‘The Last Dance’ offers great insight into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls

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Last Dance Chicago Bulls

Sports documentaries have always been one of the most popular forms of entertainment, as the general public loves getting the inside scoop on their favourite sports teams and players. With the coronavirus forcing the majority of people to stay indoors, there has been a huge spike in demand for content to keep people occupied, and it was this reason, coupled with the lack of live sporting events to broadcast, which led ESPN to move up the release of their ten-part documentary on the Chicago Bulls, titled ‘The Last Dance’. Broadcast by ESPN and Netflix, this series has been a runaway hit, as it has shown a side of the Bulls, and particularly Jordan, that had never been seen in public before.

It is difficult to overstate the impact Michael Jordan had on sports, and the wider world of popular culture, in the 1980s and 1990s. His deal with Nike, for example, was one of the earliest examples of a blockbuster merchandising deal in sports, with the sportswear firm netting over $120 million from sales of AirJordan sneakers in just the first year of the deal. For context, they had planned on generating around $3-4 million over the life of the four-year deal, showing just how big an icon Jordan had become. His singular need to win overrode everything else, and also inspired his teammates, such as Sam Kerr, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to greater heights. That Bulls team went from being an irrelevance in the NBA when Jordan joined them, to one of the most legendary teams in the history of the sports when he hung up his boots for the second time in 1999. ‘The Last Dance’ does an incredible job of detailing Jordan and the Bulls’ journey from also-rans to the team to beat in the NBA, with MJ’s issues with general manager Jerry Krause also being showcased.

Another extremely interesting facet of Jordan which comes to light in the series was his need for gambling. While there were many fans and journalists who believed this to be an addiction, Jordan goes on record on to state that this was not true, since he could stop gambling at any time he wanted. It was, in his own words, an addiction to competition and winning which led to his gambling habits. There is a detailed look at this in episode six of the series, which also shows how Jordan took off to a VIP casino in Atlantic City with his father and friends in the middle of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals, with the Bulls trailing 2-0 to the New York Knicks. This caused a media storm of unimaginable proportions, with many outlets reporting that Jordan only returned to the team hotel in the early hours of the morning. Jordan has strenuously denied this, saying that he was in bed by 1 am, and has also stated that his off-field habits should not be a problem as long as he was not breaking any laws, and they were not affecting his on-field performance. Nevertheless, with MJ seen as a role model, most journalists and media outlets lambasted him for this, and the added pressure and scrutiny brought on by this episode was a big reason behind his sudden and surprise retirement from the sport at the end of the season. Of course, he did return 18 months later after an ill-fated attempt to break into Major League Baseball, but the effects of this scrutiny have arguably lived on ever since.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest sportsmen to have ever lived, and is arguably equal to Muhammad Ali in stature and fame all over the world. ‘The Last Dance’ does a superb job of showing a side of him that had hitherto never been seen in public, and is a must-watch for all sports fans, even if you have never watched a game of basketball, because chances are, you would have still heard of Michael Jordan.