ESPN’s “Last Dance” Recap: Air Jordan, Unabridged

Nathan Tucker
nrtucker@lc.edu

Twenty-two years in the making, ESPN’s new miniseries on Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls sheds new light on the team, the man himself and a bygone era of American culture. The first two episodes of this ten-part series aired — both uncensored on ESPN and censored on ESPN2 — on Sunday, April 19.

The story is largely told through Jordan’s eyes, as he relaxes at his home with a cigar and drink on the table beside him. Air Jordan in his true element. They even let him say the f-word. If only he could have played cards during the interviews.

For clarity’s sake going forward here, I distill two episodes per part of this recap, a part for each week it aired. It is a ten hour watch, so it is best digested a few hours at a time.

 

Part 1: The World Through Michael’s Eyes

A self-described “good kid” coming out of college, almost overwhelmed by the world he was stepping into, Jordan recalls his first time stepping into the Bulls locker room. Players doing cocaine, smoking weed, bringing in random women, standard order for the NBA in the 1980s.

Jordan abstained. 

While MJ provides a unique narrative, it is one that allows him to paint himself as more of a charismatic and noble hero than he’s already considered. Anyone who does not fall in step with MJ is vilified, to a certain extent. 

Even MJ’s basketballing other half, Scottie Pippen, is called out by MJ as selfish, for opting into surgery during the ’97-’98 season. At the time, Pippen was the 122nd highest earning player in the NBA. Michael Jordan was, well, Michael Jordan. 

Being the biggest sports star in the universe, sitting in a big empty house drinking a glass of scotch and calling the guy who passed you the ball for the better part of a decade “selfish” is an incredibly Michael Jordan thing to do.

In the first two episodes of the miniseries, the villain of the story is Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Bulls at the time.

On the heels of winning their fifth NBA title, members of the Bulls front office, including owner Jerry Reinsdorf and the aforementioned Krause, believed that the Bulls did not have the team to win anymore outside of Jordan. 

Rumors of the team’s future swirled during the summer of ’97. Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause did not see eye to eye, and Krause wanted him gone. Krause even went as far as grooming then Iowa State coach Tim Floyd to succeed Jackson.

MJ was threatening to leave basketball. He did not want to play for any other coach, and made that clear following the Bulls’ championship celebrations.

Jerry Reinsdorf and Jackson agreed to a one year deal. Krause reiterated at the press conference that no matter what happened that season, ’97-’98 was Jackson’s last with the Bulls.

One last dance.

More than a clever name to a documentary twenty-two years after the fact, Phil Jackson had “One Last Dance” printed on the Bulls’ team playbooks, which he designed more like battle plans than basketball plays.

This was it for the Bulls. The team was officially moving on after this season, no matter what. Jordan took offense to the desire to “rebuild”. 

“We are entitled to defend what we have until we lose it,” Jordan said to the media when asked about a potential rebuild in ’97. “No one’s guaranteed to rebuild in two, three, four or five years. The Cubs have been rebuilding for forty-two years.”

On the subject of rebuilds, the narrative takes us way back to 1986, where a struggling Bulls team looked like they were going to miss the playoffs.

“I think that’s a losing mentality,” says a younger MJ, in his second season in the NBA, in a post-game press conference, asked whether the team should look toward the NBA draft. “I think a team should be trying to win every night, and not doing so is a losing mentality.”

Jordan missed 64 games that season after bursting onto the NBA scene in his rookie campaign. Without his firepower, the Bulls became lame ducks. He made a return to the lineup, and the Bulls finished the season a meager 30-52. 

Miraculously, and also a statement to how bad the NBA was at the time, 18 games under the .500 mark was enough to make the playoffs.

Now, the Bulls probably should have forced Jordan to sit and probably would have benefitted from a higher position in the NBA Draft, but making the postseason and facing the overwhelming favorite Boston Celtics provided the first of many classic MJ playoff games. 

In game two of the series, Jordan set the NBA record for points in a playoff game, 63 in a double overtime loss. The Bulls would lose the series, but if they would have packed in the rest of the ’85-’86 season, that great night in basketball history disappears.

This was an example of Jordan’s competitive fire, developed at an early age. Losing never worked for MJ. He had to win. He had to constantly prove he was the best. At home, that battle continued.

“I always thought I was fighting Larry (his brother) for my father’s attention,” A misty-eyed Jordan admits in episode two. 

To win his dad’s affection, Jordan sought out to be better than his brother, at everything. 

Being thrust into family competition shaped Jordan’s philosophy on competition for the rest of his basketball career and life. If he could emotionally and physically compete with the brother that he loved, he could psychologically compete with anyone else on the planet. 

And he was the best at it. The world fell in love with him for it.

 

Part 2: Bad Boys For Life

(to the tune of Diddy – Bad Boys for Life)

We ain’t, go-in nowhere, we ain’t, goin nowhere,

It’s time for Rodman, the bad boy for life.

Dennis Rodman enters “The Last Dance” fold. 

Rodman was an integral part of the Detroit Pistons’ defense. One of the best rebounders and most tenacious defenders in NBA history, Rodman posted seven career games where he had zero points but twenty rebounds. 

The “Bad Boy” Pistons bullied their way to NBA championships. NBA officials in the 1980s weren’t quite as quick to blow their whistles and allowed a much more physical brand of basketball than what we are used to in 2020. 

When facing MJ and the Bulls, the Pistons played by a set of “Jordan Rules”. The rules were quite simple: if MJ drives the lane, hit him. If he tries to shoot, hit him. 

This strategy proved quite effective. In an NBA before referees actually were told to care about the physical wellbeing of the athletes in competition, Jordan was getting hit, smacked, slapped, scratched, grabbed, snatched, and anything else to keep him from flying toward the basket.

While the Pistons found success during Rodman’s time there, he was not a completely happy man. He struggled mightily with depression during his time in Detroit, and was not the boisterous and brash Rodman that the public would come to both love and hate.

In February of 1993, Rodman was found asleep in his car in the parking lot of the Pistons arena, with a loaded rifle in his hands. 

“I was lucky I fell asleep.” Rodman says in the doc. “That night was a wake-up call for me.

In his autobiography Bad As I Wanna Be, released in 1997, Rodman felt he had an epiphany:

“I decided that instead [of killing myself] I was gonna kill the impostor that was leading Dennis Rodman to a place he didn’t want to go … So I just said, ‘I’m going to live my life the way I want to live it and be happy doing it.’ At that moment I tamed [sic] my whole life around. I killed the person I didn’t want to be.”

Enter “The Worm”, a new Rodman. A change of scenery, lavish fashions, and a fresh blonde dye job. 

He first moved to San Antonio, where he continued to stand out as a defensive force in the NBA. 

He also started to act out more on the court, including headbutting multiple players during games, including the Bulls’ Stacey King and Jazz star John Stockton. His acting out didn’t stop outside the lines of the court. 

Rodman felt out of place on his team, and clashed with teammates and the front office, who disagreed with his “eccentric” approach. 

Rodman even notes that the only friend he had on the team was Jack Haley, who Rodman befriended after he didn’t recoil at the notion of going to gay bars and clubs. 

Rodman was often labeled as gay, or queer in some regard, because of his eccentric nature. At the time, there was no one in sports that was like him, unafraid to be potentially seen as gay.

Sports still is a stereotypical “macho man” universe, but that was way worse in the 90s, when the world in general wasn’t as accepting of queer people. Rodman, wearing makeup, wigs, dresses, and earrings, was a character never-before-seen for many sports talking heads.

Bulls GM Jerry Krause had been keeping tabs on Rodman in San Antonio. Krause, like many in basketball, loved Rodman’s effort on the floor.

Krause, unlike many in basketball, believed he had the right team for Dennis Rodman. With MJ and Pippen dominating on the court, and the basketball mind of Phil Jackson on the bench, Krause believed that Rodman would respect his teammates and work hard with them and thrive with the “different” Phil Jackson as a coach.

Jackson and Rodman’s first meeting didn’t quite paint a picture of a match made in heaven. When Jackson asked Rodman if he wanted to join the Bulls, he merely said “I guess man, I don’t care”.

That was before Dennis knew Phil. Phil realized Dennis was a different breed. Phil was as well.

“Dennis and I have this Native American bond between us.” Phil Jackson says in the fourth episode of the documentary series. “He comes in one day, to the team room, I have … various (Native American) artifacts. He picks one up and says ‘I have this exact same necklace from the Ponca tribe in Oklahoma.’ I tell him, ‘In their tradition you would be known as a heyoka, a ‘backwards walking’ person. You’re the heyoka in this tribe.’”

Phil Jackson was just about as unique a guy as Dennis Rodman was, minus the high profile flings with Madonna and Carmen Electra. Phil was maybe the Dennis Rodman of his own playing days, manning the boards, hauling in rebounds, and playing intimidating defense.

He was a bit eccentric by the NBA’s standards at the time, and publicly talked about doing LSD in the 70s. Bulls GM Jerry Krause even goes as far as claiming Phil wasn’t hired on by the Bulls at his first interview entirely because he looked too much like a hippie and not a basketball coach.

He became known as the “Zen Master”, and he was the Yin to Rodman’s Yang. Unlike any coach before, Jackson understood Rodman, and knew how to get the best out of him on the hardwood when it mattered. 

The fourth episode wraps up with Michael Jordan, NBA’s greatest player, whining and moaning about sportsmanship. Jordan took exception to the Pistons bench leaving the court early for the locker room following the ‘91 Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls had the game in hand and the Pistons left for the locker room with about seven seconds left on the clock.

Sportsmanship means nothing past little league, where you can at least argue sportsmanship exists to teach life lessons to children. There are no life lessons to be gained from 30 year olds waiting around to shake hands after they lost a basketball game, and it doesn’t make then Piston Isaiah Thomas any better or worse if he didn’t bow at MJ’s feet after the game.

Jordan’s own words, more than this documentary itself, paint him as slightly clueless at best and ignorant at worst of the power structure in basketball at the time. He simultaneously believes the world revolved around him and that he deserves more credit for the Bulls and the NBA’s rise in the 90s. 

Maybe that’s why the Rodman focus felt like a breath of fresh air.

 

Part 3: Republicans Buy Sneakers Too

As ESPN’s winding, 10-part documentary series approaches its halfway point, the time-machine is in full effect, bouncing around Jordan’s NBA life to tell a shoe-centric tale. We rejoin our protagonist at the 1998 NBA All-Star Game. 

The ‘98 NBA All-Star Game was rumored to be Jordan’s last. It was another basketball icon’s first. A young Kobe Bryant squared off with Jordan at Madison Square Garden, in the most important All-Star Game to date. 

Kobe, prior to his passing earlier this year, was interviewed for the series. While he challenged Jordan fiercely on the court in that ‘98 All-Star Game, the two held a bond that stretched beyond the lines on the hardwood.

“He told me ‘You ever need anything, gimme a call.’” Bryant explained. “He was like my big brother.”

MJ, like many, claims the Garden to be the Mecca of basketball. To honor what, he believed, was his last game on the hallowed court, he wore his very first signature Nike shoe, known now as the Jordan 1. 

 

“When I took my sock off after the game,” Jordan said, “My sock was soaked in blood.” 

Jordans were a marvel of basketball shoe technology specifically designed for their namesake. The Jordan 1s, while quite visibly fashionable, aren’t quite as designed for the sport as later editions that Jordan had become accustomed to throughout his career.

It took a bit of persuasion, and a slideshow business presentation, to lure Jordan to Nike. In fact, he preferred Adidas. Adidas apparently wasn’t in a position to design and mass produce basketball shoes for MJ, and Nike offered more money to him than any athlete had ever seen before. 

Nike wasn’t really associated with basketball until Jordan. Originally a track or running shoe, the first Jordans were their first foray on the hardwood. Nike welcomed the Jordans with open arms, and became a global brand thanks to Michael. 

“My game was my endorsement. If I averaged two points, two rebounds, I wouldn’t be selling anything.” Jordan notes, somewhat pointing out the obvious. They weren’t giving his teammate Bill Wennington a shoe deal, after all.

Part of the shoe sales business drew ire from many who wished MJ used his platform to support political causes. Despite claims to the contrary, in the documentary Jordan claims that he, in fact, did say “Republicans buy sneakers too” in response to why he didn’t use said platform for any (more specifically, democratic) political cause. 

“I’m not a politician,” said Jordan. “I was focused on my craft”

“I set examples. If it inspires you, great. If not, maybe I’m not the person you should be following.”

In the midst of this storyline, the hype and fervor of the 1992 USA Olympic “Dream Team” is examined. The Dream Team might be the best USA basketball team of all time, but more importantly, it grew the NBA and basketball’s profile around the world.

And grew America’s profile as the center of the “cool” universe. The Dream Team oozed cool. USA olympic track jackets became fashion statements worldwide. 

While basketball was a more global game than, say, baseball, and definitely more than football, the Dream Team pushed the sport to never-before-seen levels of worldwide popularity. Kids from Chicago to Shanghai wanted to “be like Mike”. 

Jordan was always the center of it all. In this stage of his career, Jordan was a bonafide superstar on and off the court, and the face of the league. 

He was growing tired of the media attention of superstardom already, and simply wanted to play basketball. The release of Sam Smith’s book “The Jordan Rules”, an in-depth look at the darker side of Michael Jordan, didn’t help matters. 

A number of people within the Bulls organization, some of whom denied it in the documentary, leaked information about MJ and the Bulls to Smith for the book. 

Not knowing where the information came from strained relationships in the Bulls locker room in ‘92. Jordan distrusted his teammates, and believed Horace Grant specifically sold him out to Sam Smith.

Back in 1998, with rumors swirling about his potential retirement, Jordan began to completely avoid the post-game media scrums. International sports reporters wanted the Jordan scoop. Papers, radio, TV in Chicago needed the scoop. They wouldn’t get it from him. 

As the story brings us closer to the ‘98 Playoffs, MJ’s gambling, uh, prowess(?) is featured. 

Jordan’s response to claims he may have a gambling problem:

“I’m not here trying to sell my watch.” Jordan joked, but regained seriousness. “I can stop gambling. I can’t stop competing.”

Jordan made headlines when it was revealed he had over a million in gambling debts paid, mostly for golf games, in which he gambled on himself. By Jordan’s logic, since he only lost $1.2 million to gambling, and he had hundreds of millions of dollars, he wasn’t a gambling addict.

The documentary paints a great picture of how gambling-obsessed/competitive Jordan was, almost at all hours of the day. 

He would bet on flipping quarters with security guards before games at the United Center. When teammates had a card game on the plane for a few bucks, he started his own, high-buy-in card game in the back of the plane where he was winning and losing thousands of dollars.

Not to mention the at least seven figures he lost on the golf course.

In part 4 of our recap, Jordan gambles on himself by hitting the diamond. 

 

Part 4: Swing And Amiss

The day: October 6, 1993.

Jordan retires. Just months following his third NBA title, Jordan felt compelled to leave basketball.

He didn’t just leave basketball out of nowhere. On July 23,1993, James Jordan, Michael’s father, was murdered. Rumors have swirled for over two decades on whether there’s a connection to the death of his father and MJ’s gambling debts.

Nothing entirely concrete enough was found by investigators to suspect that specific line of foul play, according to the documentary.

Jordan lost his will to continue playing in the NBA. James was why Michael played basketball, and was a huge part of his inspiration to succeed in the sport. 

As a child, Michael fought his way to basketball success to impress his father. His father was with him along his path to greatness, nearly every step of the way. When he lost his father, he felt he lost his connection to the game.

One thing he talked about with his father before his passing was unfinished business. Where, you may ask? On the baseball diamond.

HOOVER, AL – AUGUST 1994: Michael Jordan #45 of the Birmingham Barons gives an interview following an August 1994 game against the Memphis Chicks at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. (Photo by Jim Gund/Getty Images)

Jordan’s time in baseball is often considered a joke, or a misguided attempt at what Jordan thought was something he needed to do to fulfill a promise to his father. 

But he was the best athlete in the world, and according to his teammates and coaches, would have stuck in the sport had he given it more time. 

Jordan strung together an impressive start to his baseball career, going on a 17-game hitting streak for the Birmingham Barons. The Barons were the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, who Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also owned.

Terry Francona, MJ’s coach in Birmingham, thought Jordan had the potential to be a good ballplayer long-term. Jordan fell victim to what a lot of good fastball hitters find tough in minor league baseball — off-speed pitching.

Jordan didn’t know how to hold off on curves and changeups, like many hitters in AA baseball. Unlike most hitters in AA baseball, this was Michael Jordan. A certain greatness was always expected, no matter what Jordan was doing.

Media jumped on his failures in baseball. Pictures of him missing a curveball by about two feet provided fodder for sports journos who wanted to question his legitimacy playing a second sport.

The media prodded, but droves of diehard MJ fans still flocked to Birmingham Barons baseball to get a glimpse of their hero.

“We sold out probably every ballpark we went to that season.” said Terry Francona. “Everyone wanted a piece of him.”

Jordan loved the minors. He loved getting away from the media scrums and scrutiny of the NBA. He loved being “just one of the guys” again. 

But MJ’s departure from basketball left a gaping hole in the sports world. Only a year after “The Dream Team”, Jordan, the most influential figure in American culture, essentially disappeared from the global realm.

On the court, the Bulls without Jordan were actually playing something they couldn’t when they ran everything through MJ — team basketball. 

Scottie Pippen excelled without Jordan, and Phil Jackson’s triangle offense made an MJ-less Bulls just as exciting as the team that featured the legend, albeit not as successful. It was ‘90s basketball in full flow, poetry in motion against teams that often weren’t used to that kind of ball movement.

They still needed Michael to reach the next level. The Bulls bowed out of the 1994 NBA playoffs without much fanfare.

Conveniently enough for the Bulls, Jordan quit baseball in March of 1995 during the MLB players’ strike, as he wanted to avoid being a replacement scab player in the Majors. On March 18, Jordan sent out a now infamous press release, via fax, and he didn’t mince words:

“I’m back.”

The first game after his return was the highest rated NBA game in two decades. And Jordan had a fresh new number. 45, his high school number.

The Bulls had hype like never before. Madison Square Garden advertised MJ’s return to New York City against the Knicks more than they advertised the Knicks themselves.

The 45 on Jordan’s jersey was short-lived. He claims it wasn’t a “luck” thing, but also that it never “felt right” when he wasn’t wearing the more-legendary 23.

In 1998, during the Bulls’ quest for one last title, Jordan the veteran leader was much different than Jordan the minor league ballplayer. Jordan, while obviously gifted on the court, had a certain way of getting the best out of his teammates.

That way, you may ask? Being an unapologetic asshole. His teammates put up with years of Jordan’s “motivational” tactics, where he was just intentionally trying to get under the skin of his teammates to gauge if their competitive fire matched his own. 

In ‘98, his main target was Scott Burrell, a rookie, and to Jordan, someone who was too nice a guy. He wanted to irritate Burrell. In his words, he believed it would open up a new level in Burrell’s game on the court. 

Turns out, that never really worked because Burrell was such a nice guy. He continued to take Jordan’s ribbing in good nature, and never lashed out the way a man with a lesser temper would have with Jordan. 

“Michael would try to push you,” Burrell says in the doc. “But I don’t know if he knows that no one could ever reach his level.”

“He’s difficult to be around if you don’t really love the game of basketball.”

And he loved the game of basketball. Even in “retirement”, Jordan was holding some of the most legendary basketball games to ever take place.

In a domed court on the set of “Space Jam”.

Jordan would work all day filming a movie on a green screen set, train for two hours, and every night would hold pick-up games featuring stars of the NBA playing against one another.

Some of the best basketball games to ever exist in the 90s happened in that temporary gym, and there’s only the clips this documentary has to really show for it. Those pickup games were the best version of an NBA All Star Game imaginable.

Those workouts and pickup games were crucial in Jordan coming back to the sport as well as he did, even though he had slight struggles knocking out the cobwebs. He had rebuilt his body from a basketball body, to a  baseball body, and had to work back to a basketball body to reach the top again.

Jordan’s title win in 1996, after that rebuild, was the most cathartic of his life to that point. The first championship after the loss of his father, a win never meant as much to Michael, who won the title on Father’s Day. 

He was used to his father being there every time, and this time he wasn’t. The iconic image of this championship, Jordan lying on the floor crying holding the game ball, shows the more human, less mechanical or even maniacal side of MJ. 

Michael may have been pre-programmed to be the best basketball player ever, but in that moment, more than any other moment of his career, Michael is a human, with flaws and emotions that he can’t contain.

Only one more title meant more to Michael.

 

Part 5: Ascension, Descension 

The final week of the series showcases that a human can be a machine when need be. The episodes prominently feature the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals of 1998, while also reliving the 1997 championship.

In ‘98, Reggie Miller earnestly believed he would be the man to, in his words, “retire” MJ. Not just wishful thinking on his part, Miller was a star in his own right, and as competent a foe Jordan would ever have. 

Reggie’s prediction didn’t come to fruition, obviously, as this isn’t his documentary after all. 

In ‘97, like ‘98, the Bulls met the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. The Bulls and Jazz were almost the superteams of their day, and their battles even stretched off the court, to the wrestling ring.

Bulls rebounding specialist and self-made bad-boy Dennis Rodman signed with WCW in 1997. A year later, Karl Malone would also make his way to the wrestling promotion, tagging with Diamond Dallas Page to fight Rodman and Hulk Hogan. 

 

The Bulls and Jazz had a competitive rivalry on the court, but the Jazz fans made their hatred of the Bulls who kept taking their title away from them known. Phil Jackson often wore earplugs when they played in Utah to try to drown out some of the overwhelming crowd noise. 

Maybe one of those fans knew it was MJ ordering a pizza during the ‘97 NBA Finals. The infamous “Flu game” was actually a food poisoning game, but that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

The Flu Game lives on as one of the greatest individual performances in the history of professional sports. Jordan, who could barely walk, hadn’t ate and couldn’t keep any food down, scored 38 points and led the Bulls to a crucial win that gave them the lead in the series. 

Two days later, the Bulls won the title at home. Three days after that was one of the most memorable days in Chicago’s illustrious sports (and sports entertainment) history.

It’s June 16. The Bulls hold a parade and championship celebration at Millenium Park. Also that day, the Chicago Cubs played the Chicago White Sox in a cross-city clash. 

That night, Dennis Rodman greeted twenty thousand adoring WCW fans inside Chicago’s United Center as he made his way to the ring with the NWO, in what is considered by many in wrestling to be one of the best moments in WCW’s entire history. The reaction Rodman gets coming out of the tunnel is comparable to The Beatles, or Michael Jordan.

Rodman’s penchant for pro wrestling got him in hot water a year later, as he skipped a Bulls practice during the ‘98 Finals to make a WCW Nitro taping. Rodman was fined $20k for his transgression.

Rodman made $250k from his appearance on that episode of WCW Monday Nitro, where he hung out with Hulk Hogan while wearing some NWO sweatpants. 

Sports media was bewildered by Rodman and his actions, but the Bulls, especially Phil Jackson, just knew to let Rodman be Rodman.

“Phil realized that I needed to do me. Just do what I do.” Rodman adds in the doc. “They knew they were gonna get 100 percent on the court.”

Rodman didn’t miss a beat upon his comeback and played a crucial role in trying to slow down Karl Malone. Malone’s size made him a tough matchup for Rodman, both on the court and in the wrestling ring. Malone scoop-slammed Rodman twice when they met in the ring at WCW Bash At The Beach in 1998. 

Honestly, at this point, winning the title, and the Bulls being a simply great basketball team, has taken a backseat in the storyline. Of course this is about them, but as the viewer knows where the story is headed — the eventual winning of the ‘98 Finals — one can look at the grander picture being painted.

The Bulls and Michael didn’t just change the NBA, or basketball, or sports.

They became culture. They transcended sports.

Michael Jordan was larger than life, and changed how the world looks at a superstar athlete. Jordan was the first star to truly become his own brand, and ever since the sports world has become full of guys who aren’t quite as good desperately hoping to sell a fraction of the shoes MJ did.

Do players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James even become the stars they became without MJ laying the groundwork? Jordan paved the way for athletes to become millionaires (or in LeBron’s case, billionaires) and it’s likely that without him Nike doesn’t become enough of a giant to become the signature basketball brand it’s recognized as now. 

Sports, on the whole, benefitted from the hype that MJ and the Bulls created. Basketball, for obvious reasons, had a massive boost in attendance over MJ’s tenure with the Bulls, and became a truly global game. 

Toni Kukoc, the Croatian sensation, joining the Jordan Bulls in ‘93 played a bit part in opening a new audience’s eyes to basketball the way the NBA (read: Jordan) played it, and in doing so, spread bits of American culture around the world.

The Bulls were the definition of American culture. Dennis Rodman walking down the ramp at a WCW show with Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage in Chicago following the ‘97 championship is about as American as the world could have been at that instant. 

At the center of all this, is, of course, Jordan. A brand all his own who became a probably-too-powerful global entity in the process is almost too on the nose for a comparison to America itself.

Jordan, like America, believed that the world should bend to his beck and call because he was the best for a while. Like the US’s efforts in “diplomacy” and “peacekeeping”, Jordan realized that wouldn’t always work out when people didn’t obey his wishes.

His post-playing career was marred with poor business decisions, bad drafting, and being fired from multiple jobs controlling basketball operations. 

Jordan was fired from that job with the Washington Wizards in 2003, stating that he felt betrayed by owner Abe Pollin. Years prior, he reportedly told Pollin to sell his team, potentially to him.

As owner of the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, Jordan’s decisions often kneecapped the team on the court, and was one of a minority of hardline owners who wanted to cap player salaries at 50% of league revenue.

Funny enough, MLB is trying to do that right now to baseball players, a decade after the 2011 NBA lockout caused by the same negotiation. Essentially, this would give a group of 30 owners half of the revenues, and hundreds and hundreds of athletes that actually provide the entertainment the other half. 

Jordan, his best and worst, are embodiments of American excellence through personal greed. 

“I set examples. If it inspires you, great. If not, maybe I’m not the person you should be following.”

And Jordan wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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