Air Jordan Relaunches
As the world sits still in quarantine, ESPN gifted us a 10-part documentary chronicling Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls of the 90's. Hidden footage of a team comprised of rock stars and role players during the peak of the greatest basketball player ever. "The Last Dance" was must-see TV for everybody (except LeBron) and Netflix dropped the final two episodes in the early hours of Monday morning.
If it wasn't clear before, it became objectively obvious after. Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete of all-time - and Dennis Rodman is the most fascinating.
While everyone's been on house arrest during this pandemic, many prisoners have turned the clock back to simpler times. Either pulling out old yearbooks and posting tbts of the good ol' days or digging out other mementos from the childhood vault, we all have taken a trip down memory lane. But the 90's nostalgia hit real hard when this documentary debuted.
90's entertainment had three defining characteristics: Blonde bombshells, oversized outfits and pro wrestling. This doc had all three and reminded everybody about the greatest decade.
However, you can't bring up greatness without comparisons. The Last Dance brought the LeBron brigade right out of the wood work and resparked the most popular sports debate of the 21st century: LBJ vs MJ.
Truthfully, the only MJ LeBron compares to is Magic Johnson and even that sentence was hard to type. But new basketball fans as well as members of the media have pushed this narrative since James entered the league and even LBJ has endorsed the testament himself.
You would be very hard-pressed to find another athlete as talented and as insufferable as LeBron James. But you will NEVER find another competitor like Jordan again. The Last Dance allowed us to see the inner workings of a champion and a decade of excellence.
But it's not always champagne just because you're a champion. He was on top of the basketball world and after the Bull's third championship and his father's murder, Jordan was finding it hard to stay motivated. Although he would find unique ways to inspire himself for another three. Michael's method of motivation would have him pick out an opponent in an upcoming game and add him to his shit list. Isiah Thomas was the first true victim. Zeke refused to shake Jordan's hand after getting eliminated in the 1991 playoffs and MJ has thought about it every day since.
But when it was meaningless game with no real threats on the opposition, he would add a random victim to his imaginary shit list. Jordan would create situations in his head for the media and play to kill the following game. He had the ability to turn anything into motivation.
Notable members of the imaginary shit list:
- LaBradford Smith: In his second year of the league in a meaningless back-to-back in March, Smith dropped a career-high 37 points on Jordan. Mike told media after that LaBradford sarcastically told him good game. Smith was shaking in his sneakers the following night and Jordan put up 47 points, later admitting Smith didn't say anything to him. Not sure if this is related but that was Smith's final season in the NBA.
- George Karl: During the 1996 finals against the SuperSonics, Coach Karl was at the same restaurant as MJ. Both refused to greet one another. Not exactly bulletin board material but that was the extra sliver of motivation Jordan needed to put Seattle away in six.
- Scott Burrell: Scott was MJ's punching bag throughout this entire documentary. Every episode featured Jordan calling Burrell a hoe followed by some slight. Michael essentially said he was attempting to beat the softness out of Scott and admitted he was tough on him. Burrell was only a Bull for a year although that had to be the longest year of his life. Now there may be a bit of resentment from MJ because Scott Burrell is the first athlete to go in the first round of the MLB and NBA draft. But no one will ever know the method to his madness.
A major part of Jordan's life was gambling. It was his way of competing off the court. Jordan had to green light every scene in this project, which led to ESPN glossing over the darker side of his life. They did reveal his outstanding debt with a man named Slim Bouler. A weekend of golf that had Mike 57k in the hole. Couch change for the Jordan Brand. But other than hustling teammates and security personnel for their pocket change, this was as far as ESPN was willing to show his betting side.
I knew two things before The Last Dance. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever and never conduct business with dudes named Slim. This documentary reaffirmed my stance on both.
The Bulls were a well-oiled machine. They had the hardwood hippie Phil Jackson behind the clipboard, using unorthodox methods and native rituals to give his team the competitive edge. Widely-considered the greatest basketball coach ever, he is the only coach who could tame these egos and personalities. The way Phil and Mike handle Rodman's bizarre behaviour was the highlight of The Last Dance. Dennis taught us all that if you're going to be a headache for your boss, you better be damn good at your job and they will tolerate it.
From sexcapades with Carmen Elektra all over the United Center, to leaving in the middle of the NBA finals to go wrestle with Hulk Hogan on WCW Nitro, Rodzilla lived by his own rules. Although the WCW stunt led to Dennis missing a media session and the NBA fined him 20k for his antics. However, he just docked that off his WCW cheque he received that night for 250k. Phil Jackson responded saying he was mildly disappointed but wasn't going to allow that to get in the way of their 6th championship.
And the Bulls didn't allow that to distract them as they completed the three-peat repeat. Although at the end of the documentary, MJ seemed dissatisfied with the end result. Michael Jordan is positive that the Bulls would have got their 7th championship if management didn't blow up the team. But with his psyche, you're likely never satisfied, always pushing for more.
I'm unsure what I will be doing for appointment TV now. This brought sport fans together every Sunday/Monday and made most forget about Tiger King instantly. Although the structure of the doc was shifty, even my a.d.d struggled to keep up with all the time traveling. Other than that, my only issue with ESPN is skipping over this scene in the 1992 Olympics.
Mini-hoops and Miller Lites with The Dream Team needs to be documented. Missed opportunity.
But the impact of The Last Dance may change the entire sports landscape. His win-at-all-costs mentality was put under a microscope for 10 hours. Athletes from all major sports chimed in on social media to shower MJ with praise and admiration. Former Raptor Demar Derozan made a powerful statement about the Jordan effect.
I can't speak for professional athletes - but I feel bad for whoever I line up against in Beer league next season.
Will athletes still continue to load manage and will sports continue to use science? Sadly, yes. But it would be impossible for a pro athlete to watch this documentary and not compete a little harder.
Now as for all you LeBron stans, if any of you made it this far - your time is up.