“The Last Dance” Episodes 5 + 6

Less than a minute into episode 5 of “The Last Dance” and I can feel the tears forming. 24 seconds exactly after hearing the late announcer Stuart Scott’s voice, we see 19-year old Kobe Bean Bryant pass Michael Jordan in the hallway during his first All Star game.

What followed was approximately five minutes of footage featuring “His Airness” and “The Black Mamba” going at it, exchanging taunts, but mostly exchanging praise. Kobe entered the NBA being looked at as the next Michael Jordan, and while at first Michael was having none of it, by the end of his career Bryant was praised by Jordan as being an all time great. RIP Mamba.

Episode 5 builds up to Episode 6, which focuses on the Jordan “Gambling” crisis, in what is in my opinion a pretty humorous nod to Jordan’s gambling addiction. Episode 5 lays out how Jordan was able to afford his gambling addiction: “Air Jordan.”

“Air Jordan” was MJ’s shoe line, which took Michael from All Star to Super Star. His shoes were an immediate hit and would ultimately completely shake up the fashion industry. Up until Jordan’s shoe line, sneakers were used primarily for playing basketball. No one would just wear a pair of basketball sneakers with their jeans, they were for sport.

Not anymore. The “Air Jordan 1”, Michael’s first basketball shoe which was projected to make $3 Million by the end of year 4, made $126 Million in year 1. Not only could Mike blow everyone’s minds on the court, no one could have predicted how successful his shoe line would be.

The craziest was that it was Nike’s first basketball shoe. At the time, Nike was a track shoe company that wasn’t extremely popular. Jordan helped make Nike what it is now by choosing them over more popular brands such as Adidas and Puma because Nike offered him a much higher stake in the shoe-line.

Boy did that product pay off. Today MJ is the only basketball player to ever be worth over a billion dollars.

What sent MJ from “Super Star” to “International Icon” was the 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball team, better known as “The Dream Team.”

While overseas, the U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball team (comprised of primarily NBA players for the first time ever) absolutely DOMINATED the WORLD. This team was on a level never seen before and standing out in a sea of stars was Michael Jordan.

There were billboards of him is Barcelona. He couldn’t leave his hotel room without being swarmed by a mass of flashing lights and screaming fans. For most people this would be insufferable, and it was no different for Jordan. There are multiple clips of interviews in the episode of MJ saying he “hates” the attention.

Episode 6: The Price of Fame. Michael was a competitor. It’s what made him stand out as the greatest athlete of all time, and that competitiveness became an obsession that bled into his personal life.

Jordan loved winning, and he wanted you to know it. MJ wanted everybody to know he was better than all, no matter what the contest nor who the contestant. Sometimes, this led to some shady business.

Lots of his escapades are covered in this episode, including his run in with mobsters James “Slim” Bouler and Richard Esquinas, or the time he was at a casino until 2 AM the night before a playoff game.

What struck me most was Jordan’s denial of having a gambling problem, which is obvious. Having enough money to cover all the bets masks the problem I guess.

Episode 6 ends with a cliffhanger, the Bulls have advanced to the 1998 NBA Finals. The viewer is left with the excitement and anticipation of episodes 7 and 8, but I felt there was more to these episodes. These installments were raising a question, but it took me a while to figure out what the question was.

It nagged at me, and I had to re-watch them again, and then, as I was watching episode 6, his Greatness summed it up almost perfectly for me when he talks about his role off the court in an almost angry fashion, almost as if he’s upset the reporter asked. He makes it clear his focus is the sport of basketball and being dominant on the court.

Episode 5 shows MJ on a pedestal. We see him at the height of his career, adored by fans across the globe.

Episode 6 shows MJ being torn down by the media for his gambling problems, and the world stops seeing him as this perfect Godlike character.

The question that’s raised isn’t whether it’s better to be perfect, because that’s impossible. Obviously Michael Jordan wasn’t going to be the best basketball player in the world and loved by everyone forever. It’s impossible to expect that much, even though that’s what was expected of him. It occurred to me that someone else comes to mind.

The question that is raised is whether it’s more important to be more focused on the court, and dominate the sport, or to use your already existing dominance on the court as a platform to be a public inspiration.

Either way, the expectations are high, but that’s why MJ is considered by many to be the greatest of all time.

Jordan argued that being a dominate basketball player is what mattered to him. He never had intentions of being this public idol. He never wanted to be more than basketball, and to him that was OK because he was the most dominant and skilled player to ever attempt the game.

To me, Beau Russell, that didn’t sit right, and it reminded me why I don’t consider MJ the “GOAT.” To me, if you want to be the “Greatest” of all time, you have to use your skill and talent and platform to inspire. Yes, being a dominant player and among the most skilled ever is a prerequisite to enter the GOAT conversation, but where Jordan falls short for me is his lack of philanthropy. If you’re the richest and best basketball player ever, in my opinion, you should start diverting your focus to things “greater” than a sport.

Lebron gets that. Lebron understands the importance placed upon his public actions and decision as the “King.”

No, Lebron doesn’t have six rings. He doesn’t have a perfect NBA Finals record. “King” James DOES have 3 championships, one of which was for his home state and was achieved by being the first team to ever come back from being down 3-1 in a finals series against the best regular season team ever; however he’s only 3-6 in the Finals.

BUT… *and it’s a big but* Lebron has never had any controversy surrounding his personal life. He’s built a school for children in under funded areas and has “promised” (the school is the “I Promise” school) to pay for students’ college tuition. Lebron has been the first to respond to many political wrong doings, and is always a voice for the voiceless.

To me, that is why James is the “Greatest” of all time. He’s the most dominant player when he’s on the court, and more importantly Lebron is “More than Basketball.”

Thanks for reading!!!

– Beau

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