‘The Last Dance’ is a sports documentary mini-series that heralds Michael Jordan’s illustrious basketball career; with a clear emphasis on the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season, spelling their final year as champs in the NBA. The documentary helped assuage the loss of the NBA’s current season due to the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. With the NBA games in limbo, ‘The Last Dance’ drew record viewer numbers, and received critical acclaim. When its curtains fell for the last time to end the series, it had unravelled before us many poignant tales of trials and triumphs, eventually leading to a 6th and final crown for Michael Jordan and the fabled Chicago Bulls.
What were my main takeaways from the documentary? What was it that made the biggest impression on me? Aside from the sports entertainment the series so richly provided, what lessons did we learn? For me, these were the main points to ponder after watching the series:
1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The docu clearly is a ‘How-Not-To-Do-It’ feature for owners and managers. It indicts the Bulls management for dismantling one of the world’s most popular sports teams ever, who were right on top of their game at the time. Despite having demonstrated extraordinary skills to dominate the league for all of 6 unforgettable seasons, despite the proven loyalty, the dedication and the sacrifices made to bring the team to the top of the pedestal, the management still decided to break it up. Sure, there were salary issues that needed to be resolved, but to not even try solve these issues was a big mistake, immoral even. It would clearly break the hearts of millions of fans all over the world.
2. Playing to Win. Michael Jordan was not just a vicious opponent, he was at times ruthless and even tyrannical to some of his teammates. He justified his ‘tough love’ relationship with his teammates, saying that there are sacrifices that need to be taken in order to be a winner. There is a whole lot of effort – that spells blood, sweat and tears – that goes with success. It’s a price you have to pay. You want to be a winner? You want to achieve your goal in life? You have to work for it, you have to practice hard for it, you have to be passionate about it, you have to put your heart and soul into it. You have to have a single-minded commitment to pursue it. Michael had a ‘Play to Win’ attitude, and he wanted to imbibe the high standards of excellence and the concomitant responsibilities that go with it on the entire team.
3. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. But notwithstanding the diversity of personalities and skill levels in the team, Phil Jackson was able to weave through the maize and create a success story from different, yet convergent minds. Phil was a Zen master who had a demeanor and a coaching philosophy that was both laid-back, yet demanding and made everyone accountable. That Michael Jordan – despite his immense talent and stature – would allow Phil to impose the triangle offense on him, thereby limiting his offensive talent; that the unpredictable Dennis Rodman would allow himself to be reined in; these were just some of the successes that Phil had to work for in order to succeed. Hence, life may deal you a different set of cards, but if you know how to piece them together, you can still create a hand to trump everyone else.
There were many more lessons, many more poignant stories – even of rivalries and petty differences – that the documentary unveiled before us. Suffice it to say that the series simply articulated the humanity of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, the mercurial Dennis Rodman and the rest of the crew. They may have been extraordinary superior beings on the court, but they all had their frailties, their doubts and weaknesses as well. But in the end, theirs became a collective success borne out of endless hours of sacrifice, of practice, of perseverance, and of total teamwork.
Jordan and the Bulls were not just NBA champions, not just a sports team. They were a period phenomenon that crossed cultures, even generations. The Bulls management failed to recognize this, and thus, were not able to optimize their impact on a rapidly developing global sports environment.
Watch the docu. Be entertained, be happy, be a couch potato sportsfan. Bring out your popcorn and beer. Cheer or jeer to your heart’s content. But more than that, be enlightened. Learn the lessons. Walk the talk. ‘The Last Dance’ was a gift to us, with wonderful lessons weaved into it – of sacrifice, of frustrations, of trials and triumphs, of leadership, of love, of life itself. You want to succeed in life? Be like Mike.
Cover photo courtesy of NBC Sports. Other pics courtesy of Variety Mag, MassLive.com, The Robb Report, Deadline, The Daily Express, Screen rant, The Guardian, Golf Digest, Clutch Points, Essentially Sports, Bleacher Report, Deseret News, trent Photos, Daily News, Chicago Tribune, CBS Sports, Espn.com, SB Nation and NBA.com. For a closer view, just click on the pics.