If you have not watched the documentary series “The Last Dance”, you are missing out. This series was fascinating in several ways; the egos of everyone from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, to Dennis Rodman and of course GM Jerry Krause. The behind the scenes stuff that none of us ever saw before it really cool. And then the dynamic of Phil Jackson, considered by many to be one of if not the best coach in NBA history. He is his usual consistent, defusing self in all of the interviews and the footage from the early nineties. He went on to coach the Lakers to several more championships after his time in Chicago as the Bull Head Coach. Even if this story is new to you, if you are any kind of sports fan I think you will dig it.
I remember these days. I was not necessarily a Bulls fan, but I was a Jordan fan. There are MANY people who say the same thing, that Jordan was the reason they watched basketball. You knew that you were watching greatness, that history could be made anytime he was on the floor. He transcended basketball and even sports as a whole. He became a global icon in the time before the internet was an everyday thing we all took for granted, and long before the rise of social media. In some ways, it is probably better for Jordan to have come along then versus now, as there is a camera in every smartphone on the planet.
When the world is constantly watching you, there is no room for error, and every human, even Jordan, has off days, gets frustrated with pushy fans, a tough loss, etc. Rumor has it that Jordan was a terrible tipper, and I am sure that some of the wait staff in Vegas would have loved to blasted him for tipping them five dollars when Jordan’s peers were throwing hundred dollar chips on their trays. Credit Wayne Gretzky for that little gem… When the world puts you on a pedestal, there are always those looking to “expose” you, even if it is to expose your human side. We are a cruel and ruthless bunch when it comes to this stuff, and I am happy to have never reached any level of fame because of this. Looking back, I KNOW I would not have handled this well. Twenty five years later, I am still barely equipped to deal with even a small amount of this stuff.
The focus of the 10 part documentary certainly is Jordan, but the surrounding cast played a heavy role in the success he lead them to, and they are given (in my opinion) their representation throughout the series. He could not have done it alone, even though at times it seems he tried. He raised the bar for everyone around him, demanded more than some thought they could give, and shouldered most of the workload in crunch time. He missed game-winning shots, he fell short on occasion, but his drive and determination to win was matched by few others in his or any other sport. He captivated our hearts and minds with what he did, leading the Bulls to two separate 3-peats. Yes, for you nubiles, that is three championships in a row, and he and the Bulls did it twice in an eight year span.
Watching the documentary was interesting for me, as there were things that Jordan did that I totally identified with, both good and bad. Now, to clarify, I am not putting myself or my athletic career on par with his, not even close. But the drive to win, sometimes at all costs, was one of the core themes of his career on the court, and at times that damaged relationships with peers, friends and supports alike. Even though he was at the top of the game, he still outworked everyone else to stay there. I did that; I did it more out of the knowledge that I got a late start at my craft and I was making up for lost time. But I get it. I had a direct competitor in my home town that I faced in the finals for most of the finals I was ever in.
In my book Percentage Racquetball, I dive into this a little more. It was a great motivation for me, and I used his presence, his threat to my goals and my accolades, to drive my game to higher and higher levels. As best I can calculate, I had a five year period where I went 135-9 in tournament matches in Arizona. The nine losses were mostly due to a Pro tournament being hosted here and me losing to a high ranking pro who had come to town for that event. Throw in a few other random losses and one complete meltdown during the State Championships and that was the nine times I lost.
During this run, I wasn’t aware of these numbers. In fact, I was very guilty of not celebrating the wins I was having, for not taking a deep breath once in a while and relaxing, or even taking a break in general. I am sure these poor traits led to my burnout. I would NEVER let one of my students follow in my exact footsteps; in hindsight it was ridiculous. But when I saw the documentary and realized that this trait is common among the elite of the elite. Jordan, Kobe, Gretzky, and many others who dominated their sport all had this same drive and determination to win, to achieve, to succeed. I am sure that I modeled that behavior after those guys, with my own twist on it. And again, Pro Racquetball isn’t the same stage or level of competition or anything like that, but it was ***MY BIG TIME, and that’s what mattered to me.
It turns out that watching and mimicking the people at the top of their game helped me reach the top of mine. That has become my main goal for my speaking and consulting gigs, returning that favor and shortening at least some of the learning curve.
Don’t ever sell your dreams short just because the world doesn’t see them.
It’s YOUR big time, and that’s what matters.
The documentary has a unique twist to it, in that everyone involved knew this was the end of an era. The reason it was called “The Last Dance” is because before the season started Phil Jackson was informed that this would be his last season as Head Coach. In his pre-season team meeting, he always hands out a synopsis for the team’s goals for the year. In this case, the title was “The Last Dance” and he made sure that this became the glue the team needed to stay together and weather the storm or questions about Jordan’s retirement, trade rumors, Phil leaving, etc. And it worked; he circled the wagons and kept this eclectic group of guys with huge egos together and on the same page through it all. To call it masterful would be selling it short. I wish I would have known when the end of my career was a y ear away. Hopefully it would have helped me enjoy the ride a little more.
Jordan was the most dominant player during his time. The comparisons with Kobe and LeBron can go on and on, but there is no doubt that he was the best of the best at that time. His drive and relentless pursuit made both team mates and competitors alike raise their game, and the world in some ways has not been the same since. He was infamously cut from his high school basketball team, and took that failure and turned it into the ultimate success story of fame, success and fortune. His famous quote is a reminder of this:
“I have missed over 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. 26 times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Truer words have never been spoken…
Michael Jordan is worth over two billion dollars today (2020)
To recap my thoughts on this:
- The documentary was well worth watching, Bulls fan or not.
- To be witness to the level of greatness that a rare few humans an provide is an education is what is possible.
- Rising above all others does not solve all your problems; in fact it causes more, or at least different problems
- A strong coach (or manager) is absolutely necessary to lead a team. Even the team leader has to buy into the coach’s approach and methods, otherwise chaos will ensue.
- A good manager or coach makes rules for everyone to follow. A Great coach knows when to break his own rules.
- Your big time is what matters; you don’t need a grand stage to validate the importance of your goals or pursuits.
Read the quote at the end again…failure is part of the deal. Get used to it.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.