I am not a basketball fan. I don’t follow the NBA, I don’t talk about it, and I would lie if I’d say that I know all the rules. However, I’ve been always fascinated by Michael Jordan’s fourth-dimensional talent that changed sports history forever.
His immense competitiveness, self-discipline, and endurance were beyond human measures. His mindset and dedication towards the game impacted the career of future generations and helped him become the greatest and most famous cultural icon in the world. Through his play, he earned a voice that millions would listen to.
“From the first day of practice, my mentality was: ‘Whoever is the team leader of the team, I’m going to be going after him. And I’m not going to do it with my voice.’ Because I had no voice. I had no status. I had to do it with the way that I played,” — Michael Jordan after he was selected by the Chicago Bulls of the 1984 NBA draft
Jason Hehir’s (director of the series) The Last Dance is a thorough depiction of Jordan’s perfectionism, both as a player and person, on the road of winning the 6th championship with the Chicago Bulls in the 1997–98 season.
The 10-episode-long documentary provides an analysis of Jordan’s charisma and intelligence, a truthful tabloid of the 80s-90s era, and a deconstruction of the path to ultimate greatness. It’s the most engaging portrayal that I’ve ever seen in a Jordan documentary.
The 500-hour footage of the ‘97–98 season serves as the backbone of the series, which had to be authorized by MJ. He had total control over it. He waited more than 20 years, but when Lebron James had brought back the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 from a 1–3 deficit against the Warriors and won the title (which brought him threateningly close to Jordan’s and the Bulls’ legacy) Michael okayed the release of the footage, and the making of The Last Dance begun.
It’s somewhat funny that Jordan is still so competitive he can’t even stand the notion that Lebron will become better than him. I find it hilarious and amazing that, even at the age of 57, his competitiveness and mentality got the better of him.
Can you imagine how many ESPN producers were begging him for years? And you can say a lot about Jordan, but he always anticipated until the time was right to shock the world.
As always, he is the center of attention, but the show also captures the dynamic relationship between teammates, coaches, and the often rough partnership among players and the corporate world of the Chicago Bulls.
The Last Dance is a time capsule of an era when Jordan’s greatness was bigger than anything else throughout the history of basketball. Now that Lebron James is being discussed as a possible GOAT, Netflix released the documentary in April, instead of June, due to the pandemic, which meant incredible exposure for old information to be consumed by fans desperate for any sports at all.
“When people see this footage I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said,” Michael Jordan, The Athletic.
Camaraderie and Team Spirit
“He’s like, ‘Ten hours (for this documentary), huh?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘Alright, I’ll give you 10 minutes,’” Hehir recalled. “Every page of questions I have (for him to answer) is an hour. I have 11 pages for this guy and he’s saying 10 minutes. — Jason Hehir, the show’s director on Dennis Rodman, NBC Sports
Pippen and Rodman get their own episodes, which shine a light about such facts as why Pippen was one of the most underpaid players, and how Rodman adjusted to the Bulls without ever really speaking to Michael or Scottie outside of the court. The way Jason Hehir portrays the young and tame Rodman from his early years to become a disrespectful savage, an enemy to Jordan, and eventually, to his fellow teammate is beyond compelling.
During the 1997–98 season Pippen was temporarily gone due to knee surgery, and that’s when Rodman felt he was needed the most and started to shine. We witness his transformation of how he became a player to trust and count on. What he had with Jordan can hardly be called camaraderie, but the way they assess their relationship, now that they are older, it’s engaging television.
It’s also captivating to relive and learn the rivalry among the rising Chicago Bulls and the bad boys of Detroit Pistons, and none of the players shy away from sharing their harsh feelings, either.
Make no mistake, everything climaxes in Jordan’s perspective. His charisma still breaks through the screen, and he’s not interested in playing nice in the name of nostalgia. His immortal status in pop and sports culture is cemented, and bullshitting was never in his repertoire.
The Dark Side of Michael Jordan
“You get to a point where people are going to get tired of seeing you on a pedestal, all clean and polished. They say, “Let’s see if there’s any dirt around this person.”” — Michael Jordan, Playboy interview from 1992
Apart from the obvious praise that The Last Dance generated all around the world, certain complaints emerged as well. Complaints that criticize how ESPN compromised its honest journalistic view by glorifying every act that Jordan did to attain success. Why he and his company had veto power over what will be shown, or why Jerry Krause was crucified for every bad thing as a villain, ignoring the fact that he died in 2017. As if to suggest that he didn’t want to share his side of the story. Is it time to reveal the dark side of Michael Jordan and acknowledge the fact that not everything he did or said was golden? Maybe there’s some justice to that.
However, The Last Dance doesn’t ignore these concerns. Jordan is willing to dig deeper by recognizing his own sins at certain times and events that took place in that period. He’s acknowledging his missteps and knows some of his teammates disliked him because he was too difficult to be around. That they called him an asshole for pushing them to perform at 110 percent at all times. Was his infamous trash-talk justified by his success? It’s hard to say.
His gambling habits were blown out of proportion at the time, attempting to show his controversial side. The behind-the-scene moments depict a picture of him, showing how much he loved playing cards or bet on anything all the time. He’s not afraid to address that, because he doesn’t see it as a problem, and we can decide whether we believe him or not. Even if the allegations were true of his gambling addiction, at the time he was a three-time champion and the greatest player in the world, so nothing could ever happen to him because of his importance to the NBA and to Nike.
Jordan said that after watching this documentary, everyone will think that he’s a terrible guy. A tyrant who often went too far. However, let’s not forget the fact that Jordan thrived on failures, embraced challenges, and never was put on a back foot by them. That is a mindset only a few can hold. He embraced defeat with open arms because it fuelled him to push his boundaries and accomplish more. I believe whoever thought of him as an asshole will continue to do so, and the rest of us will see him for his values as an exceptional athlete.
Winning Has a Price
“Look, I don’t have to do this. I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way… don’t play that way.” — Michael Jordan in Episode 7 of The Last Dance
At the end of episode seven, Jordan says these lines which become a significant emotional moment of the show. Hehir recalls that part as stunning, and claims, from that point, something has changed the whole perspective of the series because that was the very first interview he did with Jordan, immediately recognizing his willingness to approach uncomfortable subject matter.
Jordan still bears the burden of being the greatest of all time, the constant attention from the media, just like when he was at his peak. His gestures, his gaze says it all, “I’ve done all that for you, I brought the best out of all of you, and this is what I get? That I am not a nice guy?”
Jordan’s eyes tell a whole story about someone who truly lived up to his potential, but facing these accusations all over again, they get to him. He knows winning has a price, and there is no doubt in him that he did the right thing. The 6 rings, the title as the greatest of all time, and being a cultural icon for four decades are the proof. Although, in the 90s, basketball wasn’t exactly at its best, and the Bulls were always the favorite to win those finals. When Chicago played against Boston in the 80s, they didn’t win one single playoff game.
Yet, he questions himself, as he’s supposed to feel regret about some of his acts, but he can’t find any of it in his soul. Something tells me that being on top of the world sometimes feels lonely. And that’s why this is a genuinely phenomenal moment because MJ seems ambivalent about his actions. As if to say, “Am I done the right thing, right?” We get a glance at the overconfident Michael when he’s not entirely sure of himself.
That’s one of the reasons why I don’t get certain criticism about the show, by calling out his bullying treated as an asset for becoming prosperous. The Last Dance offers a portrayal that goes behind the wall of enormous fame and shares moments of Jordan when he’s just simply Mike, a flawed human being.
The Last Dance is streaming on Netflix.
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