If You Ain’t First, You’re Last

A Review of ESPN Films’ and Netflix’s 10-Part Documentary, “The Last Dance”.

I have personally never been a competitive person. Perhaps it’s my laissez-faire attitude due to my overwhelming french lineage. Maybe it was always because my dad made sure that having fun was the priority over actually winning. It could also have been my lack of physical prowess and in turn my focus on that which is more intellectual. Whatever the case may be, I am no Michael Jordan. “The Last Dance”, ESPN and Netflix’s co-produced documentary miniseries, focuses on what made “Air Jordan” the greatest of all time and how the dynasty of the Chicago Bulls came to an end with their sixth championship.

There are in fact, very few Michael Jordans whose competitiveness borders on obsession. When we think of the greatest who ever played in sports, the names Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, and Wayne Gretzky come to mind. Topping this list and overshadowing these names, is of course Michael Jordan. Jordan was and still is (thanks in part to Nike) an international sports hero. What “The Last Dance” does great is put a spotlight on how he came to be that, starting with his draft in 1984 and what he recalls as “a shitty team”. He had to overcome an environment where many of his teammates partied and phoned in their play, not caring if they won or lost. Jordan was the ultimate fire lit under the ass of the Bulls’ organization. He was there for one thing and one thing only, to win. He practiced, worked out, stayed in his hotel room, and focused on raising up that Larry O’Brien trophy (at the age of 21). To Jordan, nothing else mattered other than to win it all on the biggest stage in basketball.

It took him seven years to reach that pinnacle. And in that time, he endured multiple losses at the hands of one of the hardest hitting teams in the league, the Detroit Pistons. Battered and bruised, he willed himself to become better. He raised his teammates up and confronted them when he didn’t believe they were giving the same effort, which, let’s be real, was not possible. On the court, he was an asshole, but he was an asshole who was going to win and drag his teammates along for the ride. This spirit for the love, no, the respect of the game has made him a household name (along with the six championships he would ultimately bring to Chicago).

But, “The Last Dance” is not just a focus on Jordan’s basketball prowess and his championship rings. It goes deeper into his personal life, during this time, showing a man who couldn’t walk outside without the press hounding him; wanting to know if this was his last year or what he thought about Scottie Pippen. It showed his relationships with his teammates and coaches, most notably Pippen, Rodman, Steve Kerr (Go Wildcats!) and Phil Jackson. I personally recommend the Rodman episode as it shows just how much of a dominant presence he was on the basketball court and also Jordan’s respect for his toughness and defensive prowess.

Some of the harder and more touching moments in the series is when MJ’s father, James Jordan, is brought up. How much of an impact he had on his son’s life, even telling him not to balk at the Nike deal (Michael Jordan was an Adidas fan), and how he was there for every moment from the lowest, due to a foot injury, and one of his highest being right by his side during that ’91 championship. “The Last Dance” also touches on James Jordan’s murder and how that affected Michael to the point where he fell out of love with the game and subsequently turned to baseball for 18 months (and apparently given a few more at bats, would have made it into the majors in his 30’s). For being a basketball documentary, the audience gets to see a depth not usually shown in sports films.

“The Last Dance” is not just a look at Michael Jordan the phenom, but an intimate portrait of a man with a lot of talent, but whose hard work, passion, and drive made him into a superstar. It also shows the ugly side of fame, where every movement made is press fodder and where every action is put under a microscope (Funnily, all this was before the invent of social media) and the mental toil it has on an individual. Lastly, it shows something we don’t often see characterized about Michael Jordan, that he is human.

By the way, the infamous “Flu” game was actually food poisoning. If you’re a sports fan, particularly of 90’s basketball, then this a total recommend. Insert crying Jordan meme. YoungYoda Out.

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