Over the course of his time in the NBA, Michael Jordan built a legacy that few other sports stars in history can rival. Even today, Jordan continues to wield an outsized influence on the culture at large.
Recently Jordan has found himself fully in the limelight once again, thanks to ESPN’s eight-part documentary series The Last Dance. Jordan himself expressed some apprehension about the documentary, which he worried would hurt his legacy by making him look horrible. Here we take a look at those comments while arguing that the doc will improve Jordan’s legacy in two key ways.
Jordan’s concerns about ‘The Last Dance’
Jordan was a notoriously difficult player at times, demanding huge amounts of commitment and hard work from his Chicago Bulls teammates. According to most accounts, Jordan’s mindset was that nothing was off-limits when it came to demanding excellence from those around him — even if his behavior veered from intense to nearly abusive.
In an interview Jordan gave with Richard Deitsch of The Athletic, Jordan openly worried that the documentary would bring unwanted attention on such behaviors. Furthermore, he expressed concern that fans would be unable to understand — let alone sympathize with — the source of his intensity. As Jordan put it in that interview:
“When people see this footage I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said.”
Jordan seemed to think that, outside of their original context, his actions would make him come off to viewers as a “horrible guy.”
Michael Jordan’s chance to explain himself
Jordan’s comments make sense on a certain level. After all, nobody would want their actions to be misconstrued in a way that hurt their public image. Yet despite his massive fame, Jordan has always been a highly elusive figure when it comes to engaging with the media. By today’s standards, Jordan’s reluctance to engage publicly is basically unheard of.
That kind of privacy has worked both for and against Jordan’s legacy. On the one hand, he benefitted from not having to deal with the hyper-scrutiny of a 24-hour social media news cycle. The relatively primitive media coverage of Jordan’s heyday gave him the breathing room necessary to cultivate his nearly mythical image.
Yet myths don’t just grow in one direction. Jordan’s elusive personality has also caused tales of his well-known intensity to become amplified as the years have gone on. The Last Dance offers Jordan an excellent chance to repair his image by explaining exactly what was going through his head at the time. The better fans can understand Jordan’s mentality, the less such incidents will hurt his legacy.
The GOAT debate
The Last Dance will ultimately work to improve Michael Jordan’s legacy in a second important way, by cementing his status as the greatest player of all time. For fans who grew up watching Jordan, his GOAT status has never been in any serious doubt.
Yet younger fans who never saw Jordan in his prime are far more likely to assign that honor to the current best player in the world, LeBron James.
James is undoubtedly one of the two or maybe three greatest players of all time. Yet the GOAT title belongs to Jordan and Jordan alone. The Last Dance should help to make clear just how transcendent a talent Jordan was — and why he continues to deserve the reverence of fans today.
Simply put, the basketball world will never see a player as great as Jordan again. The Last Dance offers compelling proof of his eternal greatness.