The Last Dance (10 episodes)
Stream on Netflix et al
Why watch a 10-part Netflix series on Michael Jordan and the NBA dynasty Chicago Bulls?
Answer: To reaffirm that exceptional talent, actualized with laser-focused concentration, makes individual athletes great, but that unselfishness makes teams great.
That wisdom is transferable to all aspects of life.
These truths emerge from the thought-provoking ESPN documentary “The Last Dance,” which starts out as if it will be a fawning tribute to MJ, but ends up delivering life lessons for us all.
After MJ hit his iconic jump shot to win his final championship, I gave out five series-ending awards:
Most Valuable Player (MVP): Michael Jordan
Most Valuable Human Being (MVHB): Steve Kerr
Most Valuable Coaches (MVC): Dean Smith & Phil “Zen” Jackson
Most Valuable Follower (MVF): Scottie Pippen
Most Valuable Mom (MVM): Doloris Jordan
To understand these awards is to appreciate “The Last Dance.”
MVP: Jordan was obsessed with winning, and would do almost anything to achieve that. As a high school sophomore Mike was cut from the varsity. His response: get stronger, practice more, grow taller.
Coaches taught him to look for the open man and to trust his teammates. He unselfishly passed to Steve Kerr for the winning shot in a crucial game. They taught him to meditate and focus on the moment. Teammates say “he played every game like it was his last.” He played through pain. He absorbed those lessons to become the NBA’s GOAT.
MVHB: Warriors coach Steve Kerr played beside Jordan. He emerges as the gentle soul of a team overflowing with big egos. Kerr’s father, an academic, was killed in Beirut while serving as a college president. The death clearly left son Steve vulnerable, with no illusions about happy endings.
Counting coaching, Kerr has won more titles (8) than Jordan, and he possessed something Jordan lacked: Humility. Jordan was taught that passes lead to wins. Kerr passed because he was an unselfish person – a very different mindset. Jordan was always fabricating motivation by hating an opponent. Kerr could respect his opponents while still beating them.
Jordan was great. Kerr was classy. There’s a difference.
MVC: Jordan was mentored by two coaches who instilled in him the locker room cliché: There’s no “I” in team. Dean Smith of North Carolina taught him to pass, to look for open teammates and to see the game as organic. Jordan learned that an unselfish whole can exceed the sum of its parts.
Phil Jackson, preaching Buddhist principles, reinforced that message with his famous triangle offense that emphasized passing and team dynamics. Jackson parented a group of outrageously overblown superstar egos. He even forgave the outrageous Dennis Rodman. He allowed players to be individuals off the court, while insisting on team play when the whistle blew. Breathe in, breathe out, pass.
MVF: Scottie Pippen, “Robin to Batman,” was an underpaid “Number Two,” who didn’t fight for the spotlight. Pippen understood followership, a leadership theory based on service, not power. He called Michael, “Black Jesus,” an affectionate admission he was part of MJ’s congregation. Pippen has a very sweet mom. “I know I love him, and I think he loves me.” Mom was proud of her champion, a servant in her mold.
MVM: Throughout the series, Jordan’s mom, Doloris, talks about her son. She clearly instilled a willingness to work hard and to respect his mentors. “MJ’s parents did their job,” said Coach Dean Smith. Jordan loved his dad, but his winning DNA seems an outgrowth of a wise mom who loved him unconditionally. She raised a good kid, who, by the way, could shoot pretty well.
Postgame notes: Dozens of heart-stopping games are recounted down to the last shot. We are treated to close ups of great teams: Bad-boy Detroit Pistons, Larry-Bird-coached Indiana Pacers and Magical LA Lakers. We also are treated to profiles of Rodman, Pippen, Kerr, Jackson et al.
I embraced “The Last Dance” because, while tiring of “We Are the Champions,” we affirm a universal truth that only by loving one another can a community maximize its potential.
Michael Jordan grew a little too big for his gym shorts at times. But thanks to mentors like his mom, Steve Kerr and Dean Smith, he learned to rein in his pride. The Bulls won six titles, not Michael.
“Last Dance” encourages us all to teach our players and our children to pass five times before they shoot.