THIS week was the final release for Netflix’s ten-part documentary on Michael Jordan, and in case you missed out, spoiler alert, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls win the NBA championship in 1998.
Kidding aside, The Last Dance was a time machine for me. I was transported back to my formative years, where I fell in love with competitive sports for the first time. No words will ever be able to describe seeing Jordan hit the game-winning shot for Game 1 of the 1997 Finals or the “last shot” for the deciding Game 6 win in the 1998 Finals as it unfolded before my eyes. And after Jordan retired and released a biography (For the Love of the Game), my parents bought me the book soon after. I’ve reread that book so many times that I’ve had to wrap it with plastic to prevent the book sleeve from falling apart.
The Last Dance was a nostalgia trip that cemented my views of my childhood idol. Reading about his life is one thing; actually watching it being portrayed on film was surreal. I’m sure I bugged my family more than necessary as I spouted out trivia after trivia during the course of watching the episodes. But they understand; just as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the pillars for my youngest brother’s generation, so were Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Danny Manning (you 90s kids know who I’m talking about) for ours.
I am a little bit surprised at the backlash generated for the documentary. Watching Jordan’s competitive drive burn (and burn out) his teammates made some people squeamish. There are those that disregard Jordan’s transcendental play because he was (and is) a terrible human being. My reply to these people are twofold.
First, if you cannot appreciate the passion a man feels for his craft, so much so that he tears up mid-interview literally a decade removed from his retirement, find something that moves you. Find something you are so passionate about that you are willing to be misunderstood for—even villainized—if it means watching that goal come into fruition. Then you’ll get it. Jordan’s work ethic was his calling card, even outhustling young bucks at age forty on a Washington Wizards team going nowhere, and we would serve well to learn from it.
Second, just because Jordan isn’t a role model does not diminish his accomplishments. If you are looking for a paragon of virtue to emulate, you’ll have to look long and hard. We are all cracked, flawed humans who people have a litany of reasons not to follow. If “killing your idols” is your jam, go ahead. But if this is a flimsy reason to not have to hold yourself to a higher standard, we can agree to disagree.
The Last Dance taught me to actively find people I can measure myself against. Mentors, friends, even rivals—it doesn’t matter. Find something (or someone) who ignites that desire to be better, one day at a time.
(I’m halfway through the documentary, so maybe expect a Part 2 on this?)