Tonight marks the premiere of “The Last Dance,” the much-anticipated documentary about Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls.
I’m certain it’s going to be a very entertaining 10-episode peek behind the scenes of a great NBA team. A film crew was embedded with the Bulls throughout that season and these sorts of inside looks at teams are always illuminating. You can go all the way back to hockey’s “The Boys on the Bus” about the Edmonton Oilers and baseball’s great “It’s a Long Way to October,” Ted Turner’s inside story of a season with his Atlanta Braves. Great entertainment.
This one, given all the quirky personalities involved with that Bulls' dynasty, from GM Jerry Krause, to Coach Phil Jackson, to Dennis Rodman, to Jordan himself, promises to be both funny and shocking.
But I wouldn’t expect any great revelations out of this about the bewildering mysteries of Jordan’s career. This film, the brainchild of NBA Entertainment’s Andy Thompson (Mychal’s brother and Klay’s uncle, by the way), was made possible only because Adam Silver, head of NBAE at the time, made an agreement that none of the footage could be used without Jordan’s permission. Apparently Jordan had complete control.
And since there's a generation out there that has never heard some of this stuff, it doesn't hurt to review it now, in case the documentary doesn't hit on it.
Jordan never seemed to mind that his bullying form of leadership, which included mental and even physical abuse of teammates, was known. He always seemed to take some sort of macho pride in it. And while I have not seen the film, I’m sure you’ll hear the whole story of how he flattened teammate Steve Kerr with a punch during practice. You might even get to see him belittling or demeaning his teammates -- he is famous for it. Just toughening them up, he will say.
What you won’t hear, though, is any genuine explanation for why he left basketball for two years under the guise of trying baseball as a career -- a move that never seemed to make much sense and was shrouded in all sorts of rumors.
You will hear about his gambling exploits, too, I’m guessing, but not about his reputation for not paying when he lost bets -- be it on the golf course or in a casino.
The real story of MJ's career may never be told. The mysterious foray into baseball will probably forever remain an unanswered question.
What you will see in "The Last Dance" is the Bulls -- and particularly Jordan -- treated like something more than great basketball players.
This era was the birth of the NBA’s special version of fandom that exists even today, more common in this sport than any other. Beyond hero worship, it’s a cult of personality:
The term cult of personality gets thrown around quite a bit. But what does it mean? Cult of personality is a term, usually pejorative in nature, which refers to a situation where a public figure is presented to the populace via propaganda as an amazing person who should be admired, loved, and respected.