Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Last Dance

How about a pop culture break from the black pills and election kabuki? 

Anything with nostalgia value is hot right now and especially anything from the 80s and 90s. Most of us at some level realize things suck in 2020 and the 80s and early 90s were the last time America was a nice place to live. The recent series Cobra Kai brings back the world of The Karate Kid, one of the seminal films of the 80s, and it is almost painful to watch because it reminds me of what we lost.

While I haven't paid for Netflix or Hulu or cable for many years, I did get the chance to watch the Netflix mini-series The Last Dance, a 10 episode return to the days when the NBA didn't suck and Michael Jordan roamed the courts as the king of the game.

The series does a masterful job of going back and forth in time, from the 1998 championship year back to Jordan's early years as a Bull, his life growing up and the first few seasons he played in the NBA. That back and forth can ruin continuity but in this case it worked great. Perhaps in part because I was a kid watching the NBA at this time so it was very familiar to me but regardless it was well done.

The series reminded me that there never was and never has been since a player like Michael Jordan. There have been skilled players before, Bird and Magic and Kareem and Wilt but no one like Jordan. The things he could do physically, seemingly without effort, were like no one else. That wasn't what made Jordan the greatest of all time. It was his will to win. If Jordan wanted something enough, you couldn't stop him. Of course basketball is a team sport and without a decent supporting cast he wouldn't and didn't win, but with the right role players around him? Unstoppable. Six championships in eight seasons and the only reason it wasn't 8 in 8 was Jordan's brief flirtation with baseball.

People talking about LeBron James in the same category as Jordan need to watch this series because James looks like a bull in a china shop compared to Jordan. Even in a much diminished league, he isn't dominant the way Jordan was. Kobe Bryant was closer but still not the same. It is unlikely we will ever see another player like MJ. No one is more competitive, Jordan would compete for anything at any time. One of my favorite scenes was him gambling with some Bulls staff to see who could land a quarter the closest to the wall, a game we used to play in high school. The guy just wanted to win.

But it also reminded me that Michael Jordan, smiling in ads aside, was pretty much an asshole. He could be cruel to his teammates and The Last Dance shows him being a jerk and disrespectful to Bulls GM Jerry Krause. Would I be a better person than Jordan if I was the most famous athlete in the world? I doubt it. Still Jordan the person was very different from Jordan the player. I think it does kind of bother Jordan, based on his reactions in the documentary, that he was not just respected but feared by his teammates. Sometimes he would be defiant when he watched others talking about him but other times he was upset. Even Michael Jordan wants to be liked. 

Like pretty much everything else, basketball and sports in general was better before the turn of the millennium. Players played the game and mostly kept their mouths shut, unlike today when dimwits like LeBron think it is their job to lecture the people who pay their salaries. Jordan was very apolitical and Netflix rolled out some pseudo-intellectual black guy named Todd Boyd, described by IMDb as "Known for his vast knowledge of rap music and stylish form of dress, Doctor Boyd also examines race, class, and gender in American Film at USC." A vast knowledge of rap music? Dressing like a popinjay? Well that certainly makes him an authority on....well, not really on anything. There is little I find more irritating than intellectual lightweights trying to act like they are deep thinkers.

Anyway, Boyd was bitching because Jordan didn't get involved in politics and his brief appearances were the worst part of the series, even more so than Barack Obama's segments. People of all races loved Jordan because he was so fun to watch, not because he was black. He wasn't a political figure, he was an entertainer and he seems to understand that people wanted to watch the greatest of all time play basketball, not opine on political issues. It is a lesson many athletes today could stand to learn.

The Last Dance was a fun escape, even interspersed with the occasional juvenile commentary from Obama and "Doctor" Todd Boyd. It took me back to my youth and the days when I could enjoy sports. Compared to most of the trash Netflix and others are putting out, it was a refreshing escape for a few hours. I wouldn't pay money to see it but it was a reminder of a recent but by-gone era.

Michael Jordan. The Greatest Of All Time.

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