respecting his elders.
Was Jordan's story a fisherman's tale? Not at all, according to Mayo, who is now 25 and about to enter his first season with the Bucks after signing a three-year, $24 million contract this summer.
In a Bucks.com video interview, Mayo confirms all of the pertinent details of Jordan's story, and adds some incredible touches. Here's Mayo's version, in full.
"Well, I happened to be the only high school player there. It was mainly freshmen in college. [Jordan] came on the court, he guarded me, so instantly I was like, man, he must think I'm not the strong link over here. I got it going a little bit.
"Obviously it's any ballplayer's dream to play against Mike. I couldn't tell you how many times I did his move after the Finals, the next day at the rec center and stuff. I got a few buckets. The campers knew I was the only high school kid so they got rowdy a little bit, we got a little bit of jawing. We played two games, I think we split one and one, it was a team game.
"Then he said, 'OK, now let me handle my business.' He looked me in my face and said that. I'm like, 'What you mean?' So he said, 'I need all the campers and everybody to leave the gym.'
"We continued playing pick-up. Mike was Mike. He was jawing a little bit, really getting into me defensively. He's backing me down. He said, 'Better scream for mama. Mama. Mama.' Hit the famous fadeaway on me. I said, 'OK, OK, you've got it going.'
"He said, 'OK, young fella, let me tell you something. You may be the best high school player in the world, but I'm the greatest ever. Don't you ever disrespect the great like that.'
"At the end of the day, people ask, 'Why would you talk smack to GOAT? Why would you talk smack to Mike? At the end of the day, it's still basketball. You definitely respect everything Mike's done for the game. But when you're a young buck and you get a chance to go at the top, I kind of had the mentality that I had everything to gain and nothing to lose. Mike did what he had to do."
Jordan's version of the story noted that it was the first time he had ever met Mayo, who would later play one year at USC before he was selected by the Timberwolves with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft (and promptly traded to the Grizzlies). After stopping the camp to "send the kids to bed," Jordan recalled what happened next.
"Finally, I just said, 'Look dude, you might be the best high school player, but I'm the best player in the world. So from this point on, it's a lesson.'
"And from that point on, it was a lesson. He never won a game, I posted him up, I did everything. If I can ever show you that film or you can ask him that, ask him about the thing that happened at my camp. I don't consider that trash [talk], I consider that fact. You call it trash."
LarryBrownSports.com unearthed footage of Jordan and Mayo going at it during the camp, which according to the site took place in either 2005 or 2006 (making Jordan either 42 or 43 years old at the time). The video shows Jordan backing down Mayo, as both players remembered, among other highlights.
Seven or eight years later, and Jordan is still dunking at age 50, still talking trash to the likes of LeBron James, and still in a place where renowned trainer Tim Grover is willing to consider the possibility that his former client could still play in the NBA.
"If he decided to [come back], his skills, when he was playing, were so high, from practicing over and over again," Grover told SI.com in April. "He was able to do things, it became instinctive. He played off of pure instincts and in the zone all the time because his skills were so good. Do you lose that? No, you don’t lose that. You get practicing back out there, that stuff comes back. The part that’s going to be difficult in coming back would be making sure the body could hold up and do some of the stuff that it used to do at the same level. That’s the big variable." Video via YouTube user LBSNUTSCOM