Michael Jordan and The Last Dance – 5 things we learned

Jack Glennon
May 21, 2020

The Last Dance, the docuseries that chronicles Michael Jordan and his last season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998 as they chase their sixth championship might possibly be the greatest documentary series, ever.

Being from the UK and onIy being 3 years old at that time, the Michael Jordan era wasn’t really something that was on my radar but The Last Dance has captivated me for the last 5 weeks. And captivate is putting it lightly.

The Chicago Bulls

NUCCIO DINUZZO/CHICAGO TRIBUNE/TNS

If you haven’t watched The Last Dance, stop whatever it is you’re doing and go watch it. It is some of the best insight into a winners mentality, winning culture and one of the first global superstars was born. Make an appoint with your Netflix account and you’ll see for yourself exactly what I mean.

One thing that surprised me was the foresight and idea to document that season. Who knows why it’s only come to light now in 2020 but seeing that ’98 season was very cool. Imagine how good it would be if there was a camera crew following the Manchester United team as they won the treble in 1999 or some of the other great sports teams in the last century

Anyway, before I start fantasising about fantastic documentaries that could have been here’s 5 things we learned from The Last Dance.

Michael Jordan nearly didn’t sign with Nike

The idea of Michael Jordan not being affiliated with Nike now sounds absolutely absurd, almost illegal but there was a point where this relationship nearly didn’t happen. In episode 5 we learn about how when Jordan was a rookie fresh in the NBA, a number of companies were vying for his attention to sign him to a shoe deal. At the time, Converse boasted the biggest names in the sport and wouldn’t prioritise a rookie so he looked elsewhere. He liked Adidas but they wouldn’t back him on having his own shoe. The other option on the table at the time was Nike, an upstart at the time and mainly focused on track shoes. The world of sneakers has Jordan’s mother to thank for Air Jordans coming into existence as she forced him to fly out to Nike and at least listen to the offer they had for him. They were actually offering the best deal out of them all. A 5 year, $250,000 contract and his own shoe line. The rest is history as they say…

One of Michael Jordan's first adverts after signing with Nike

One of the first Air Jordan adverts.

On a side note, Forbes reckon that since 1984 when Jordan first signed with Nike, he’s made somewhere in the region of $1.3 billion from the deal. Yes. Billion.

Nike got more of a return than they expected

When the young track shoe company first signed Michael Jordan, they were modest in their sales projections. Over the first 4 years of the deal they projected to make $3 million in sales of the Air Jordan line. In the first year alone they ended up doing $126 million in sales. Yes, you read that correctly. $126 million.

I for one would have loved to have been in that meeting where they reviewed the sales figures from the first year of the Air Jordan.

Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan gave rise to the sneaker culture we have today. The deal also helped Nike become the sporting giant it is today, it can be argued that the rise of Michael Jordan and Nike went hand in hand.

Sometimes it takes a little faith in a vision. The return might not be obvious at the very beginning, sometimes you just have to commit and dive in head first. Nike did that with Michael Jordan and look how it’s paid off.

The birth of the athlete business man

Jordan was one of the first basketball players to break out of the basketball universe and become a global icon. I found as I watched The Last Dance that his number one focus was always basketball, everything else was an addition. As his reputation rose, so did the number of sponsorship opportunities.

McDonald's advert featuring Michael Jordan

A fast food company sponsoring an athlete, something you wouldn’t see today.

When I say sponsorship opportunities, I’m talking some of the biggest brands in the game. Nike, McDonald’s, Gatorade, Coca Cola and Chevrolet to name just a few. Alongside Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan was a trailblazer for the athlete becoming more than just an athlete.

The power of the team

There is no denying that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if not the greatest. But, Jordan arguably achieved what he did in basketball because of the team around him. Having not won a championship previously, we learn in the series that Jordan feels responsible for helping the Bulls win that first title meaning that he tries to do everything himself. Over time we see the evolution of his self awareness and the realisation and acceptance that more can be achieved when Jordan trusted in his teammates. Once this happened, the Bulls became the dominant force in the NBA.

There’s a clip from the end of episode where Michael Jordan is asked if his winning mentality cost him being perceived as a nice guy and his answer might be the best 2 minutes of the whole series. He talks about his winning mentality and the sacrifices needed but at the end of the day he was tough on his teammates because he wanted to see them win. Go and watch it and you’ll understand what I mean.

Humble, even in defeat

As the Bulls were building their team, their biggest rivalry came with the Detroit Pistons. They were the team to be dethroned in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons had beaten the Bulls a few times in the previous seasons Conference Finals and each time, the Bulls handled the defeat graciously. They shook hands with each player congratulating them. In the 90-91 season, the Bulls finally beat the Pistons in the Conference Final and with 7.9 seconds left in the game the Pistons walked off in a last act of defiance, only two players remained to shake hands with the victorious Bulls team.

Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas during Chicago Bulls v Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals

Chicago Bulls v Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The lesson to take from this is to always be humble, even in defeat. It shows a strong character to be able to check your ego and congratulate someone who is better than you. It is something that can be applied to all expects of life.

Before we conclude things, a special mention needs to go to the media team at the Chicago Bulls who through the whole run of The Last Dance series their social media has been on point. They’ve posted some fantastic content from never before seen footage and photos, phone wallpapers and exclusive interviews. There’s a lot more than that so go and check it out for yourself!

If you haven’t yet watched The Last Dance, it’s on Netflix and it is very much worth the investment of time. The insight into the winning mentality of one of the greatest sports stars we have ever seen, means there are so many lessons to take away from it.

Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @BehindSportHQ! Is there anything we missed?

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