ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary doesn’t have any truly fatal flaws. Jordan is too great an athlete, his impact on culture too potent, for that to be the case. His direct involvement with The Last Dance, however, maintains a long-standing buffer between Jordan’s personal life and his public-facing persona.
There is a crucial moment where that changes. At the end of the 10-episode behemoth, when the team knows their time together is over, a remarkable moment plays out. Head coach Phil Jackson had each member of the team write about what their time on the Chicago Bulls meant to them. Jordan’s apparently vulnerable, emotional poem impressed his teammates greatly.
Why 1998 was the end of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls
The Bulls’ 1998 NBA Finals win remains the most-watched game in the league’s history. Two preceding championship wins presaged that, of course. The main reason was the melancholy that followed each game of that fraught season for the organization. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause were open that they wouldn’t be keeping the team together.
That this was the height of Jordanmania didn’t matter. The front office decided it’d be too expensive to keep the greatest basketball team of the era together. This would be the end for the defining sports story of the 1990s.
The game itself was captivating and fraught. Missed calls riddled the event, including Jordan’s iconic push-off that sealed the game’s fate. When it was over, 87-86 in Chicago’s favor, Jordan’s Bulls closed up shop for good.
The final team meeting after the Bulls’ 1998 NBA Finals win
Reinsdorf and Krause were ready to cut their payroll and move on from fielding the most lucrative team in sports. The players themselves weren’t ready to move on. Yes, many were aging, but they had just won their sixth NBA Finals.
The Indiana Pacers gave off perhaps the strongest signal that their reign wouldn’t last much longer, yet they still blew past them. This Bulls team saying goodbye so definitively under these circumstances was unsettling to the players and coaching staff. Jackson, something of a boomer mystic in countenance, decided to help his players cope.
He asked each of them to bring a poem about what the team meant to them to their final meeting. They’d read them. Then, they’d burn them, to achieve at least a ceremonial form of finality and acceptance.
How Michael Jordan’s teammates felt about his poem
The poem above represents a side of Jordan that few in the public, teammates included, know much about. This is not the poem he wrote his teammates, which was lost forever. In The Last Dance, no one can quite remember the content of it. Only the memory of the emotional impact remains.
Jordan didn’t shirk his responsibility to come up in this crucial moment, according to Insider. He wrote a poem that will, due to the nature of Jackson’s ritual, never be known. The impact it had on his fellow players is what lives on.
In the documentary, Jackson and the players that appear to talk all agree that Jordan’s poem was poignant and vulnerable. According to Steve Kerr, who once got into a fistfight with his superstar teammate, it showed off a whole new side to Jordan, reports Slate. A recurring feature of The Last Dance is how difficult Jordan was to work with. How downright disrespectful he could be.
Jackson says of the poem, “It was a depth of emotion that you never thought he had.” The only hint we have as to how Jordan so impressed is his cryptic comment from the documentary: “I’m not a poet, but I just spoke what I felt at the time.”