Written by: Trey Stewart
All throughout the 1990s, Michael Jordan blossomed into a world-renowned superstar, becoming the savior for not only the Chicago Bulls, but for the entire sport of basketball.
More than twenty years later, the COVID-19 pandemic provided Jordan the opportunity to this time save not just basketball, but the vast landscape of the sporting world.
“The Last Dance,” a docuseries based around the life of Jordan, began airing on April 19, 2020, slightly over a month after sports were shut down altogether. ESPN, reeling for quality content, decided it to be in everyone’s best interest to move the series forward from its originally-scheduled June release date.
The move proved to be an undeniable success, with each episode of the series drawing record-high viewership for ESPN.
Now, being someone lacking the proper TV plan needed in order to view the documentary at the time, I was limited to waiting impatiently for the series to be released on Netflix in the United States. Exactly three months after the first episode aired on ESPN, I finally managed to sit down and take in the ordeal, binging all ten episodes as soon as they became available on Netflix.
It was well worth the wait.
The series was told in a style akin to that of a memoir, centering around the dismantling of the Chicago Bulls dynasty in 1998. Accompanying the constant flashes forward in time were throwback footage from Jordan’s life, from his days at UNC to his gambling controversies throughout the early 90s.
But above the unprecedented coverage this series granted to the average American viewer, it cemented a truth that is perhaps unbeknownst to a generation deprived of watching MJ play in real-time: Michael Jordan’s legacy and impact make him the undisputed greatest basketball player of all-time.
No knock to the likes of LeBron James, of course. There’s still plenty more of his career yet to unfold. The time to reflect on his esteemed career will soon come.
But as a former apologist for the LeBron G.O.A.T argument, watching “The Last Dance” swung the pendulum on my opinion and mindset.
Few athletes, or human beings for that matter, can lay claim to a greater legacy than that of Michael Jordan. Jordan’s story is one that filmmakers and writers devour, one of seemingly endless bumps in the road, leading to an eventual storybook climactic success. And in Jordan’s case, that level of success is yet to be replicated by anyone in sports history.
As entranced viewers watch Jordan’s career unfold, each chapter of his has its inevitable triumph.
His college career at UNC caps off with a game-winning shot to clinch the NCAA title over Georgetown.
His Olympic endeavors showcase him as a global icon, becoming a part of the “Dream Team,” a legendary compilation of basketball talent that cruised to a gold medal in 1992.
And his NBA career? You likely already know all about it. Shelves full of personal awards outshone by the six titles won throughout Jordan’s career, highlighted by back-to-back three-peats in the 90s.
Throughout the series, the filmmakers cut from interview-to-interview, collecting thoughts and opinions from some of basketball’s legends of the game and journalists alike. The one commonality between almost every one of them? Competitive respect.
From John Stockton to Magic Johnson and even all the way down to arguably MJ’s most-hated enemy Isiah Thomas, it would be a challenging task to attempt to find a former foe that didn’t feel a sense of respect or gratefulness for everything Jordan did for the game of basketball.
Kobe Bryant referred to Jordan as his “big brother,” during one portion of the series, highlighting Jordan’s passion to see the game carried out the right way by his succeeding generations.
Even Jordan’s former teammates, some of whom told stories of hellish episodes at practices led by taunting and berating from Jordan, displayed a type of admiration for their former teammate few athletes could ever warrant.
Take Steve Kerr, for example. During a practice in 1995, Kerr’s face found itself on the unfortunate end of Jordan’s fist.
“Practices were really intense,” Kerr explained. “Practice fights — not only on that team, there were probably three of ’em during the year on that team — on every team I played on in the late 80s, early 90s, there were a few practice fights. There was just a lot of competition, things would get out of hand, and it really wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. For me in that case, Michael was definitely testing me, and I responded, and I feel like I passed the test and he tested me more afterwards.”
The overarching conclusion I, along with many viewers, have come to after becoming wrapped up in the enamor of “The Last Dance” is this: Michael Jordan is arguably the most iconic athlete of all-time.
To define greatness as limited to moments on a hardwood court or turf-laden field would be asinine. Jordan would have a well-rounded case nonetheless, but his impact stretched so much farther than that.
Jordan has a legacy that will likely remain unmatched for decades to come. He is a true legend in every sense of the word, the type of figure who your father would be honored to sit you down on the couch and tell you reminiscent tales of.
Beloved by an entire generation of basketball fans and players alike, “The Last Dance” perfectly encapsulates exactly how important Michael Jordan was to the world that adored him.
My one piece of advice to anyone planning to take in the series? Watch with an open heart and an open mind. Press play with an intent not to critique, but to simply admire a true saint of a game now adorn by millions.
It’s the only way to properly appreciate everything that Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all-time, was.