Be like Mike
Everyone who grew up in the 90s remembers this tagline, but could today’s teens put a face to that catchphrase before the Crying Jordan meme hit the Internet? Now, thanks to the hugely popular docuseries, The Last Dance, all living generations finally know the story behind the basketball legend (or as much as he is willing to share in the ten-part streaming sensation).
Following Michael Jordan from his college days at UNC to his epic run with the Chicago Bulls dynasty, each episode guides you on a nonlinear journey through the highlights of his career. The series culminates with the Bulls’ final NBA championship win in 1998, picking up a truly diverse cast of characters along the way.
Michael Jordan is The Greatest of all Time
While The Last Dance features several sit-downs with Jordan himself, it’s anecdotes from his teammates, coaches, and rivals that bring Jordan’s legacy to life. The public knows him as an American hero who just may be the greatest basketball player of all time, but that drive came at a price to Jordan and everyone around him. Jordan admits, “My mentality was to go out and win at any cost. If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me.” Throughout the series, Jordan’s desire to win sometimes manifests in his being kicked out of practice for sucker-punching the smallest guy on the team, but more often it hilariously results in petty grievances being played out on the basketball court.
During his interviews, Jordan would recount a perceived slight from over two decades ago with a smile, saying, “I took that personal.” [Cut to Jordan destroying his opponents in the next game.] This recurring theme is amusing for viewers, but by all accounts “waking up” the competitive Jordan was the ultimate death wish for his rivals. They knew a spiteful Jordan could singlehandedly carry a game, even as he suffers through an acute case of food poisoning. Michael once famously said, “There is no ‘i’ in team but there is in win.”
Underrated Scottie Pippin Plays #2 to Jordan
Scottie Pippen is interwoven throughout Michael’s story in moments that lead us to alternately admire his loyalty to Jordan and contribution to the Bulls’ success and lament his cowardice in pivotal moments. Though his grudge against Bulls general manager Jerry Krause led the underpaid Pippen to resent some of his time with the team, Jordan contends, “I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen, and that’s why I consider him my best teammate of all time… Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen.”
One defining scene features Pippen refusing to play the final moments of the 1994 playoffs vs. the Knicks, angry the winning shot would be credited to teammate and Krause favorite Toni Kukoc. Just two years earlier, Dream Team standouts Jordan and Pippen had mercilessly ganged up on the Croatian forward during the 1992 Olympics in a successful effort to prove their dominance. Throughout the series, Pippen gains grit, eventually fighting through a debilitating back injury during the last two games of the 1998 NBA finals, helping Jordan lead the team to victory.
Bad Boy Dennis Rodman Steals Rebounds and Hearts
We are first introduced to the third wheel of the Jordan/Pippen duo when NBA rebound king Dennis Rodman appears early in the series as a player on the notorious Detroit Pistons. The uninhibited Bad Boys, known for beating up and bullying their opponents on the court, employ a set of “Jordan Rules” against the 6’6” superstar during the 1990 playoffs, sending the Bulls home after seven brutal games. Rodman is released from the Pistons after making news off the court, and when Jordan returns to the Bulls after an ill-fated run-in minor league baseball, the Jordan/Pippen/Rodman trio emerges.
Rodman makes colorful appearances throughout The Last Dance, living his life on the court much as he does off the court – fast-paced and fearless. Demonstrably sensitive, Rodman oscillates between dedication to the team and his desire to break free from the rigors of league life, notably requesting time off for a mid-season Vegas vacation with Playboy model Carmen Electra and not returning until summoned from his bed by Jordan. At the time, Michael prophesized, “…You let this dude go to vacation, we not gonna see him. You let him go to Vegas, we definitely not gonna see him.” Despite Rodman’s off-court antics, his teammates acknowledge his unparalleled athleticism and seem to appreciate his offbeat nature, with Coach Phil Jackson fondly referring to him as a “heyoka” or backward-walking man.
All Great Things Must Come to an End
While the ESPN series centers around Michael Jordan’s prolific career, it is the convergence of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman that makes it a must-watch for both avid and apathetic professional sports viewers alike. It’s the perfect antidote to lockdown boredom and provides a much-needed dose of inspiration. At the end of the last episode, I found myself much like a Chicago Bulls fan in 1998, wishing it wasn’t The Last Dance.
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