Whether you like sports or not, The Last Dance on Netflix is an addictive look into the mind of a sporting great – here is why you need to watch it
What's in a name they ask? 6 NBA championships. Determination. Talent. Shoes. Wealth. Status. Admiration. Obsession.
There are many ways you can describe the former NBA athlete, titles you can designate to the man. His name elicits something in most people, whether or not you are a sports fan.
You just know.
The Last Dance
The Last Dance is a documentary series on Netflix providing a definitive account of Michael Jordan's career and the Chicago Bulls. It takes a particular look at the 1997-1998 season of the Bulls when a camera crew was granted an all-access pass to the ins and outs of the once titular organisation.
It is, by far, one of the best documentaries I have watched in recent times. You don't even have to like sports to enjoy it. Go to it without notions. Forget the fact it's even about sports – the actual focus on the activity is acute throughout. This series is so much more than a tactical retelling.
It's an unapologetic look at a steaming sporting engine. A study into the mind of a chief. An investigation into what it takes to be exceptional, and what it is like to be suffocated and saved by the very talent and drive that defines you.
I wasn't even born when Michael Jordan was at the height of his talents. My defining memory of him as a child is the film Space Jam, but like all true sporting heroes, you learn about them as you grow. They take pride of place on lists. Consistently named the best there ever was, and so you take the knowledge and lock it away for when you need it in quizzes.
However, watching the series, I was flummoxed. I watched in an almost permanent state of awe. Jordan defied gravity. His ability was sporting poetry in motion. Every twist, turn and impossible move forming an unforgettable stanza. Whatever your opinion on him is, you can't doubt his extraordinary ability.
One person can light a spark, but there needs to be enough heat, fuel, and oxygen to sustain a reaction. When it came to the Chicago Bulls as a team, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. From the calming presence of coach Phil Jackson to the monotonous nature and sheer brilliance of Scotty Pippen, the team was the machine. Each a character in their own right, but no more so than Dennis Rodman, the eclectic talent with ever-changing hairstyles who once dated Madonna.
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Michael Jordan's own production company Jump 23 is among the co-producers of the series, and at times it can feel like a Jordan shrine. But to omit that would be to discard the story of the Chicago Bulls during the nineties. His star quality and leadership led to their commercial and sporting success. Lest we forget, sport is as much as a business as it is an activity – and Michael Jordan was good business.
For those who don't really care about the triangle offense, it's the Michael Jordan aspect that will reel you in.
His mindset as a player was bewildering. It was only to win and nothing else. Not only did Jordan desire to be better than the masses, but he also wanted to be superior to himself at every turn. To piss him off was to energise him. He once made up a non-existent taunt from a rival player to put some fire in his belly on the court.
His competitiveness seems debilitating. A trait he had from childhood that never once faltered.
It made him the best player of his era, but at what cost?
In episode eight, former teammates and opponents speak of what it was like to play with him and against him. You get the feeling that many are holding back with their discourse. The general attitude was that he was a pusher and he didn't take feelings into account when it came to undertaking a journey to victory.
He was not what you would call a pleasant man. In an Irish context, his rationality is similar to Roy Keane's – he jostled and shoved to get you on his level, whether you wanted to or not. During one of the best sequences of the episode, he's asked if his need to win had come at the expense of being perceived as a nice guy.
Jordan laments that his actions created victory and he wanted his teammates to get a taste of that too. In a rare moment, he becomes visibly emotional, recounting the psychology that drove him. In hindsight, it's a need that made him sacrifice parts of himself. A mighty but exhausting force.
— Coach Nick (@hoopsbynick) May 13, 2020
And it must have been exhausting to be Michael Jordan – to be the best. He was the first powerhouse celebrity of the sports world. Everyone wanted a piece of him. He became an entity of people's imaginations and a business in and of himself with the shoes and the "Be Like Mike" tagline. The series helps to document the point when culture shifted, and our view of those in the public eye changed. This started with Jordan.
We now glorify them with hero worship. In our eyes, they are perfect specimens of the form and they can do no wrong.
But all gods have flaws and Jordan's failure to speak out when it came to politics and his alleged gambling problem were central parts of the media storm.
When his beloved father was tragically murdered, papers at the time ran stories that Michael's supposed addiction had a part to play in the killing. It was around this time that Princess Diana would have faced a much worse onslaught by the British press, but it shows how that period was the turning point. The world now owned stars and the media perpetuated it.
Yet, it didn't deter Jordan. His defining character trait was winning – the other stuff, the media and everything that came with it didn't matter as much.
There is a total of 10 episodes, with two left to air on Netflix this Monday, but I never want it to end. After every episode I get an urge to play sports, even though I never have been able to in my 25 years.
The Last Dance is a fascinating watch and is worth the click for production value alone. They say for greatness that "desire, burning desire, is basic to achieving anything beyond the ordinary".
Jordan was fed by this and led by this.
So when they say Michael Jordan, and ask what's in a name?
Brutal, unwavering greatness.
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