Last night, Americans watched the final two episodes of "The Last Dance," ESPN's ten-part docu-series on the life and times of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 80's and 90s. The series was an unmitigated success for ESPN, drawing approximately 6 million viewers each debut episode and smashing ratings records for the most watched documentary on the four-letter network by SIXTY-TWO percent.
Why was this documentary so successful? Probably a perfect confluence of events - namely, there are NO live sports at the moment and people are THIRSTY for anything that might scratch that itch (also, it was essentially APOLITICAL! Take note, Libs!). Beyond that, though - the series helped pull back the curtain on a man that we've never had a chance to really sit and absorb beyond the surface-level he presented. Jordan has always been keenly aware and conscious of his public image, never shying away from the camera, but rather choosing to eschew the "reality TV" type access that players seem obsessed with today.
Sure, we've heard stories from others about how diabolical MJ had been over the years, but it was another thing to hear the man himself tell us in his own words:
This project helped illustrate what motivated Jordan, which apparently was any insult (real or perceived) and he perceived a TON of personal insults!
Don't disrespect this man by comparing him to another hall of famer!
JUST SHAKE HIS HAND, ISIAH!!!
The series also showcased what for many was the golden age of the NBA (probably because we grew up during this era, but we're still right), when teams developed over the course of years, went through adversity together and ultimately learned how to win together. 90's Basketball is in stark contrast to today, where players seemingly network to build super-teams with their friends and demand trades at the slightest signs of adversity. I know that some like to argue that this "Super-Team" phenomenon is great for player empowerment etc. . . , and I'm all for the players doing what they want, while they can, to get as much as they can. I just miss the natural narratives that came from trying beat your rivals, rather than signing to win with them.
I'm sure some will try and argue that the 90s had their own super-teams etc. . . but at the end of the day, I believe that THIS was the moment that changed the NBA changed for the last decade:
Instead of re-signing with the Cavaliers and trying to build his own dynasty with the team that drafted him, LeBron James went on a months-long "look at me" tour culminating with the "Decision" and his announcement that he was "taking his talents to South Beach." Yes, LeBron signed with the Miami Heat and join two of the top five players in the NBA at the time. The shroud of the douche-bag had fallen, begun the Super-Team era had.
LeBron is really an unspoken foil during the entirety of The Last Dance. Jordan will probably deny it was his intent, but I think he decided to participate in the project as a way to remind the younger generation who REALLY reigns supreme as the G.O.A.T. There is so much in the docu-series that contrasts the style, toughness and mentality of Jordan's era with today's NBA.
Viewers that conclude that Today's NBA is soft in comparison to the on Jordan played in are probably correct and LeBron is NOT Jordan. He's just not and never will be. This is not to say that LeBron is not a fantastic player, but for those of us who have watched both, there was a quality about watching Michael that is lacking when watching LeBron - I never believed Jordan would let his team lose. And he didn't (no, I'm not going to break down statistics, nerd), probably because he was a sociopath that only cared about winning.
If Jordan's objective in partnering with producers for "The Last Dance" was to cement his GOAT legacy, it seems to have worked:
So the series has concluded and we saw that Michael wishes that they had gotten a chance at ring number 7. As a life-long Bulls fan, I can tell you that it's a maddening "what if?" that we ask ourselves perpetually (especially as we watch the current iteration fumble around aimlessly). The reality, however, is that the 1998 Bulls barely won title number 6 and were likely to try for number 7 with an aging Jordan, no Scottie Pippen, no Dennis Rodman and a cast of also-rans. Could they have figured a way to keep it all together and win another? Maybe, but there is something special about Jordan being 6-0 in the finals and THIS being the PERFECT final image of Michael Jordan's playing career: