The Awkward Steps of ‘The Last Dance’

May 19, 2020

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time. He is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. Jordan is, was and will continue to be my favorite player. He is a personal hero of mine, but I’ve had to rethink some things after watching ‘The Last Dance.’

I grew up in multiple neighborhoods around St. Louis, Los Angeles and North Carolina. My dad vanished when I was six. Michael Jordan and my other sports heroes never abandoned me. They could always be found on any number of TV networks almost every day of the year. Watching Jordan play was exciting and inspiring. As a matter of fact, it still is. The highlights of his games against the Lakers, Pacers, Supersonics and Jazz still make my heart race even though I know what happened. 

‘The Last Dance’ documentary is really a retrospective of the Chicago Bulls championship dynasty told largely from the perspective of Jordan himself. He reinforced everything fans already knew about him. His work ethic, tenacity and competitive drive were on full display. There was also another side of Jordan, something not as bright as the megawatt smile we’re used to. He revealed himself to be vindictive and petty. Jordan picked on his teammates and often bullied them. 

Jordan sympathizers will say the results speak for themselves. He had to behave that way for his team to achieve greatness. Most people don’t attain his level of success because they don’t have his drive. Correlation does not equal causation. Treating others as if they are less than doesn’t help them perform better. Calling someone a name won’t help them see things your way. Michael Jordan did not achieve greatness because of his competitiveness, mental toughness or his profanity. Greatness, especially in athletics, comes largely through genetics. 

If Jordan hadn’t been 6-6, 220 lbs. with a 46-inch vertical jump, his mental drive would not have mattered. Mental toughness does not make up for lack of size, speed, strength and agility. Professional athletes are professionals because they can do things the rest of us can’t. Of course they lift, run and eat right, but a 5-6, 180 lb. kid with a 32-inch vertical jump will never play in the NBA no matter how competitive or tough he is. 

There was no need for Jordan to treat teammates poorly or hold years-long grudges against former opponents. What I saw in ‘The Last Dance’ made me nostalgic, but it also made me shake my head. Michael Jordan is nearly 60 and says he still hates Isiah Thomas. Why did the greatest player in league history need a perceived sleight by George Karl to motivate him? Why did he make up a story about LaBradford Smith saying “Nice game, Mike” after Smith had the game of his life against the Bulls in 1993?

Michael Jordan has had enough success to fill several lifetimes. We may never see anyone like him in sports again, but he is a man. He has shortcomings and flaws like the rest of us. His pursuit of championships and trophies came at the expense of what could have been meaningful relationships with people. You can be driven and competitive without being cruel. Everyone you compete against does not have to be your best friend, but be sure to treat everyone with respect. 

 

 

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