What time is it?! Time for another thrilling 2 hours of The Last Dance. Episodes 5 & 6 did not focus on other key members of the Chicago Bulls. Besides giving a brief history of Toni Kukoc’s career, we got a glimpse into the daily grind of being Michael Jordan. The “brand” of Jordan is synonymous with Nike. You do not have to be a basketball fan to know this. The Air Jordan shoes were everywhere. It is inconceivable that we lived in a world where Nike was considered as the small upstart company behind Adidas and Converse in the early 1980s.
The new era would be about Michael Jordan. Previously, NBA players would appear in shoe commercials with their uniforms. For Jordan, it was just himself. The shoes were cool and became a part of the fashion lexicon. Jordan became a pop culture icon. In the eyes of the NBA elite, the Dream Team was the crowning achievement in the basketball realm.
The Legendary Dream Team Practice
The Dream Team is the best basketball team ever assembled. This would be the first time NBA players would participate in the Olympics. The Dream Team helped shape how the world felt about the NBA. Jordan was determined to lead the pack. It certainly manifested during practice.
Magic Johnson’s team was beating Jordan’s team in practice. The trash talking was plentiful. Magic’s team was up about 8 points. Magic foolishly remarked,
Look man, if you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we gonna blow you out.
Jordan quickly showed Magic and the rest of team who the best player is. Jordan’s team was winning shortly thereafter, and Magic was livid. The documentary has the actual footage of this practice and you can hear the two legends jawing at each other.
Jordan’s Relationship with the Media
In the previous episodes, Jordan was depicted as someone who would tolerate the media. In 1998, he was asked relentlessly on whether he was retiring. You can tell Jordan was annoyed answering the same question over and over, but his answer was diplomatic. When The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith came out in 1992, Jordan’s image took a hit. Before the days of internet, fans got this type of editorial only through books. A look behind the scenes away from the perfect ‘Be Like Mike’ commercials was alarming to the fans and mainstream media.
Initially, the criticism did not bother Jordan, especially on the court. It came to a head with a trip to a casino after game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993. The Knicks were up 2-0 and the media was rabid to jump on it. Jordan took great exception to the overblown coverage. He adamantly denies that he has a gambling problem. Jordan would not address the media for days.
Jordan’s gambling has always been a taboo topic. The NBA was in a rough spot. Do they suspend the biggest cash cow in the world? Jordan used gambling as a source of distraction and relaxation. He insisted that it is his hobby.
The documentary beautifully weaves in different moments of Jordan yearning to relax. Multiple trips to the golf course. Jordan smoking a cigar on a hotel couch and watching tv. The constant barrage of media, fans, and pressure of being the icon wore on Jordan. More than he admitted publicly when he retired both times.
Tim Hallam, Chicago Bulls Sr. Director of Public and Media Relations, remarks,
I wouldn’t want to be like Mike. It’s an impossible task.
Jordan Not Being Vocal on Social Injustice
In previous episodes of the Last Dance, there was a lot of shade thrown at Jerry Krause and players like Isiah Thomas. Of course, there was some (sorry Clyde Drexler), but this week they focused on a topic that was nowhere on my radar. It was the 1990 Senate race in North Caroline between Jesse Helms, the Republican incumbent, and Harvey Gantt. If Gantt were to win, he would be the first African American in North Carolina elected to the Senate.
Jordan refused to appear in a commercial supporting Gantt. The statement given.
Republicans buy sneakers too.
Jordan did not consider himself an activist like Muhammad Ali was. He admits that was selfish, but Jordan wanted to focus on basketball. The quote was said in jest and seeds of distrusting the media started to grow even in 1990. Jordan made sure to clear up that he did send a contribution to the campaign. He mainly felt uncomfortable representing a guy he did not know.
Unfortunately, this week had to come to an end. As usual, they need more than ten episodes to tell the entire story. Next week we get to hear Jordan’s perspective on his first retirement. That was a very controversial time. Obviously because of the biggest athlete in the world leaving basketball, but also because of the murder of his father. There was a 30 for 30 about Jordan’s time playing baseball, but does not have his crucial perspective.