Posted on: May 19, 2020 Posted by: Alex Bidwell Comments: 0

‘The Last Dance’, a 10-part documentary series broadcast by ESPN and Netflix, merely exists to enhance the legacy of 6-time NBA Champion Michael Jordan, and his team, the Chicago Bulls. And what a legacy it is. My immediate conclusion upon finishing the series was that surely this Bulls team is the greatest ever, in any sport, and that Michael Jordan is certainly the greatest athlete of all time. In the absence of live sport, it is essential viewing.

The series, directed by Jason Hehir, is excellently curated utilising a wealth of previously unseen archive footage, a superb and relevant soundtrack, and influential figures a plenty (including two recent presidents). The message consistently reinforced is that ‘winning is everything’, and if you look as good as Michael Jordan and the rest of the Chicago Bulls when doing it, then hats off to you. ‘The Last Dance’ takes the viewer on a timeline from Jordan’s childhood through to his final championship in 1998, never settling in one place for too long, with various subplots and twists and turns along the way. Despite Dennis Rodman’s outrageous ‘extra-curricular’ activities, Scottie Pippen’s development into one of the most effective players in the NBA, or Phil Jackson’s admirable holistic coaching philosophy, Michael Jordan is fittingly the star of the show as he so often was on the court.

The documentary is built around Jordan being consulted on every storyline, often aided by a whiskey and, to his credit, he is frank and open to discussion around a plethora of issues. Having understandably preferred to remain out of the public eye since his third and final retirement from basketball in 2003, it is delightful to hear from the man who was undoubtedly the driving force behind that record-breaking Chicago Bulls team, and the NBA’s global expansion, as he discusses in detail his life’s work. The show leaves us with the idea that Jordan is the ultimate competitor, a man who thrived on the biggest of stages, pushed his team mates to be the greatest they could be, and motivated himself with personal clashes, genuine or imagined. 

We are also shown that, despite the divine status bestowed upon him by his millions of fans, Jordan is in fact human and much like the rest of us, is not perfect. He has dealt with his fair share of personal traumas and is not always the polished embodiment of the ‘American Dream’. We are exposed to the grief and raw emotion he felt when his father was tragically murdered in 1993 – the event which led him to retire for the first time – and his unbearable and excessive competitiveness (on separate occasions compulsively punching two of his teammates in training).

His gambling habits, considered by some to be his ‘vice’, are also scrutinised. One can formulate an individual opinion as to whether or not his gambling, which often played out on the golf course with “friends”, warranted the media frenzy it created at the time. The shady relationship and payments made by him to convicted felon Slim Bouler, and the outlandish claims by Richard Esquinas that Jordan owed him $1.2million as a result of numerous lost golf bets certainly spark interest, and in some corners concern, as Jordan seemed to be gambling with his reputation.

However, the bigger picture needs to be considered. In reality, Jordan’s golfing ability was not relative to his wagers, nor did these actions damage him financially. Instead, they happened because he had acquired ludicrous riches through unprecedented and continued commercial success through his sneaker endorsement deals and the NBA. The much bigger issue in all of this was, and still is, Jordan’s problems with “competition”, something he admitted in an interview in 1993 with Ahmad Rashad.

The foundations of his obsession are rooted deep within his childhood, when he incessantly battled against his brother Larry for their father’s attention. Jordan’s decision to cover up the Reebok logo on his USA tracksuit by draping an American flag over his shoulders at the 1992 Olympics medal ceremony, honouring his long-standing partnership with Nike, is another representation of this. On this occasion, as throughout his life, Jordan refuses to attach the Jordan brand to the losing side or one he is not deeply committed to.

The man simply does not accept defeat, be that selling apparel and sneakers alongside Nike through his globally iconic ‘Air Jordan’ brand, or on the court with the Chicago Bulls. That unrelenting competitive edge typifies Jordan and is ultimately why this documentary resonates, to reaffirm and enhance the Jordan legacy in the modern era.

The ‘Air Jordan’ brand was established in 1984

Throughout his life, whenever faced with failure or criticism, Jordan responded emphatically by putting on a show for all concerned. Whether it be the endless practice over his sophomore summer after not being selected for his high school team, the desire to drive himself and his teammates on to maximise their potential and defeat their fiercest rivals the Detroit Pistons, or to come out of retirement and take the Bulls to a second 3-peat, Michael Jordan always performed for the masses. In ‘The Last Dance’ he does exactly that. His job now is a little easier, he merely has to recount tales of his greatness to a new generation who ponder the question, “who is the greatest basketball player of all time?” and to remind anyone foolish enough to have forgotten. 

By Alex Bidwell

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Alex Bidwell
Author: Alex Bidwell

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