We know we’ve been pretty subtle about this, but we are really enjoying The Last Dance. It feels like just yesterday we were excited that ESPN decided to air it early. Now, we’re one week away from it being over. There have been many great moments, but for our money, Episode 7 was the most enlightening episode of the entire documentary (so far).
First, it was the deepest dive into Jordan’s time as a minor leaguer that we have ever seen. If your recollection of that experience was the Sports Illustrated cover saying, “Bag It, Michael,” then you’ve missed most of the story. And by you, I mean me. He hit .202 with 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases and the general consensus was that with enough time, he would make a major league roster. But the fact he was better at baseball than your memory serves, isn’t the point.
The amazing thing is that a guy who was the most famous athlete in the world was playing AA baseball in Birmingham, Alabama, riding buses, in beat up old baseball locker rooms and dugouts. And he loved it. And, more importantly, each of his coaches said he was the hardest working guy on the team. He totally changed his body to be more physically ready to play baseball. The man had all the money in the world, could do whatever he wanted to do, and he was grinding in the batting cage every day to try to learn to hit a breaking ball. Who does that?
Our old friend Cheston pointed out the hypothetical scenario where there is no baseball strike. Without the strike, maybe Jordan makes up it to the big leagues. Then, does he ever return to basketball? And without the second 3-peat, where does he stand in the conversation of greatest basketball players of all time?
Fortunately for all of us, he did return to basketball. And Episode 7 offered us the insight into why he is the greatest player of all time. Prior to the release of this documentary, Jordan was quoted as saying, essentially, “people are going to see this and think I’m a bad person because I abused my teammates.” This episode struck at the heart of that myth.
Jordan had a level of competitiveness that is hard to fathom. But his ability to turn that competitive fire into mind-boggling performances is something that none of us can relate to. I mean, a guy named Labradford Smith scored 37 points in a game, and Jordan was so mad that he made up a story about Smith taunting him, then went out and scored 36 points in the first half of the next game against Smith. I mean, really? He made up an insult and then used that made up insult to motivate himself to get up for a mid-season game against one of the worst teams in the league. Who does THAT?
There were stories of other perceived slights. Whether it was BJ Armstrong celebrating too much during a playoff win against the Bulls or George Karl ignoring him at a restaurant, Jordan’s ability to find ways to motivate himself are legendary. When Jordan talked about this in his Hall of Fame induction speech, it came off as strange, and arrogant, and maybe a little bit psychotic. Like, hey Mike, you’re in the Hall of Fame, maybe show a little grace and ease up?
But the phrase, “ease up” isn’t in Jordan’s vocabulary. The most poignant moment of the episode was when Jordan said, “I never asked anyone to do something that I wasn’t willing to do.” (Ed. Note – there might have been a couple expletives in there but we’re a family website)
Want to know why Jordan is the greatest of all time? Because of that sentence. That’s why he was the hardest working guy on an AA baseball team while also being the most famous athlete in the world. That’s why he was winning sprints in practice in the final season of his career with Bulls. That’s why his teammates that he berated, mocked, punched and humiliated in practice all say he was the best teammate they ever had. If the guy with all the money and talent and fame is working that hard, every day, well, what’s your excuse?
Greatness comes in many forms. Leadership comes in many forms. There is no singular path to be successful, and everyone who reaches the NBA is the elite of the elite when it comes to talent and work ethic. You don’t just stumble into the NBA on natural talent alone. But, to see someone get emotionally upset at the thought of why other people would even consider not working as hard as he does is powerful stuff.
So, if you’re reading this and you have no interest in basketball, or Michael Jordan, well, you’re probably lost or you were searching for hangover cures (we recommend a Time Out biscuit, Advil, vitamin water and a dark room. Or, if that doesn’t work, more beer.). But, regardless of whether you like basketball or not, you don’t need to watch all 10 episodes. Just go watch episode 7. And if it doesn’t motivate you to do something – go for run, do some sit-ups, binge watch another Netflix series even though you’ve been through two other shows already today – then you’re either dead or mostly dead.