The Last Dance

Reflecting on the new series The Last Dance, Simon Smart writes on what Michael Jordan might have lost in his pursuit of success.

Like just about everyone else I know, I’ve been watching The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary series tracking the career of NBA star Michael Jordan and the storied success of the Chicago Bulls in the 90s.

You wouldn’t have to be a basketball fan to find it enthralling.

Jordan is the megastar of the sport, combining prodigious—almost inconceivable—talent with a ruthless determination to do whatever’s required to succeed. It’s a fascinating character study. He cajoles, bullies and drags others with him to heights of achievement scarcely imaginable. The team, the city are swept up in an irresistible tide that emanates essentially from Jordan, despite an extremely talented group around him.

The success and the rewards are head-spinning.

Late in Episode 8, Jordan is asked, “Over the years, do you think that intensity has come at the expense of being perceived as a nice guy?” It’s clear that his teammates baulk at that description, even if some handled his hectoring better than others.

“Well, I mean … I don’t know. Winning has a price,” says Jordan, looking surprisingly uncomfortable. “I wanted to win … that’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.”

His impregnable self-assurance looks momentarily fragile. And even as we sit back on our couches, open mouthed at his breathtaking skill, discipline and determination, we are left to wonder whether, holed up in his palatial house, having conquered all, Jordan has his moments of reflection about what he lost along the way.