“The eternal equilibrium of things is great, and the eternal overthrow of things is great,
And there is another paradox.
Great is life . . and real and mystical . . wherever and whoever,
Great is death . . . . Sure as life holds all parts together, death holds all parts together;
Sure as the stars return again after they merge in the light, death is great as life.”
- Walt Whitman
Expectations are a tricky thing, and how we manage not only our expectations of ourselves but of everyone who surrounds us is surely among the greatest challenges of life.
We yearn for the stability of having our expectations met.
And the second it seems that stability may be within our grasp, we lose it. Or it changes. Or we change.
And we look at the one thing -- stability -- and say, ‘This is good. This will solve the questions that rattle around inside of me.’
And we look at the other thing -- instability -- and say, ‘This is ruining me. How can I have no control?’
But they are as complimentary and necessary to each other and ourselves as the Eastern and Western horizon.
We cannot have stability without instability. But we tell ourselves that half of our identity is a mistake to be corrected.
Don’t be sad. Don’t be angry. Don’t be depressed.
Be happy. Be cooperative. Be grateful. Be thankful.
As though they are not the same thing.
As if we could wake up if we didn’t go to sleep.
I came into The Last Dance expecting to learn something about Michael Jordan, and I truly believe I did.
I believe I learned what made him the greatest basketball player of all-time, and one of the most competitive people to ever exist.
But what I wonder tonight is if making this film helped him learn something about himself.
I wonder if it made him feel grateful that he had the teammates he had, the coaches he had, and maybe even that he worked for Jerry Krause.
I wonder if it made him feel nostalgia for his playing days, or for the cheers of fans, or boos of rivals.
I wonder if it made him think about how quickly time moves and what that time means.
I wonder if he felt pride in his accomplishments and if he wondered about the cost.
The stability that Michael Jordan had while he was playing for the Chicago Bulls at the height of his basketball powers in 1998 was a core element of his being.
A biographer of Jordan says that, “Most people struggle to be present. People go and sit in ashrams for 20 years in India trying to be present. Do yoga. Meditate. Trying to get here, now. ... Most people live in fear because we project the past into the future. Michael is a mystic. He was never anywhere else.”
And at the end of 10 hours of the pursuit of a deeper understanding of Michael Jordan, I had to wonder: He may have never been anywhere else, but did he ever get to leave?
The closing moments of the documentary have the 1997-1998 Bulls -- the greatest collection of basketball talent in the modern era -- gathered with Phil Jackson to burn the words from their souls together as a way of saying goodbye after six NBA titles in eight seasons.
Jordan wrote a poem, even though he said he was not a poet.
Then he retired.
And for 22 years people have said that even if he left, he simply could not say goodbye -- to the competitiveness, to the court, to the stability of the game.
“I felt like we could have won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but to not be able to try that’s just something I can’t accept,” Jordan says. “For whatever reason I just can’t accept it.”
I hope making this helped him find acceptance.
It’s stupid to say about one of the most accomplished, wealthy, famous human beings on earth, but he gave a great deal of himself to all of us, and he deserves that acceptance.
There were a lot of winners in this documentary, and so much wonderful humanity in so many people, but Steve Kerr’s story and his ability to tell his story, was on another level.
The murder of Kerr’s father, Malcolm Kerr, by militants in Beirut, where he was working, lent an air of melancholy to the entire episode probably because both Steve Kerr and his mother Ann were so thoughtful and soulful in telling the story of Malcolm.
It will be interesting to watch this documentary in a more consecutive fashion because I feel like the thematic threads between the death of Jordan’s father and the death of Kerr’s father were done a disservice by having a week between their tellings.
But it was still heartbreaking when Kerr said of Jordan, “He couldn’t live that normal live. It’s very difficult to reach him emotionally.”
That the two men came to blows in practice and then came to rely on each other in some of the biggest games of their career shows that even if they couldn’t reach each other emotionally through shared grief, they found another connection.
There was also something truly sweet about Jordan saying, “I’m happy for Steve,” after Kerr hit the series-clinching jumper in Game 6 of the Bulls fifth NBA title win against the Jazz in 1996-1997.
It’s those little moments that make you feel like Jordan had a lot more to offer emotionally, but maybe the world just wasn’t there for him in that way with his teammates in the late 90s.
And maybe that’s why Jordan gravitated so greatly toward Gus Lett, the security guard who became a surrogate father to Jordan after Michael’s own father was murdered.
Director Jason Hehir does a good job of giving us a greater glimpse at Jordan’s empathy through his relationship with Gus and in dealing with Gus’ radiation treatments.
“I needed good, sound, open minded, older guys to keep my focus,” Jordan says.
He seemed to have found the right ones.
This episode was worth the wait in every way imaginable.
This was pure heaven for a basketball fan.
Behind the scenes of a series and a moment so iconic you would think there were no new angles.
But Hehir made it feel brand-new.
I think that at times his back-and-forth storytelling was a little laborious but it also really paid off here because the convergence felt earned in the final episode.
And the momentum was marvelous.
Plus we got Karl Malone on the motorcycle.
MJ with the Walkman.
John Stockton on the pick-and-roll.
Dennis Rodman and Hulk Hogan.
Pippen’s aching back.
Bob Costas preaching.
Bryon Russell’s momentum.
It all felt invigorated and invigorating. It felt like being in it again.
And outside of the game, the behind the scenes footage gave us those little glimpses that turned history into something more relatable. Especially Rodman literally running from the media.
It was a bad job by me, but I didn’t take as many notes as I should have.
I just watched.
I lost track of time.
I hit my wife on the leg like, ‘Can you believe this?’
She had no idea how the game was going to end. She didn’t know the sequence.
It felt good to be immersed in a world where sports felt vital and alive and essential.
The drive, the strip, the shot.
Everyone get out of the way.
We may know that, deep down, sports matter to fans only in so much as they provide a distraction from a world that can be unstable, unmoored and incomprehensible.
But, my God, what a distraction.
Episode grade: 10 out of 10
Overall grade: 9.9 out of 10
1. Grading stuff is inherently stupid. This documentary was excellent. I am going to start it again this week so I can just watch it without having to THINK about it. But I will just give one small note for why I give it a 9.9. The greatest piece of art ESPN has ever produced was the documentary ‘O.J.: Made in America’ and that is a perfect 10 out of 10. That film explained the country. Hehir’s documentary never tried to be that, nor did it remotely have to be, but I just think that if you’re going to grade you have to have some baselines. I will love this documentary for the rest of my life.
2. “Don’t ever talk trash to Black Jesus.” A great piece of trash talk from MJ also leads to Reggie Miller calling him ‘The Black Cat’ which is just hilarious. Jordan is a black cat. Unknowable and you are absolutely cursed if you cross his path.
3. Reggie Miller is an interview icon. Watch ‘Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The NY Knicks’ if you need another hoops fix. It’s pure joy.
4. I have no idea if Jalen Rose is married, but if he’s not he has the ultimate bachelor pad. He comes in with the insane teak wood spiral staircase and we don’t even talk about it.
5. Between Rik Smits and Greg Ostertag we had a lot of beefy, big white centers in this episode. And I’m trying to think of who is carrying that legacy in the modern NBA? Kevin Love had a shot but then he became ... gorgeous.
6. “Everything became personal to him.” -- My wife on Michael Jordan. Astute and correct!
7. A lot of basketball players appear to have not aged but John Stockton is almost kind of like Benjamin Button. He was looking 55 when he was 30. Anyway, he looks good now.
8. Someone will have to explain to me what in the world Joe Mantegna is doing giving his weird memories of not having dinner with Phil Jackson.
9. How about the conspiracy theories over the pizza. THERE WERE FIVE DELIVERY GUYS! What is this ‘Loose Change’? Also if you're so concerned maybe just don’t eat the pizza?
10. “Yeah, Bryon Russell,” Jordan says, clearly upset he has to speak the name.
11. I spent my whole life thinking his name was pronounced 'buy-run'.
12. Phil Jackson already looks like two cats sleep on his shoulders and now we have him wearing a sport coat with some of the biggest shoulder pads you have ever seen.
13. Here’s the thing about the Flu Game, if it was the flu it would have been hard to champion it during the current climate regarding viral shedding.
14. As I typed this I took a sip of tea and nearly choked to death. It’s 11:49 p.m. Just in case.
15. Dennis Rodman in pajama pants at practice.
16. Ann Kerr says of her husband that he was trying to create, “tolerant globally minded humanitarian citizens,” and it’s an awesome tribute the way her son has carried that torch.
17. There was a lot of passing the time with Jordan and the security staff in the locker room. And I mean just sitting there, still as a statue, passing the time. Even Ahmad Rashad can’t liven that room up.
18. Dick Bevetta at one point did like a hip thrust shimmy before Game 1 of the finals. Unnecessary footage.
19. Jordan beats the Pacers in Game 7 and then puts on a canary yellow suit that takes you right to Havana. It looks like a Cohiba. Love it.
20. My man MJ got that Kenny Lattimore ‘From the Soul of Man’ disc on PRE-RELEASE. No big deal.
21. We should talk about the fact that this documentary had a ton of hip-hop because 90s hip-hop was awesome, but Michael Jordan was not listening to it. It’s a disconnect. That’s why Hehir saved that Kenny Lattimore gem for the final episode.
22. The whole Jordan family has serious swag and sex appeal. My sweet lord. I still think of Jeffrey Jordan as a child because we had the same first name and I was super envious of him when I was a wee lad.
23. Jazz fans seem unbearable.
24. Karl Malone wearing white jeans with a black belt and a plum T-shirt tucked in really brought this documentary home. When I get the time I’m starting an Instagram account of shirts tucked into jeans from this doc.
25. Bob Costas on Dennis Rodman: “Off the court his tired freak show continues.” Costas has taken the gloves off!
26. Jordan had some very close misses on series clinching shots in both the ‘98 Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals. I mean inches. “That’s the beauty of the game,” he says. “For 1.1 seconds everyone was holding their breath. Which was kind of cute.” Don’t be so cute, Michael.
27. Look I can’t talk about the Leonardo DiCaprio clip. It will take too much time. But just, well, ‘The Man in the Iron Face’ Jordan calls his movie, which is a better title than ‘The Man in the Iron Mask.’ Then Leo tells Jordan, ‘You did some beautiful stuff just now, that was poetic.’ And I love Leo more than ever. Mind you this is PEAK LEO. 98 Leo. That was about as much cultural cache as you could have in one room in American history.
28. If we could get it out of the ashes, how much does the MJ poem go for at Sotheby’s? Gotta be $1 million.
29. There was a great deal of gratitude in this final two hours. MJ telling his friends to get in the moment and stay here after Game 6. Reinsdorf saying that he found the greatest joy in bringing happiness to strangers. Phil’s acceptance in saying goodbye. Jordan saying it all started with hope. The team gathering to share their emotions. The philosophical depths of sports have never been so lovingly detailed.
30. Speaking of gratitude. This was the most fun I have had in my professional career. Thank you to anyone still here. I could write about this forever. And trust me, I know overwriting is to my detriment at times, but it feels good to share in this kind of thing right now. It has felt distracting and exciting and hopeful to me. Thank you for reading. And when we get back to normal, if you see a man standing on a corner in downtown Minneapolis with some nice jeans on and a crisp tucked in T-shirt, come say hey.