I was born in 1994, the year Michael Jordan spent time away from basketball to play baseball. Even when he came back in 1995 and won another three-peat from 1996 to 1998, Jordan barely registered in my radar, and you had to forgive four-year old me for ignoring His Airness; toy cars and other curiosities had my attention.
In fact, my first encounter with basketball was in the year 2000, two years after Jordan retired. At that time, the Los Angeles Lakers were pretty much dominating the league and I was amazed at the play of a young Kobe Bryant, who back then was being billed as the heir apparent to Jordan. Kobe was athletic and played best under the bright lights, Jordan-esque qualities that helped him and the Lakers secure their own three-peat during the turn of the millenium.
My appreciation for Jordan came during my teenage years, a time when Kobe won five titles and LeBron James was emerging into a well-rounded player who was changing what defined being a basketball player. The Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate was heating up and even more than a decade after he played, Michael remained (and personally is) the measuring stick for what it means to be great. He never lost a Finals series. He was the first player to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Off the court, Nike let him have his own brand. He was a helluva basketball player with winning credentials to boot.
The Last Dance was a welcome respite for basketball-starved fans (me included) who haven’t had any kind of basketball for more than 50 days. Avid fans of Jordan and ‘90s NBA basketball remembered the sights, sounds, and personalities from one of the greatest teams in sports, more so once the Alan Parsons Project’s Sirius played. But beyond the nostalgia, the documentary was a reminder for us fans that for sports like basketball, winning is of utmost importance, and Jordan was on another level.
Spread over 10 episodes that each ran for under an hour, the highly-anticipated documentary provided an in-depth look at what Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls went through during a turbulent 1997-1998 NBA season.
We always see players through their games, highlights, and wherever normal cameras can access them. But given the unprecedented access of the film crew who shot that 1997 to 1998 season, we saw what goes on behind the curtain, and some of those revelations can perhaps give those who want to “Be Like Mike” a cause for pause.
Tony Stark said that part of the journey is the end, and The Last Dance covers the unfortunate end of the Bulls dynasty, one that could have lasted longer if not for some selfish reasons. It featured flashbacks from highs and lows from Jordan’s career, and provided some interesting backstories relating to what they went through that season.
The Last Dance reintroduced me to Michael Jordan, even if his highlights and interviews are easily accessible on YouTube. In some ways it also brought me back to the late ‘90s: the music, clothes, and the overall vibe made me remember when everyone’s headphones had wires, phones weren’t smart, and Jordans were known more for basketball than as a reseller’s dream.
The documentary does not hide Jordan’s cutthroat nature. He doesn’t just beat whoever he faces on the court; he trashtalks and berates teammates. But as Jordan himself said, he wouldn’t tell others to do something he wouldn’t do. While his winning six NBA titles certainly deserves attention, his journey from Wilmington, North Carolina to the city of Chicago is a testament to winning being a process rather than something that will fall from the heavens.
While Jordan is the focus of The Last Dance, some episodes also gave us a peep into the lives of those around him. Among them was Scottie Pippen, who was able to showcase his talents and prove he could lead a team after Jordan left. Who knows what he might have achieved had he been the cornerstone of another franchise?
Photo via Netflix
Dennis Rodman was an absolute treat in this one. We got to know about his life and both his oncourt and off-court antics, providing the younger generation an in-depth look at one of the most colorful personalities from the already colorful ‘90s. From his legendary trip to Las Vegas to the time he skipped practice to wrestle with Hulk Hogan, fun was a multi-colored palette for Rodman.
Players-turned-coaches Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr were the ones who balanced Jordan’s competitive fire with their own versions of “ice”. Jackson pushed for Michael to trust the triangle offense, and it’s safe to say that with the six titles the play garnered, that it worked. Kerr was the teammate who stood up to Jordan (and got a black eye for his efforts), earned his respect, and hit big shots during the second three-peat. Now, Kerr coaches the Golden State Warriors, where he still very much applies principles with his time from the Bulls.
It’s through the series where we see exactly how Jerry Krause was the kind of general manager that, depending on who you talk to, was either one of the best in the business or the one whose ego got in the way. He was responsible for surrounding Jordan with the likes of Pippen and Rodman, but he also had this inferiority complex that got in the way of his decisions (it didn’t help that Jordan would at times joke about his height and weight).
In a nutshell, The Last Dance is raw and uncensored. No other scene captures this better than when Jordan is on the floor crying after winning the 1996 NBA title, his first since his dad died made more heart-wrenching by the fact that he won it on Fathers’ Day.
Prior to its release the trailer to The Last Dance provided both nostalgia and hype, all of which got fan’s basketball juices flowing. A particularly soft spot for Kobe fans such as me was when Kobe was seen sitting down getting ready for his interview. While it still remained to be an exciting preview, fans who saw him again felt the emotions well up once the late Laker legend appeared on screen.
When Kobe appeared in episode five, you could immediately tell how much he appreciated what Jordan gave him to the point that he found the GOAT debate nonsensical. Both Kobe and Jordan clicked mainly because they’re kindred spirits; they both put winning above all else and understood the work it took to win, stats be damned.
My basketball generation loves debating who the best player in the game is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jordan, LeBron, or Kobe fan; the greatest player was more heated and lasting debate than the “Yani or Laurel” or “Blue or Gold dress” discussions.
I missed basketball and The Last Dance could not have come at a better time, as COVID-19 has kept a majority of the public at home and shut down basketball across the globe. It was as in-depth as can be and viewers got to see beyond the highlights.
For the millennials like me who never really got to fully appreciate Jordan’s prime live, to say that this documentary gave me a newfound appreciation of the legendary player is a given. However, the best takeaway I got as a young professional trying to be the best employee, son, and person, was his winning mentality. You have to put in the work, because hard work will outwork talent when the going gets tough.
Sure Jordan may come off as overbearing to some but you can’t deny the results. As he himself said, “Winning has a price.”
Header art by Kitty Jardenil
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