Friday, August 20, 2021

The Last Dance

A documentary recommendation this time – check the same out on Netflix. This is a documentary on the life of Michael Jordan focussing on his playing years. The documentary beautifully captures his absolute dominance of the game and goes back and forth in time, taking the viewers through the trials and tribulations of athletes that are at the highest levels of their games. 

Although I am not a basketball fan, this is an extraordinary piece that I would put on the must watch list. Michael was a talented athlete and was destined for greatness, however the level that he reached and then made his home, is without parallel. There were basketball demi gods before Michael appeared on the scene – Magic Johnson was already playing at that time. Not only he shattered all records but kept on pushing the boundaries, each season. For the nerds, scroll to the end for his career stats.

Basketball being a team game, elements of power play and team dynamics get introduced in the narrative. Michael knew he was good and kept pushing his team members and the coaches. Initially he was hated in the team for the pressure he put on everyone to rise up to his standards and the practice sessions that were as intense as real games. However his team members started loving him as they began to realise what Michael was doing by being the bad boy – pushing them to greatness and pushing himself every day too. As he says at one point in the documentary – I never expected any team member to do something that I was not doing myself. Some episodes are focussed on his team mates and keep coming back to Michael’s relationship with them and the respect they developed for one another. 

For me, the pivotal moment in their march to greatness is Michael’s realisation that he needs to trust his team members more than what he did. As a star player, he was always marked and through his sheer genius, he would continue scoring. However as they started getting into eliminations and the competition kept getting tougher, scoring kept getting difficult. Since Michael was guarded by more than one opposition player, his team members were free. The journey of how the coach hand holds Michael through this journey and the satisfaction when he starts trusting his team members to take the important shots, is wonderful to watch. 

The human side of Michael is on display too. The injuries and setbacks that are a part of an athlete’s life. His special relationship with his dad and the loss he feels when he passes away, his nature of betting too much and the trouble of taking a stand as a very successful African American athlete on issues related to the community, all get highlighted. 

The best part was the sheer hunger of Michael. Gets highlighted in each episode. He is the absolute alpha. How he goes after his opponents. How he bounces back from bad games. How he goes after players that are being touted as the “next Michael” How he pushes his team members every day. How he transforms his entire team physically as they keep getting beaten by a very tough team that plays rough (Detroit Pistons). He wants his team to be the baddest, and he does, to beat their opponents at their own game. There is the additional element of intrigue with their team management’s decisions and politics in the hiring and firing of coaches. The season beautifully navigates through the playing years of Michael and how in each season they face different teams with different strategies but come out on top. Totally worth 10 hours of your time, I would say. 

I did not want this to be a spoiler and have tried to put my key takeaways here, but this is not all. I would encourage all of you to see this documentary, like a beautiful book, we will come out with our own takeaways. Why is it called the last dance? What happens when Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan face off? How does his relationship evolve with other members of his team, players in the other teams and his support staff? Why did he retire from basketball to go to play baseball and come back again to basketball? A career spanning decades is covered in 10 hours and it is an absolute fascinating watch. Enjoy. 

Stats – 
Michael played 15 seasons in the NBA winning 6 championships. Jordan's individual accolades and accomplishments include six NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, ten scoring titles (both all-time records), five MVP Awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors (joint record), fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections, three All-Star Game MVP Awards, three steals titles, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA records for career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game).

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