They say legends never die; it's more like their actions live on forever.
I've always been a Michael Jordan fan, more so than the NBA for that matter. He was always an army of one, someone who did things truly his way and lived by a code that 99% of players couldn't even locate.
When he left the game -- something that happened three different times -- I left the game as well. It lost interest. Lebron James and Kobe Bryant were close mirror talents to Jordan, but they lacked the original allure of MJ. It was wearing a vintage t-shirt and trying to look cool. When he would return, I would also rekindle my love for the game all over again, like finding those hidden sneakers in the back of the garage.
When ESPN aired its first two episodes of "The Last Dance," an event that gathered the hype and anticipation of a Marvel movie, it was like I rediscovered how great and illustrious Jordan was to the Chicago Bulls and basketball all over again. The way the docu-series went back to the players' childhoods and showed us how they were molded. The unique strand of their basketball DNA was formulated right there before our eyes. It was fascinating and intoxicating, like a huge party in a high rise building that you were given a ticket to.
What these eight hours have given me personally -- the final two hours premiere Sunday night -- is a deeper appreciation for Jordan, his game, and the overall way he operated on and off the court.
What turns off some only places more admiration in my mind for the player who refused to march to anyone else's beat. You see, there are certain sports fans who want their heroes on the court, field, or ice to be a perfect embodiment of the human species. In short, they want a robot. Jordan was anything but, and that turns people off. Not me.
When it was revealed in the docu-series that he could have helped an African American politician running for office and refused to, I liked that. Instead of merely supporting a man because they both had the same skin color, Jordan said no. I respect that. The people wanted Jordan to comply and he didn't. When asked, Jordan just didn't feel the need to let his political views fly all around his game. He was all about the game.
People forget that when Scottie Pippen, the ying to Jordan's yang, had surgery right before the 1997-98 season, Jordan came down hard on him. Pippen wanted a raise, even though he signed a seven-year deal against the advice of literally everyone when he got to Chicago. Jordan was disappointed.
But Jordan is so mean to Jerry Krause, the late Bulls GM who put together the greatest show on court. He wasn't mean. Jordan doesn't have to like his boss, especially when he's making the man look very, very good by winning six championships. What do you want Jordan to do? Cuddle Krause and say a lot of nice things about him? If it's not sincere, no one should have a desire for it. Jordan did his job on the court and Krause made a joke of himself oftentimes with the media. I like that it always has to fall down on Jordan's shoulders. Oh please, Mike, do the right thing!
I like the fact that Jordan wasn't the nicest guy to be around or toward his teammates or opponents. I love the fact that age hasn't changed or softened Jordan. He admits to being hard on his own players. He demanded greatness and if you didn't want to play on his level, you were going to hear it. Once again, it wasn't Jordan's job to cuddle grown-ups. You can be a tough leader and that's what Jordan was.
When Pippen or Dennis Rodman messed up, he would let them hear it. Instead of being Mr. Rogers to his team and general manager, Jordan showed up to the court for every game and gave 110%, even if 90% probably would have made him the best anyway. He put in the time, the hustle, and didn't quit.
But wait, he left the game in 1994? That's his choice. He won three championships and his dad died that fateful summer, so he was done. To some, it must have been the gambling. Oh my, the gambling?! Please show me one piece of concrete evidence that Jordan threw a game or made any bet that would legit impact an NBA game? There is none. He gambled like SO MANY others and it went public. No big deal, but reporters love to find bones in the closet and present them as moral deficiencies. Move on.
What Jordan did was create drama within his own brain to drive himself to be better. He would pick little battles with the opposition or pretend he heard another player chide or chirp him. You see, basketball was simply too easy for Jordan. He played on a different plane, high above most of the league. Something had to be done to increase the ante at the table for him. An extra push. That's all he did. Like a screenwriter taking a true story and beefing it up with fiction, Jordan inserted these narratives into his frontal lobe to find an extra speed or level of play. But no, it must have been the gambling and bets!! Please.
I respect the fact that Jordan still produces a chilly dialogue about Isaiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons. That team was the Broad Street bullies of the NBA in the 1980s, and they did everything to dismantle Jordan during their games. But eventually, like every other team soon discovered, Jordan prevailed and got the best of them. He put on extra muscle, came back with a vengeance, and extinguished them.
It's a shame that people want their favorite athletes to be robots. Say the right thing, do the right thing, and stay away from the trouble. The only "trouble" Jordan ever got into was the gambling. He said what he meant, treated the game with the most respect, and went about his business. He was a unique individual in addition to the greatest player in the world. Fans, celebrities, and everyone with a pulse packed an arena when he returned at the end of the 1994-95 season for a regular-season game. Everyone wanted a piece of Jordan.
It wasn't like he brushed off kids and charity events. Jordan gave back, handed over plenty of his time to kids and fans, and did the right thing at the right time. But it was the stuff he didn't automatically do or agree to that made him unique. He wasn't a bad guy, but far from a yes man.
What I found most fascinating in the first eight hours is the part where the Bulls head of public relations commented about the average day for Jordan. The only peace he found was in his hotel room, or until the camera crew showed up. Once he left the hotel room, people swarmed him. At the arena or stadium, there were more people. After the game, even more gathered and waited. The man never got a true silent moment, yet he performed at the highest level possible.
The way he walked at the same speed down the corridor to the hallway that led out to the court, where he would turn the strut into a jog. The way he rebounded from a disappointing game -- an instance where he didn't shock the world with awe -- with a series of highlight-reel plays. The second he stepped on the court, it was all business.
This is the guy who walked away from the game after three championships, and came back to win another three championships. This is the guy who managed to hit over .200 in AA baseball after not swinging a bat professionally in his life. This is the guy who came back a second time with the Washington Wizards in the latter stages of his career and averaged 22 points at age 38. He would average 20 points per game at age 39 before finally leaving the game.
Along with the titles, Jordan made the All Defensive Team nine times. He led the league in steals three times. Jordan won the MVP five times and was the NBA Finals MVP six times. He was a superstar and an actual person at the same time. How about that?
"The Last Dance" has made for thrilling television, as expected. The rush and excitement of that season flew right back into the veins, surging through the blood like vivid sports memories often do. But what I've discovered more than anything is just how great Jordan was. Sometimes, the whole story can dim your lights on a particular player. This has not been the case.
Eight hours in, the appreciation and respect for Michael Jordan has only been deepened. He wasn't perfect and that, above all the basketball accomplishments, is what makes him great 22 years later.