Michael Jordan and The Last Dance

I don’t like basketball. So why is it that I absolutely love love LOVE the documentary (now offered on Netflix) on Michael Jordan called “The Last Dance?”

First of all, Jordan is something of a poster child for us success/leadership guys. Like George Washington, he leaves a trail of lessons that any can emulate to achieve success in their chosen field. Told he didn’t have “it” by a high school coach – he didn’t have the size or the talent – he set out to prove the guy wrong. He didn’t need to prove to himself that he was the best, just others.

Like most wildly successful people, he focused on his goals of achieving greatness to the exclusion of just about e everything else. Nothing but the goal mattered to him as he pushed himself farther and harder than anyone else could ever push him. Pleasing others was irrelevant because he had set his bar far higher than they did.

Watching this rise to prominence at the beginning of the documentary is gripping, but the real story takes place once he gets there. He fights off all adversaries with the same tenacity that brought him to the top. Many people who watch the program note that he does not always come off as a very nice guy. I don’t know; Michael Jordan seems to be the man he needs to be in order to be Michael Jordan. (Yes, I proofread that sentence!)

When he quits basketball to give baseball a try, the basketball world went nuts. To me, it’s his greatest moment, better than even his most spectacular jump shots. To have the guts in his situation to give up the thing that he had achieved in order to take a shot at something he loved is rare indeed. Those who put Jordan down for his attempt to be a baseball player are saying a lot more about themself than they are about Jordan. They are, simply stated, bitter because they don’t have the guts to take that kind of risk for their own happiness, and it aggravates them that others do.

But it is his return to basketball that is my favorite part of the documentary. He makes it to the finals and loses. What’s more disturbing to him is that he is tired, out of shape. Playing baseball had changed his body and he realized he had work ahead of him in order to recast it – after all, he wasn’t getting any younger.

The night his team lost the series he told his trainer that he wanted to engage in a serious workout schedule. Asked when they would begin, he said, “Tomorrow.” The challenge was that Jordan was busy filming a movie in LA, and that his schedule required him to wake up at 3 am to be ready for shooting. No problem – he had a basketball court built on the property and after a full day of shooting, he would spend several hours into the night playing pickup games against the top players of the world.

So, is this a feel-good movie? Yes and no. It is inspiring to see laid out the method for success that can work for anyone with the discipline to follow it. On the other hand, there is an unmistakable anger to Jordan that seemed to work for him as a player, but that seems to still be a part of him. On the interview segments, he just seems kind of pissed off a lot of the time. And one cannot help but notice the glass of whiskey that is always by his side – the glass is always the same, the amount of whiskey in the glass changes constantly. Nor can anyone fail to notice the blood shot eyes of a man who drinks too much.

Even the great Michael Jordan has had difficulty achieving the most difficult part of being a famous athlete, which is moving forward from that life and still finding things that excite and fulfill you. Other than the whiskey that is.