I didn’t need 10 episodes to know Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but after sitting through ESPN’s The Last Dance my feeling on the matter has only grown in admiration.
I grew up in Los Angeles and never got to witness the true greatness of all six NBA championships MJ won with the Chicago Bulls. I was just 6 years old when Jordan won his final title. The biggest MJ memory from my youth involves Bugs Bunny and one of the greatest last-second wins in Looney Tunes history in the movie Space Jam.
My last five Sunday nights have been devoted to Jordan and The Last Dance documentary, and now that it's all over, I can’t help but lust after some more episodes. Here are my biggest takeaways from this instant classic.
The Last Tango in Chicago
Without spoiling more than 20-year-old NBA history, Jordan never lost in the NBA finals and that statement alone is impressive for a guy who willed his team to six title appearances.
To get inside the mind of MJ like ESPN did in The Last Dance, viewers got a “fly on the wall” perspective on an athlete who is world renown. It was so original and so well executed fans of the game of basketball can't help but be glued to their TV sets like I have been the last five weeks.
Even if you don’t know anything about basketball, this series should be looked at as a part of American history for all audiences.
Championships aside, MJ changed the game and culture forever. He globalized basketball, turned sneakers into fashion statements. He smoked cigars, was an excellent golfer and could have made it to the MLB if he wanted to. He left the game, came back, and still earned his second three-peat.
In 1992, the NBA was in 80 countries. By the end of 1998, the league was in 215 and former NBA commissioner David Stern credits that in large part to Michael Jordan. What’s most impressive is MJ always let his game do the talking. He did this in a world without social media.
MJ vs. Kobe vs. LeBron
I have always picked Kobe in this debate. I grew up a Lakers fan in Los Angeles. I watched every championship the Black Mamba won for my hometown, and I will never forget where I was for each of those title runs.
That being said, to hear Kobe talk about MJ in the Last Dance was really special. There’s always been that dialogue about how MJ was a big brother to Kobe, but after seeing the way Jordan moved on the court, it’s obvious Kobe was trying to replicate that to the best of his ability and earned his way into the conversation of the greatest players ever.
After 12 seasons with the Bulls, MJ earned the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times and a six-time NBA Finals MVP. He never got to the finals and didn’t finish the job. That's more than Kobe and LeBron can say.
Still, Lebron’s performance against the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals was the greatest performance by an NBA player ever. LeBron fulfilled his lifelong promise to the city of Cleveland, bringing the city a championship for the first time in 50-plus years. The Cavaliers overcame insurmountable odds by rallying out of a 3-1 series deficit to a Warriors team that set an NBA record, winning 73 regular-season games and looking to three-peat as a dynasty.
LeBron stopped all of that. The chase-down block will remain one of the greatest highlights in NBA history, and LBJ continues to move the game forward as a member of the Lakers. This debate will always go on, but I think we’ve all been lucky over the last 30 years to be blessed with the most talented field of basketball players on the planet.
What happened to the Wizards?
My biggest issue with The Last Dance stems with the end of Jordan’s basketball career after he announced his second retirement in January 1999.
Jordan said his decision was because he had lost the drive and desire that was necessary to continue playing at such a high level. Jordan went as far as saying he was “99.9 percent” sure he would not be returning to the NBA after this retirement,
But never say never.
A year later, Jordan would become part-owner and president of basketball operations of the Washington Wizards. The Wizards won 19 games in Jordan’s first year in this new position. Jordan brought in former Bulls coach Doug Collins and began a rebuild of his own.
In September 2001, a 38-year-old Michael Jordan came out of retirement one final time and signed as a free agent to the Wizards. That was the real last dance.
Despite getting himself into playing shape and scoring his 30,000th career point against his former team, Jordan was unable to lead Wizards into playoff contention.
As a Wizard, Jordan earned two All-Star selections while averaging 21.2 points per game. He would later retire for a third and final time in April 2003.
This chapter of Jordan’s career was incredibly interesting, and I wish the documentary would have explored a little more on why he came back a third time. He didn’t need the fame or the money. What was the motivating factor behind a third NBA return in his late-30s? A question we will never know.
But 10 episodes later, I'm ready to say Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Fans of the late ’80s and '90s know that as creed, and now the new age of basketball fans can be filled in.
In a time without sports, who better than Jordan to bring the country together to relive his Hall of Fame career. Hell, he might have just been involved in the greatest sports documentary of all time.
Throw on The Last Dance. You won't be disappointed.
Julian Del Gaudio was once Nevada Sports Net's self-proclaimed Minister of Culture before losing that title in landslide fashion. But he knows about movies and will post a Film Friday review every week. You contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JulianDelGaudio.