Talking Episode V and Episode VI of The Last Dance
It’s funny how the passage of time can dull our collective memories.
As basketball fans, we like to crown unofficial titles like “Greatest Of All Time” (today known simply as GOAT). For decades now, that has been Michael Jordan. But as time passes and his exploits relegate to history, as today’s athletes develop and become capable of feats only he once made possible, it’s easy to forget exactly how breathtaking, how awe-inspiring and how great Jordan once was.
And so today it has become a debate: MJ or LeBron James?
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THANK YOU M.J!! Still tripping about last night. Couldn’t have in a trillion years thought that would be possible especially knowing where I come from and what I watch him do every single night! Doesn’t make sense to me to be honest. Man it’s CRAZY!! I know you guys think I’m tripping but if you knew me and my friends growing up you’d understand. Beyond blessed and appreciative of all the congrats from family, friends, colleagues, strangers, haters(?), etc etc!! For the ones who been on the journey from Day 1 and I mean Day 1 I thank you even more!! Love ??????????. #striveforgreatness? #thekidfromakron? #jamesgang? #stillmoretocome??
Thankfully, The Last Dance is here to remind us of Jordan’s legacy. In previous episodes, we saw him rise to greatness. But in Episode V, we see Jordan at his absolute peak.
On-court, sure, although that was never in dispute. But off the court, the man was a cultural icon on a scale that was hard to believe. In a previous episode, Oprah Winfrey introduced him as “the most famous man on the planet.” Here, you see celebrities trying to get into the locker room to meet him, including Jerry Seinfeld (who was bigger in the 90s than you can explain to kids today).
He wasn’t just the Chicago Bulls’ main man. He was the alpha of the 1992 USA Basketball Dream Team—and that was a team that was full of All-Stars and legends. And Christian Laettner. It was the team that changed the game, brought it to new heights of popularity internationally.
Jordan was the All-Star of All-Stars. The celebrity of celebrities. His name was synonymous not just excellence but with being the absolute best. Being called the Michael Jordan of something—of anything—was the greatest honor.
And, of course, the shoes. The episode touches on it a little bit, but there is no understating just how culturally relevant Jordans are—even today. Nike is not where it is without Jordans. Streetwear is not where it is without Jordans. Cool is not where it is without Jordans.
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We see Michael at his absolute peak here, but we also see him at the depths of his valleys. The gambling controversy blown up after an Atlantic City side trip the night before a key playoff game in ’93. His extreme competitiveness as detailed in Sam Smith’s book The Jordan Rules. His “Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too” line.
Jordan is the protagonist of The Last Dance, and he had been portrayed as such. Episode V and Episode VI deepen his character a little, sharing with us his dark side. We see his flaws but, most of all, we see his humanity.
We see the toll that his celebrity, media attention and need to be the best were taking on the person. In both time periods, 1993 and 1998, you hear Michael utter lines like, “I’m ready to get out of this life” and “I don’t think I’m going to miss it.” Jordan’s friend and rival Magic Johnson even warns presciently, “You guys are going to drive him out of the game.” It’s great foreshadowing for what comes next.
So let’s go back to the debate: MJ or LeBron?
As a lifelong Bulls fan, it’s clear where my loyalties lay here. I still remember all of the great Jordan moments like it was yesterday. But I also remember being younger and proclaiming MJ the GOAT and hearing older generations argue for Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell or whoever came before.
That’s just the way the passage of time works. Someday, someone will come who runs faster and jumps higher and the future nephews on r/NBA will wonder what was so special about LeBron anyway.
But it’s great to have works like The Last Dance help preserve greatness and legacy.
Words Mikkel Bolante
Art Alexandra Lara