Just like MJ did in Laney High and Scottie did in Hamburg High, the SLAM PH Team will be doing a “Book Report” on each week’s drop of The Last Dance. Here’s the report on episodes 7 and 8.
In episode 2 of The Last Dance, Larry Bird referred to the documentary’s protagonist as, “God, disguised as Jordan.” Many long-time NBA fans would know that Bird simply repeated this famous quote which he had initially said after MJ scored 63 points against his top-seeded Celtics back in 1986.
That divine description given so early in the career of Jordan has always felt like an apt way to describe the player many refer to as the GOAT. In the Last Dance’s first six episodes, we saw Jordan conquer the NBA gauntlet multiple times, take pole position in leading the best USA team of all-time to Olympic gold, and outright earn the “best player” moniker from even the greats that came before him. There was very little that could sway us away from the idea that Jordan was the closest thing to immortality that the basketball world has ever seen.
But in the penultimate pair of episodes of The Last Dance, we entered the massive roadblock in Jordan’s career; a side of his life that is anything but divine. For once, the man who was described in the first episodes as being “as good at his job than anyone has been… in anything” was a relatable figure for the masses.
A trait that often separated Jordan from the field was his uncanny drive and passion to succeed; Jordan had the Mamba Mentality before Kobe made it vogue. But after winning his third title in 1993, Jordan lost the will to play the game. What was once the most important thing in his life was now meaningless — a feeling that I think us mortals are all well-aware of.
Jordan’s flame was never supposed to die. Even our romanticized memories of Jordan often overlook just how much the game of basketball drove our most distinct basketball god to exhaustion.
When he returned late in the 1995 season, so did the idea that he was back to smoke the rest of the league. He quickly brushed away hecklers when in just his fifth game back, he dropped 55 points against the Knicks, who were the previous year’s runner-up.
But once the playoffs came, Jordan was clearly not the Adonis he once was. He was still one of the best in the world, but by no means was he superhuman. The Orlando Magic proved that by eliminating him from the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
We know now that Jordan would go on to never lose another playoff series, but at that moment, Jordan lost. He actually fell short.
Behind the scenes, Jordan was also portrayed as more of a tyrant. Towards the end of episode 7, the likes of Will Purdue and B.J. Armstrong were featured as being quite critical of the way Jordan carried himself as a teammate. Jordan is perceived to be apathetic about these types of critiques, but as the episode came to a close, Jordan teared-up in response to questions on the perception of his character. Jordan, like us, has his insecurities. He cares about the way people think about him, even when he says he doesn’t. It’s clear simply through his still ongoing rift with a one-time close friend, Charles Barkley.
However, it was ironically after he had once again returned to the peak of the NBA mountain that Jordan’s humanity was most prevalent. Jordan had a renewed sense of motivation after a rare defeat, and in his first full season back, he avenged himself and his Chicago Bulls by winning the NBA Championship in 1996.
The man whose greatness had made him a godly figure quickly reclaimed his rightful place, one that was head and shoulders above his peers. But during a moment normally saved for pure and vulnerable joy, he fell to the ground and wept.
Tasting the ecstasy of a championship was not enough to fully relieve him from the pain of the tragic loss of his father, even some years later. Because despite being crowned champion, once again being given the distinction of Best Player in the World, or even proclaimed as a basketball god, Jordan had a love that surpassed his love for the game of basketball: His Father.
He was perched on top of the world, but the feeling was clearly not the same without the man who was always by his side. Nothing made Michael Jordan more human than loving his family.
The 10-episode masterpiece comes to an end in a week’s time, but when you see come out in complete awe of the greatness of Michael Jordan, and when you rewatch the documentary over and over again like any basketball diehard, never forget the mortality that exists in the man who has so long been a figure of our idolatry.
The Last Dance Report
Episode 1 & 2: Turbulence in the Air
Episode 3 & 4: The Beautiful Marriage of the Bulls and the Triangle
Episode 5 & 6: The Difference Between Being like Mike and Being Mike
Episode 9 & 10: The Bulls were the brightest star of the 90s