Night three of “The Last Dance” focuses on the many faces of Michael Jordan: the competitor, the gambler, the role model and the brand.
Jordan is known as the greatest basketball player of all time, but before all else, he is a competitor. Without his sickening competitive spirit, he would not have become the greatest player ever. Jordan competed in everything he could and used any slight in order to give himself an edge. He wanted to destroy his opponents at all costs.
In 1992, the Chicago Bulls were defending their championship, and before the series started, the media brought up comparisons between Jordan and opposing guard Clyde Drexler. However, Jordan did not agree.
“Clyde was a threat; I’m not saying he wasn’t a threat, but me being compared to him, I took offense to that,” Jordan said.
Jordan responded in the first game of the NBA finals, as he hit six 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 39 points for the game. At one point, he looked at Magic Johnson, who was the color commentator for the game, and shrugged his shoulders. It is a legendary moment in basketball history, and to this day players still imitate “the shrug”.
Clyde Drexler finished second in MVP voting that year, as he averaged 25 points a game. However, in game one of the finals, the Jordan-led Bulls held Drexler to scoring16 points, six of which were free throws, further highlighting Jordan’s competitive edge.
There are countless stories about Jordan’s competitive spirit. The documentary shows Jordan dominating The Dream Team, the greatest basketball team ever assembled. During a scrimmage in Monte Carlo, Jordan was challenged by a regretful Magic Johnson.
“We’re up about eight points, I went over and tapped him, ‘Look, man, if you don’t turn into Air-Jordan we’re gonna blow you out.’ Man, what did I say that for?” Johnson said.
After the Olympics and the ‘92 season, Jordan ascended to international superstardom. The Dream Team changed the trajectory of basketball, making it a global game, and Jordan, it’s most impactful star.
His impact extended into him becoming a role model for basketball players across the globe. In episode five, viewers are reminded of the bittersweet match up in the 1998 All-Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where a veteran Michael Jordan faced off against a then 19 year old Kobe Bryant.
This episode is dedicated to Kobe Bryant. Bryant talks about having Jordan as a mentor throughout his career, and explains how he served as a big brother to the young prodigy coming into the league.
“What you get from me is from him; I don’t get five championships here without him, because he guided me so much. Gave me so much great advice,” Bryant said about his relationship with Jordan.
This stardom also extends into his personal brand. The Jordan brand is currently valued at over a billion dollars, but according to the documentary, Jordan did not even want to have a meeting with Nike until his mother Dolores convinced him to. He originally wanted to sign with Adidas. Fortunately for Nike, Adidas could not make an offer and Nike, a small shoe company at the time, forked over $250,000. In 1985, Air Jordan’s released, and forever changed sneaker culture, as they are considered the greatest sneakers of all time.
By the early ’90s, Jordan had an image to protect, as the most famous man in the world. No matter what he was doing, all eyes were on him. He had a clean image, corporate sponsors and was a worldwide role model, until federal agents found a check from Jordan for $57,000, made out to Slim Bouler.
Bouler was a gambler and suspected drug dealer who was brought up on money laundering and drug charges. It was later revealed in court that Jordan made out the check to Bouler because he was repaying a gambling debt. Bouler was sentenced to nine years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy by the conclusion of the trial.
Jordan’s gambling became the hottest topic of the sports media world. After a game one loss in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan was seen in an Atlantic City casino until 2 a.m.
Jordan and the media were at odds; he said he felt slighted by them. A year earlier, Sam Smith published “The Jordan Rules,” which provides an insight into a professional locker room that paints Jordan as a ruthless dictator, who is disliked by teammates.
Jordan is a man who still holds a grudge against his high school basketball coach and the player he was chosen over, so this situation caused him to turn his back on the media. After Sports Illustrated claimed Jordan embarrassed baseball, he vowed to never take an interview with them again. To this day, Jordan rarely does interviews, which is consistent with his desire to prove the naysayers wrong.