How Saints' Michael Thomas is wired like 'ultimate competitor' Michael Jordan


METAIRIE, La. — Yes, of course. New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas said he has “most definitely” been inspired by ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan that aired the past five weeks. A lot of people have been.

But Thomas is viewing it through the lens of a kindred spirit.

If you have spent any time around the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, it’s impossible to not be struck by his similarities to Jordan in their approach and intensity.

Quarterback Drew Brees has called Thomas perhaps the most competitive teammate he has ever had. Coaches and teammates describe an almost maniacal level of passion on the practice field. Saints coach Sean Payton once told that he felt like he got hit by a car when he made the mistake of standing in as the defensive back across from Thomas during a walk-through session.

All you need is a social media account to appreciate the way Thomas is fueled by any perceived slight, as he showed during his recent war of words with Miami Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker.

“I feel like there’s not many things not to like about Jordan if you’re the ultimate competitor, if you want to win, if you want to be the best,” said Thomas, who said his dad was a “huge fan” of Jordan’s and instilled some of the same characteristics and habits in him. “And there’s a lot that comes with that, so there’s not that many people that you can relate to at that level.

“When you get a person like that, at the highest level, to pretty much open up about the whole thing, it allows you to stay honest and realize who you are. Because I feel like the level Jordan played at is not for everyone …. And you need examples like that. I’ve been studying a lot of great documentaries and movies and reading and just studying how they prepared their craft back in the days and testing it against how I prepare and stuff like that. Because I feel like if you study those guys and you line ‘em all up, you see a lot of key characteristics that they have that others don’t.”

Thomas shared his appreciation for Jordan on social media throughout “The Last Dance” series, including his belief in the value of trash talk and the way Jordan notoriously kept a mental list of players he either wanted to pay back or prove something against.

Other media members have made Thomas-Jordan comparisons in recent weeks. Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead backed up the assessment by tweeting, “Mike T has the same edge as MJ, and that’s facts!”

Thomas has also performed at a ridiculously high level on the field throughout his career. He shattered the NFL record with 149 receptions in a season last year, and his 470 career catches are by far the most by any player in league history through his first four seasons.

Thomas, who is the nephew of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, was also a huge fan of NBA star Allen Iverson growing up. Thomas has always carried a chip on his shoulder, developed through years of being a late bloomer in high school, being redshirted in his second season at Ohio State and falling to the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. He gave himself the famous “Can’t Guard Mike” nickname in high school, saying that he wanted to invite the challenge that came with such a bold declaration.

But as ESPN’s Hallie Grossman described in this 2018 profile of Thomas, he has also continued to almost manufacture doubters now that he has received so much acclaim as a two-time first-team All-Pro selection.

Thomas got into it on Twitter with Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman after a game in 2018. Earlier this year, he trolled the Minnesota Vikings during their playoff loss after the Vikings previously eliminated the Saints. Thomas has had strong words for media members and analysts when he has felt slighted. And he is never shy about sharing his displeasure with a ranking or statistic.

When asked about his competitive edge and his comments to Parker this week, Thomas said, “At the end of the day, you just want your respect. I value respect. And when you put in the work, I feel like you deserve to think like that and be like that — keep everybody honest.”

“I’ve always been taught to keep everybody honest,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we’ll find out who was right and who was wrong. So just keep everybody honest around you — and that doesn’t just mean the people that’s talking. That’s also yourself, too. So if you’re gonna talk it, you’ve gotta definitely walk it, too.

“And I like that type of pressure. I’ve been doing it my whole life, so it’s pretty much whatever for me. I like to see how people feel. Then I like coming out and doing my thing and seeing how they feel after that. And then if they still feel the same way, something’s wrong.”

Thomas said he has been working out diligently throughout the pandemic, and he didn’t want to give away any of his secrets about his training methods or location. But he promised that he’ll be “more than ready” when the NFL returns.

“You’ll be able to tell,” he said. “Everyone will be able to tell.”

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