Michael Jordan and The Last Dance

(Netflix)
After watching the last episode of The Last Dance on Netflix last night, here’s a few thoughts on what I learned from it all as someone who knew some, but not all of what they went in to.

Spoiler Alert: All of The Last Dance, basically. Obviously.

Pretty much all of you have seen Space Jam, so you know who Michael Jordan is. He’s the best basketball player ever, global icon, champion, gold medalist, cigar aficionado, meme, hero, villain, everything. He is basketball. The king of kings.

My name is Michael Jordan, king of kings;
Look on my rings, ye mighty, and despair!

But in all seriousness, he was the NBA in the 1990s. That smooth fadeaway jumper, the dunks with the tongue sticking out, the dominance.

Unstoppable.

I knew about the Bulls (obviously). I knew he’d won six championships in eight years, took a season and a bit off to play baseball (yes, really), won six Finals MVPs, won five regular season MVPs, was a dominant sporting force and I knew pretty much all of the Michael Jordan lore.

I knew about the game against the Celtics, The Shot, the lay-up in the 1991 Finals, The Shrug in 1992, passing to Paxson in 1993, 72-10 and winning the title on Fathers Day in 1996, The Flu Game in 1997, and his final shot in 1998.

All of that was a spoiler if you didn’t know anything about him or basketball, but it goes over it all in the documentary anyway.

Talking about spoilers, that’s one thing I felt they did well with The Last Dance. They really managed to build suspense and keep you on the edge of your seat, before you just think, “Oh yeah, this happened 20 years ago and I know exactly what happens.”

That’s probably a nice metaphor for MJ there actually.

You were on the edge of your seat watching him, but you still knew exactly what was going to happen. He was going to win. That was his thing, he was the ultimate winner. Ultra competitive, and you really saw that in The Last Dance. To look inside his head and see, in his own words, what the psychology of a winner is like, was amazing.

To be surrounded by all these professional athletes, the best basketball players in the world, and he would still think he was the best, still wanted to prove he was the best, still wanted more, and was still driven to win, was brilliant to watch.

He never wanted people to think they had one over him. Like the bit with Gary Payton and he’s all, “Oh yeah when I defended him he got tired and that’s why they lost those two games against us in the 1996 Finals.” (I’m paraphrasing there).

Then MJ laughs and goes, “I had no problem with The Glove.”

That’s some BMT stuff right there. Badass, absolute badass.

You saw he did whatever it took to win, well, did whatever it took to put himself in that situation mentally, where he could find something to motivate himself to win. You would never be able to have one over on MJ, he just wouldn’t let it happen. He had to win. He needed to win. You saw it in the documentary.

That story about LaBradford Smith saying, “Nice game Mike,” and then MJ just spanking him in the next game was absurd. It was made even more absurd when it turns out he didn’t even say it! Jordan just needed to find some way to drive himself to dominate.

Which I suppose is a strange thought in itself.

The only thing stopping him from wiping the floor with any basketball player in the world at the time, was him knowing they thought he was the best. But how can you think anyone’s better than you when people scream your name everywhere you go, there are cameras in your face all the time, and apparently five people want to deliver your pizza in Utah just to see you? (I’m not getting into that nonsense, watch it yourself). What’s the Kanye lyric? “Hood phenomenon, the LeBron of rhyme / Hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron“.

People hated LeBron for how he saw himself, thinking he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But you can see with Jordan in this documentary how people put him on that pedestal – so why would you not think it? People didn’t really seem to hate MJ for that.

They seem to hate him for that same competitiveness that made him so great. That competitiveness that appeared to make him push people to do what he was doing, even though to everyone else on the planet it was impossible. Especially his teammates. I knew he wasn’t the nicest to them.

I knew it was bad.

Those parts of him laying into Kukoc and Harper were harsh, but, poor Scott Burrell. He was going at Scott Burrell all the time. Constantly. There’s no need to call him a ho MJ, come on. The mad part about that is, if this is what he says when he knows the cameras were on, what did he do when they were off?

Oh yeah, he’d punch Steve Kerr in the face.

People counter it by saying he’s pushing his teammates to win, and I see that. He’s not asking them to train or practise any harder than he would. But like I said, not everyone is Michael Jordan.

Not everyone can do what you do MJ.

Is gambling the next logical step with competitiveness? Would he want to win everything, so would he make everything a contest by putting money on it? Again, I’m not so sure, but The Last Dance‘s step into that was interesting. I didn’t know about his trip to Atlantic City trip in the playoffs because he wanted to go gamble. And how he casually got a limo there. As you do.

But who am I to preach to Michael Jordan? He had a pretty good career, so it’s incredibly harsh to pass judgement on gambling I think. It never affected his basketball (David Stern talked about about it, and he thought the same), unless you believe the suspension baloney that led to him playing baseball.

Regardless, and again, it’s all a part of his psyche, and there for you to see.

Perhaps it wasn’t a suspension that led to him playing baseball, maybe it was more of a, “Screw you guys, I’m going to play baseball” kind of thing. Everyone was on his back for the gambling, and sadly his dad died, so he thought, “You know what? I’m gonna hit some homers in the old diamond.”

You saw he wasn’t that good at baseball to start, but again, the work ethic and the competitiveness came through. He was getting better because he was putting in the work. He couldn’t stand not being the best.

That’s the highlight of the whole documentary for me. The look into the ultimate winner’s head, and seeing why winners win. Looking at how their brains are wired.

Oh yeah, and there’s some sick basketball in it too.

Just quickly, here are a few specific points I really liked and just wanted to point out:

  • The Chicago Bulls traveling cocaine circus in the 80s. I knew cocaine was a problem for the NBA from Bill Simmons’ book, but still, hearing MJ talk about it was pretty mad.
  • How awful was the quality of competition in the NBA if MJ wasn’t lifting weights until the early 90s? Bro you gotta get that squat up! There was literally only one team that he couldn’t beat until then. Madness.
  • The individual bits on the past of Jackson, Pippen, Rodman and the like. It was interesting to see where they came from, and how little I actually knew about them. To think I was worried about how much money Pippen was making.
  • He still hates Isiah Thomas to this day. I’m sure you didn’t keep him off The Dream Team, Mike.
  • The footage of him and Kobe at the All-Star game. Awesome. RIP Kobe.
  • The bits of him talking about playing all the NBA stars when filming Space Jam. That movie has given society so much.
  • Toni Kukoc’s defending of Karl Malone (I think it was) in episode nine, when he just kind of danced on his toes and let Malone back him down. I’m not sure why but it just got me laughing.
  • That Larry Bird and MJ “bitch” exchange from episode nine. Stupendous.
  • The photo above, where he’s swinging the bat and smoking a cigar like some kind of weird mob boss. It had me, and everyone else on the internet, reeling.

All in all, it was interesting to see inside his brain, to see his competitiveness and what made him tick. It didn’t really criticise him or go into anything that was too serious, or could maybe paint him in a bad light. But MJ had a hand in making the documentary, so I’m not sure what I expected. The behind the scenes footage was ace, the basketball was ace, as was the fact you really got to see why they called him ‘Air’.

He flew.

It was so good to learn about one of the biggest celebrities ever, and even better to have something basketball related in this Coronavirus drenched world we’re living in. Give it a watch if you haven’t. If you have, watch this video on what the Bulls did after MJ retired. It’s a great video connecting what Reinsdorf talks about in the last episode, to what the Bulls became in the 2000s.

I want to live the rest of my life wanting to be as good at something as much as Michael Jordan wanted it.

Or I might just play as him on 2K.

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