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Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Last Dance shows the real Michael Jordan

There was so much anticipation about The Last Dance before it aired that it seemed impossible it could live up to the hype.

But, my word, it delivers in spades.

In a time when live sports around the world had come to a grinding halt, a revealing documentary about one of the biggest sporting icons was desperately needed for all sport lovers.

The documentary tells the story of the 1997/98 Chicago Bulls season, often referred to by the coach and players as The Last Dance as they sought their sixth championship in eight years.

Despite the drama and intrigue about that Bulls season, the most gripping aspect of the series is, without doubt, the clawing back of the curtain behind the one they call the Greatest of All Time (GOAT), Michael Jordan.

Being only three years old when Jordan won his sixth and final championship in 1998, there has always been a certain mystique about the career of Jordan in my mind.

Other than watching his highlights on YouTube or seeing him lead an amazing comeback against the Monstars in Space Jam, I never saw footage showing what Jordan was truly like as a person and competitor. Until now.

The documentary features fascinating archival footage along with candid interviews from Jordan and many others lifting the lid on persistent rumours, his personality, successes, and hardships.

The one consistent rumour that followed Jordan was that when he retired for the first time after his third championship in 1993, it was because he’d been suspended for gambling on NBA matches.

The documentary puts that one to bed, and makes it clear he retired because he was exhausted.

Jordan had become the biggest superstar in the world and everywhere he went, 30 cameras were sure to follow and after years of being hounded, even the great ones need a break.

The last straw may have been when his father was tragically murdered in 1993 and some in the media stooped so low as to blame it on a bad gambling debt of Michael’s with absolutely no evidence.

You could see by the end of his first three-peat, he had simply had enough.

Michael Jordan with baseball outfit
Michael Jordan speaking at a press conference for the Chicago White Sox during his brief stint in baseball. Getty

After a short stint in baseball with the Birmingham Barons, Jordan returned to basketball and the Bulls to chase more championships with possibly the greatest press release of all time:

“I’m back.”

After two years out of the finals, the Bulls had another crack at glory in 1996.

One of the most emotional scenes of the documentary came on Father’s Day in that season.

Jordan won his fourth championship on that day, his first since his father passed away and the footage of him lying on the ground weeping in the change rooms made him seem more human in that moment than we’d seen before.

The documentary does a good job of reminding you in certain moments that Jordan was, in fact, human, although it also highlights there are very few humans actually like him.

The thing that separates him from your average person is undoubtedly his competitiveness.

It’s become legend how badly Jordan wanted to win everything he played, from coin tossing games with security to NBA championships, but the series reveals just how ruthless Jordan could be.

Poor Scott Burrell felt the brunt of it the most; he was picked on mercilessly in the 1997/98 season by Jordan as he thought he was soft and needed some tough love.

Jordan demanded a lot from his teammates and while some have called him a bully for the way he treated Burrell and others, you can’t deny the results.

One of my favourite scenes comes when Jordan is giving a heartfelt response to being questioned whether he was too hard on his teammates.

“You ask all my teammates, one thing about Michael Jordan was, he never asked me to do something that he didn’t do,” Jordan said.

“When people see this, they’re going to think he wasn’t really a nice guy, he might’ve been a tyrant.

“Well, that’s you because you never won anything.

“I wanted to win, but I wanted them (my teammates) to win and be a part of it also.

“I’m only doing it because it is who I am, that’s how I played the game. That was my mentality.

“If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way … Break.”

The clips of him speaking to the camera were interlaced with vision of him and his teammates celebrating all the success they enjoyed.

At the end, Jordan says “break” as he starts to tear up and walks away from the camera. It was the only time they showed Jordan becoming emotional in the series.

It wasn’t from talking about his father’s death or his favourite security guard getting cancer; it was talking about how people would call him a tyrant when he’s just being who he is, a competitor.

He never forced anybody to stick around but he would do anything to win and if you wanted to join him in winning championships, then you had to as well.

The Last Dance shows us just how competitive Michael Jordan was to become the champion that he is. Getty

If you’re still not convinced by the end of the series that he may be the most competitive man to ever walk the planet, in the last episode he is asked if he was satisfied to leave the game at his peak after the 1998 season.

“No, it was maddening,” Jordan responds.

“Not to be able to try (and win a seventh championship), it’s something I just can’t accept; for whatever reason, I just can’t accept it.”

Considering he won six NBA championships and countless other awards throughout his career, you might think he would be completely satisfied, but I guess that appetite to keep winning was what made him so great.

For many, The Last Dance has put to bed any debate and cemented the legacy of Michael Jordan as the GOAT.

Verdict: 9.5 out of 10

You can watch all 10 episodes of The Last Dance on Netflix now.

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