Michael Phelps says he idolized Michael Jordan growing up and tried to act just like him ... right down to being an "asshole" to his teammates.
But, Phelps says it was all in the pursuit of greatness -- and guess what, IT WORKED OUT!
"To put it quite blunt, everyone saying he was an asshole," Phelps said to Yahoo Sports ... "But I would say the same thing about myself."
"I was an asshole when I was training because I wanted to help everybody make sure they had the same exact chances I had."
Phelps added, "We're all in there working together as a team even though it's an individual sport. We want the best for each other so I'm gonna challenge them and I'm gonna make sure that they're getting stress in practice that they're gonna face in a meet."
It worked out pretty well for Phelps ... who became the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 total medals (including 23 gold).
"That was the guy I wanted to be," Phelps said of Michael Jordan ... "I wanted to do in so many ways what he did in the sport of basketball."