ESPN’s timing could not be any better. ‘The Worldwide Leader in Sports’ has been without live sports for a little more than a month, but the network has still been able to capture the world’s attention for two hours every Sunday night.
For many, ‘The Last Dance’ has filled a major void where they would usually be watching the NBA playoffs or Major League Baseball. The documentary chronicling Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls is a nice trip down memory lane for many sports fans, and for some it’s an educational experience about one of the sports’ greats.
I am grateful for the series. As a person who loves sports so much that I wanted to make a career out of writing about it, the series is providing a nice distraction during an otherwise stressful time.
I fall into the age bracket that doesn’t have the vivid memories of Jordan in his prime. I was 7 years old during the 1998 season that is shown in the documentary, and many would tell you that Jordan’s prime was actually five or six years before that even. The jersey I most remember seeing Jordan play in live is that of the Washington Wizards.
As a sports — and particularly basketball — junkie, I’m familiar with most the stories told in ‘The Last Dance.’ Some of the stories have different versions depending who is presenting it, but they are fascinating regardless.
The important thing to remember about ‘The Last Dance’ is that it is a documentary about an all-time great, and there is a reason that the footage from that season hasn’t been shown for 20 years. Jordan has to approve before any of the footage can be used.
A documentary about misses certainly doesn’t attract the attention like one about the makes do. And more importantly, it doesn’t get M.J. to sign off on it.
Producer Mike Tollin says that Jordan gave his approval for the documentary to be made on the same day that LeBron James and the Cavaliers were having their championship parade through Cleveland after winning the 2016 title. Jordan and James are most people’s top two players of all-time in some order, so it seems unlikely that was a coincidence.
The ultra-competitive Jordan isn’t about to cede the greatest of all-time argument. The thought of the film being a way to stroke Jordan’s ego is common among many of his peers.
Director Jason Hehir was recently on ‘The Dan Patrick Show’ and discussed trying to convince John Stockton to participate. Stockton was one of the stars of the Utah Jazz team that the Bulls beat in the ’98 Finals and was a top-5 point guard of all time.
His inclusion in the project feels like a must. Hehir apparently thought so, too.
“I finally got (Stockton) on the phone after like two years of chasing him,” Hehir said. “(Stockton) said, ‘I don’t want to be a part of a Michael Jordan puff piece.’”
While Stockton eventually agreed to participate, his point still stands.
This is a documentary about the greatness of Michael Jordan. Even in portraying his weak moments like last Sunday when it touched on his gambling problems, it is told from the Jordan point of view and nothing is allowed in the show that he doesn’t approve of.
I am all for learning about the Jordan glory years, and I love that some people are getting a closer look at their favorite players and teams. If, however, you try to use ‘The Last Dance’ as evidence that Jordan is the greatest player of all-time, that is where you lose me.
I could show you 10 hours of anyone’s highlights, and following it you’d be pretty convinced that player was amazing if you had no other context.
I’m not saying M.J. isn’t the greatest of all-time. I don’t have the context to compare Jordan to James, or Jordan to Bill Russell, or James to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Abdul-Jabbar to Wilt Chamberlain, or Chamberlain to George Mikan.
LeBron James is the greatest basketball player I’ve ever seen play. That is how I define my rankings, and its based on a little more than 20 years of watching basketball. If you are in your 40s, maybe Jordan is yours. If you are in your 50s, maybe it’s Magic Johnson. If you’re in your 60s, maybe it’s Abdul-Jabbar.
Maybe it’s someone else entirely. That is your decision. Just don’t be that person who cites a ‘puff piece’ as the reason why someone is wrong for having a different opinion than you.
Highlights are great. Statistics are better for ranking players. But at the end of the day, sports are meant to be enjoyed in the moment and that is the only way to get a true sense of a player’s greatness.
In this moment without real sports, ‘The Last Dance’ is a welcome distraction. It, however, is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to age-old sports arguments.
All that being said, if you are trying to find me tonight, I’ll be doing my social distancing while planted on my couch watching ‘The Last Dance’ along with the rest of the country.