Top 8 Things We Can Learn from 'The Last Dance'
The 10-part documentary on the Chicago Bulls, centered around their 1998 season, made waves in the basketball world for its in-depth look into the Michael Jordan-led squad. It answered a lot of questions, as well as created much controversy due to its candidness.
There is much we can learn from this ‘30 for 30’ series by ESPN, titled ‘The Last Dance’. While the heyday of the Chicago Bulls dynasty may seem like a distant memory now, the lessons we can learn from that team are still relevant.
The Power of Being Completely in the Present
As mentioned at the start of the tenth episode, Michael Jordan had what many people seek for years—he lives entirely in the present. The past didn’t define him and the future didn’t concern him. In and out of the game, his mind was focused on the here and now.
A big part of that is not being concerned with failure and things he couldn’t control. Anyone would not want to make mistakes and fail, but being anxious about it only brings even more failure. To Michael Jordan, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. He was truly the captain of his own ship, the master of his own fate.
Win or Lose, Be a Good Sport
The controversial walkout by the Detroit Pistons just before the end of their last Western Conference finals game in 1991 stuck in the craw of the Bulls, especially Michael Jordan. It played a big part in Isiah Thomas being excluded from the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and the Pistons legend bearing a negative reputation to this day.
Isiah Thomas’ reasoning behind the walkout was that it was the prevailing trend of that time, back when opponents were opponents in and out of the court. If you lost, you get out without looking back, like how he recalls the Celtics doing the same to them.
However, Michael Jordan countered with his own example of shaking their hands after being beaten by them in previous years. Even when battered and bruised by the Pistons’ punishing defense, he still made a point to shake their hands and congratulate them after the game.
Don’t Let Distractions Get in Your Way
As Michael Jordan’s fame started to transcend basketball and made him a cultural icon, the media hounded him constantly. At first, it was welcoming, then became stifling.
The public scrutinized his activities out of the basketball court, flocked to him every chance they could, and barely gave him any space. He couldn’t go out without being asked for an autograph or an interview. He had to have security detail with him at all times whenever he’s out and privacy became a luxury.
Despite all that weight on his shoulders, he didn’t let it distract him from his game. As mentioned, he had an uncanny ability to be focused once he steps onto the court. He played at his best, even with the flu (which turned out to be food poisoning), fear of injury, or his feet bleeding while wearing his Jordan 1’s in his last Madison Square Garden game as a Bull.
Nothing distracted him when it was game time. He made sure anyone who saw him play for the first time got to see him at his best.
Some People Are Just Different
Yes, this is about Dennis Rodman. He was the black sheep of the NBA, having somewhat lost his way after being traded by the Detroit Pistons. That’s when he started dying his hair, getting the tattoos, and acquiring the wayward reputation he now continues to cultivate.
But there was no denying his talents as a rebounder and defender. Bulls general manager Jerry Krause knew what he brought to the table. Phil Jackson knew how to connect with him. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen knew first hand how tough he was, having played against him in two Western Conference finals.
He was pretty much the only man capable of handling the power and shooting touch of Karl Malone during their last two finals appearances against the Utah Jazz.
To the credit of the Bulls, they didn’t try to change him. Perhaps Dennis Rodman would be more reliable and a more prodigious contributor to the Bulls if he stayed away from parties and other extracurricular activities. However, he wouldn’t have been Dennis Rodman.
Seize Opportunities When They Come
Michael Jordan didn’t want to go to Nike at first. He wanted to be sponsored by Adidas, but that brand didn’t believe in a player like him as the trend that time was focused on big men.
But his mother made him go, knowing that it could be a big opportunity for his son. In the mid-80s, Nike was still a fairly small brand. Meanwhile, the basketball shoe market was still dominated by Adidas and Converse.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made. His Air Jordan shoes became a global phenomenon as the one basketball shoe to rule them all, helping Nike overtake its rivals. To this day, the Jordan shoe brand is a must-have for all basketball shoe enthusiasts.
Know What You’re Good At
John Paxson and Steve Kerr were not super athletes. While they were competent, they weren’t superstars. But that didn’t mean they weren’t valuable to the Bulls. In fact, if it weren’t for them, the Bulls wouldn’t have each of their threepeats.
Paxson and Kerr were shooters. They were dependably accurate and knew how to get to their spots. Steve Kerr is still the all-time leader in three-point percentage at .454, making him one of the greatest shooters ever in the NBA.
They both had perfect shooting form, with good shooting touch and a guide hand that didn’t interfere with the ball. You too can have shooting touch like them. Practice while wearing the Shoot Natural glove and your guide hand will compliment your shooting hand, helping you shoot perfectly straight.
Dennis Rodman could score more if he wanted to, but he knew his role. He was a rebounder and defender, and he made the most of it. He would even be proud of games wherein he scored no points, but grabbed 20+ rebounds. He was undoubtedly the best rebounder in the league for a whole decade.
Paxson, Kerr, and Rodman knew what they were good at, and they played their roles admirably.
The Value of Great Leadership
Michael Jordan was a hard master. His style of leadership made him a controversial figure in hindsight. He could be tremendously harsh to his teammates, even infamously punching Steve Kerr in the eye during practice. He would berate those who he deemed to be underperformers, like how he always ragged on Bill Cartwright’s odd shooting form and proneness to injury.
But he never told anyone to do anything he couldn’t do—he led by example. His drive to win, no matter the circumstances, and his willingness to leave everything on the court made him one of the greatest generals in the game.
Phil Jackson was known to be unorthodox with his coaching style. He was a man who was interested in eastern philosophy and Native American culture. He would burn sage in the locker rooms to drive out evil spirits and make his whole team do yoga and meditation before practice.
But he is touted as one of the greatest coaches in basketball history due to his holistic approach. Michael Jordan himself stated in the documentary that no matter how big you are, Phil Jackson had a knack of bringing everyone into the process.
Basketball is Truly a Team Game
They started as a bad team and ended up being a dynasty. All it takes is one match to start a fire. Start it with hope.
These were Michael Jordan’s last words in the documentary. Much of that hope came from building a cohesive team. Jerry Krause knew the importance of having the right pieces, and he did well in assembling two championship-winning teams throughout the 90s.
Phil Jackson’s adherence to assistant coach Tex Winter’s triangle offense gave him a holistic approach to coaching a basketball team. This let him maximize the potential of every player and lead the Chicago Bulls to championships.
In contrast, the previous coach Doug Collins only had one strategy—get the ball to Michael Jordan. He never got to lead the Bulls to a championship during his tenure.
While Michael Jordan liked having the ball in his hand every chance he got, he understood what Phil Jackson was trying to do. He learned to share the ball and get his teammates involved. Without that willingness to trust in his teammates, the Bulls would have had less trophies.
This is just a few of the many lessons we can draw from The Last Dance. If you haven’t watched all ten episodes, do so as soon as you can. It’s a fascinating documentary that looks into the many personalities involved in the dominance of the Chicago Bulls during the 90s.