Confessions and Thoughts After Watching The Last Dance

In full transparency and total honesty, I hate Michael Jordan. At least I did. I hated the idea of Michael Jordan due to the pedestal that has been built around him. That pedestal held by his most loyal fans who quickly and vehemently defend his greatness against any threat on the court.

To this day, I still obliterate the lame duck arguments thrown in favor of MJ. For the record, I do the same for LeBron James, my generational Jordan.

The older I get, the more I do my best to objectively look at sports and their respective histories through a clear lens. There was a time when I vehemently defended LeBron as the best and wouldn’t entertain the notion that Jordan or Kobe was as good if not better. But, I am not writing this today to debate about that.

Now, I try to take the emotion out of it to help me see more clearly and appreciate what is happening.

Instead of engaging in the shock jock or prisoner of the moment mentality like many journalists and fans, I like to think I adequately have a grasp on the reality of the narratives being thrown around every time something major happens in sports. I embrace the greatness in all forms because I don’t want to miss it.

There was a time where I was too busy formulating every reason to tear down Tom Brady to put over Peyton Manning. I missed a large part of his career because of it. There was a time I was too busy formulating every reason to put LeBron over Kobe Bryant. I missed part of Kobe’s run because of it. I never want that happen again with sports.

Even in my disdain of Kevin Durant, I still do my best to enjoy watching him obliterate the opposition when they are in his face with a hand up. He is arguably the most gifted scorer top to bottom in NBA history. It helps that his long frame makes him virtually unarguable.

Despite my hatred for Jordan prior to this documentary, I still viewed him as the GOAT. Not by the mile that his fans tend to think he is, but still the GOAT.

That being said, I hated even more that I did not witness his career unfold in real time. If a genie granted me one wish to watch or re-watch a career unfold, my answer would be Jordan.

I was born in 1991 and I see people my age talk about Jordan as if they knew what they were watching as a child. You didn’t and you don’t. You were too young like me. Your best memory of Jordan was probably Space Jam. You didn’t analyze sports the same way you do now, even if that analysis now is jaded.

I couldn’t be happier with the release of The Last Dance. I thought the docu-series did a wonderful job taking us through the ups and downs of Jordan’s incredible career. It broke the fourth wall on many of the preconceived ideas I had on him. It allowed someone like myself to capture the essence of the 90s in a way that would have never happened had it not been released. Maybe that genie granted me my wish in some form at least.

I hadn’t watched an episode until this past weekend. As I sit here at 11:15pm waiting for the rerun of episode’s 9 & 10, I feel compelled to write some of my biggest takeaways while it is still fresh in my mind.

Michael Jordan

Earlier, I wrote that I hated MJ. I did. I always felt he received a pass for being an asshole and a bad teammate. Winning gives people passes for being that. I thought the combination of him walking away from the game prematurely, divorcing his wife with unfulfilled details (not that it really is our business), gambling, punching teammates, walking away again to only comeback uneventfully, Kwame Brown and Bill Cartwright stories, a petty Hall of Fame speech and criticizing LeBron for going to Miami only added to the narrative.

Combine that with the horribly constructed arguments by the masses for why he is the GOAT, it led to hatred.

Hearing accounts from his teammates and MJ himself broke ground on a new perspective for me.

I thought the documentary did a great job shedding light on some of those reasons why I loathed him. It was words from the teammates including Cartwright that provided context.

The reality is much of the narrative of him being an asshole and poor teammate comes from the competitive nature of Jordan more so than him being a shitty person and getting a pass for it.

I didn’t see a bad person when he was betting with security, trash talking with Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, Karl Malone coming to the bus and hugging him, he and Reggie Miller respectfully embracing one another once the final horn sounded or getting after his teammates.

Even though it was tough for teammates, they all said it made them better. You see that with guys like Steve Kerr, Luc Longley and John Paxson hitting clutch shots helping the Bulls.

Despite the jabs at Toni Kukoc over Krause’s infatuation, there was still a level of respect once he earned it. Kukoc even said it was more to do with Krause than him and he knew that. That was a bad situation for everyone. However, no love lost between the players.

As I alluded to earlier about not being in the moment of it unfolding, there were some thing I didn’t know about his career. One of them was the media coverage prior to his first retirement. I despised how the media treated the gambling and how they constructed a narrative after his father passed.

While it is still plausible gambling was an issue (always a slippery slope in sports), leading him to retirement among the passing of his father, I don’t buy the notion his dad was killed as a result of the gambling. I sympathize with him not wanting to go back after hearing all that noise.

I highly doubt he would construct some false narrative about his dad’s passing for leaving. Considering the backing from his brother and others, it put that to bed.

Seeing him sobbing with raw emotion in the locker room after returning and winning the championship, you can’t fake that. It seemed like all the unfulfilled emotion of losing his father was coming to the surface when he made his return and won.

The Art of MJ’s Trash Talk

My favorite part in all the light shed on MJ was the amount of people who were put on his hit list. Slight him and he was going to obliterate you. People learned that the hard way. Black Jesus is not to be messed with, ask Reggie Miller.

The single best story was Washington Bullets’ LaBradford Smith. A clip showed Jordan in the locker saying he was going to match his 37 point total in the first half next game, after Smith supposedly ran his mouth regarding his game. Jordan fell one point short of achieving that. However, he easily showed up Smith in that next game.

Easily my favorite quote of the entire documentary was Jordan sitting in his locker and saying that you shouldn’t talk only when you’re up. Be able to talk when it is 0-0 or you’re down. I believe in that mentality 100%.

This documentary certainly provided me a balanced light on Jordan as a person on and off the court. As we all know, hindsight is 20/20. Maybe I was wrong about Jordan being the asshole I thought he was.

Jerry Krause

It took me three episodes to warm up to the documentary because I found a common parallel in the first two episodes, slam Jerry Krause at all costs.

The series seemed to set up the notion that this documentary focused on slandering the late Krause for his role in blowing up the Bulls dynasty. I didn’t like that for two reasons.

One, releasing it after his death. That is never a good look. It is like waiting for someone to leave the room to trash them and never having the balls to say it to their face.

Two, it focused more on talking about the fall versus his role in the rise of the Bulls early on in the series. To be honest, that kind of proves his point in him wanting more credit.

As it wore on, it became more so the set up for the end versus that being what the entire docu-series was about.

The truth is that he is to blame. I believe it was Bill Wennington who said in episode one that Krause was a quality person who just let his emotions regarding his credibility get the best of him.

Does he deserve more credit than Jordan? Absolutely not.

Does he deserve more credit than Phil Jackson? No chance.

Does he deserve more credit than Pippen and the other surrounding pieces? No.

Does he deserve credit for putting those pieces in place? Yes, 100%.

Does he deserve credit for destroying the dynasty? Yes, 100%.

He’s like the contractor of a new house. During the house warming party, the owner’s friends come over saying how much they love the house. The owner says thank you. In storms the contractor screaming he built it and why isn’t he or she getting the credit for it, despite having employees doing the labor on it.

Krause let his emotions of being a GM get the best of him. He became destructive. General Managers don’t typically get more credit than any player or coach, nor should they. He was a victim of his own accord. Do I agree with Jordan and Pippen bullying him for it? No. But, Krause was tearing them down along with their coach out of jealousy.

Scottie Pippen

Pippen seems to be the forgotten spoke in the wheel by many fans when the comparisons of who’s the greatest start. To crush the other side, one of the more ignorant arguments to degrade Jordan is he never won without Pippen. As with most of the debate, there is middle ground to be found.

I love how in depth the documentary went showing the importance of Pippen.

Pippen was the man responsible for shutting down Magic Johnson to capture that first NBA Championship.

It described how important he was to the 55 win Bulls squad without Jordan when he retired the first time. Jackson talked about how Pippen became THE guy for the triangle offense. They ended up making a solid playoff run without Jordan, recording a sweep in round one and losing in seven to the Patrick Ewing led Knicks.

Based on how teammates described him, he was the perfect Robin to Jordan’s Batman. When Jordan would get a little too intense, he was the guy who would give the positive reinforcement to his teammates. That is not to undermine Jordan. It provides balance from the two leaders.

Then of course he had the slip up versus the Knicks, but everyone knew that wasn’t him. He had proved he would be there for his team, even through being easily the most underpaid athlete in modern sports.

The series adequately depicted the importance of Pippen, just like it did the many other surrounding pieces that constructed the well oiled machine that was the 90s Chicago Bulls.

Phil Jackson

If this documentary doesn’t show why the legendary coach is nicknamed the Zen Master, I am not sure what could.

He was the man responsible for getting Jordan to buy in to being a team guy who did what was best for the team, like letting teammates take final shots if they were infinitely better looks. He accomplished that while still letting Jordan be the killer he was on the court.

He was responsible for taking on and dealing with the enigma that is Dennis Rodman. Bless his heart.

He was responsible for navigating players through the noise of the inevitable break up of the Bulls. He never let the ticking time-bomb of his job with the Bulls take away from the coaching nor let his team lose focus.

Dennis Rodman

He may be the most intriguing piece of this documentary. It was honestly refreshing hearing him speak about it now. He doesn’t seem as off the rails as he appears. It brought you into his world a little bit. It helps you grasp his reality with more understanding.

Obviously he plays to the beat of his own drum, but I feel like the documentary gives some insight as to why.

The stories of him going to Vegas and joining the NWO and the fallout from all of it is absolutely insane. I can’t imagine the amount of noise that would come in 2020 if an athlete did all of that. Let’s just take time to appreciate the fact Dennis Rodman was part of the two greatest dynasties in the 90s.

Of course, it was irresponsible on his part to leave his team. He even knows that now. Again, hindsight is 20/20. Only someone like Rodman could get away with that because of what he gave the Bulls on the court.

The Greatest Game We Never Saw

I read about the scrimmage of the Dream Team either in an article or book years ago. It described the game from start to finish and the end result. It was great seeing clips and hearing Jordan and Magic go at one another before Jordan went full Jordan.

Wherever I first read, I always wanted to see that game because of the vivid details in the description of it. Now that I have had a small taste of that game, I honestly hope that game gets released in it’s entirety at some point. I believe that would be a great treat to watch for any sports fan.

Final Thoughts

This is far and away one of the best documentaries I have seen. If for nothing else, it brings me back through a period of sports I wish I would have been able to see in real time and understand.

From the trash talk to the last second shots to the confidence to the will to win, Jordan took the NBA to new heights with his attitude, ability to move the needle in terms of viewers and his marketability, he changed the game for the better. That can never be taken away from MJ.

Even if someone surpasses him as the greatest basketball player of all-time, there will never be anyone who can surpass what he gave the game as a whole.

I loved seeing the human side of Jordan versus everything we see and hear about. It was great seeing him turn off the competitive side and let you in to his own world.

It is truly unfortunate fans were potentially robbed of more dominance from arguably the greatest dynasty in the history of sports. Fans were robbed of one more run from arguably the most polarizing athlete in the history of sports. The fact the Jordan led Bulls won as much as they did with the noise from within is unbelievable.

 

 

 

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