The first time I was in awe of this documentary was at the end of Episode VII when director Jason Hehir took the most telling, introspective, emotional quote from Michael Jordan and laid it over footage tracing back through the arc of his career, which we have participated in over the first seven hours of this film.
Here is the quote, in full, from Jordan:
“I mean, winning has a price. And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they don’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates came after me. They didn’t endure all the things that I endured.
“Once you join the team you live at a certain standard that I play the game, and I wasn’t going to take anything less. Now, if that means I have to go in there and get in your [expletive] a little bit, then I did that.
“You ask all my teammates, the one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t [expletive] do.
“When people see this they’re going to say, ‘Well he wasn’t really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant. Oh-oh.’ Well that’s you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win and be a part of that, as well.
“Look I don’t have to do this [film]. I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I play the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.”
By the end of that quote, Michael Jordan is holding back tears.
We may not be able to get inside the mind of someone else. We can’t understand what it felt like for Jordan to lose his father, or to leave the game of basketball, or to be driven to succeed in a feverish state.
But we can see his nature.
Whether or not we believe the nature of Michael Jordan has anything to do with us is moot.
We are a humanity.
Within and without each other we approach a cumulative.
The point of art is to hold up a magnifying glass to a piece of sand and show us why it matters.
Hehir is showing us why Michael Jordan matters and it's not because of his fame or his fortune or his talent or his competitiveness.
Michael Jordan matters because we all matter.
And the harder we work to understand ourselves, and share that understanding with each other, will help our shared humanity reach greater heights, no matter the difficulty of the route.
This episode was easily the most emotional of the film, so far.
Whatever you think about Jordan as an athlete or human, his humanity has consistently shone through in his relationship with his parents, and the murder of his father James -- coming just weeks after they celebrated the Bulls third-straight NBA title in 1993 -- simply doesn’t make sense.
But Jordan spends the bulk of this episode trying to make sense of it.
“The narrative is almost too perfect as Jordan completes his comeback and wins his fourth NBA title, and first since James’ death, on Father’s Day.”
One of the things that stuck with me was the need of Jordan, perhaps the most influential person on earth at the time, to lean on his mother Deloris to find some kind of solace in an impossible situation.
How do you go from planning to pick your father up from the airport to burying him?
Jordan says he took a lesson from the way his father lived: “You’ve got to be thankful. I started looking at the positive.”
And finding the positive for Jordan meant leaving the game he had come to define.
It’s funny in watching this footage how the media at the time was looking for an alternative reason behind Jordan retiring, as if the grind of winning three straight titles and the death of his father wasn’t enough for him to have a change of perspective.
But the fact is that the change, the audacious, impossible change, actually works.
Jordan finds himself by playing minor league baseball.
Even if the media and fan attention is still there, the demands are of a completely different nature, and he basks in the change of scenery.
I don’t know how many local music fans are out there, but I found myself thinking a lot about Bob Dylan during this episode -- specifically Dylan’s motorcycle crash following his European tour in ‘66.
The motorcycle crash was physically devastating but also gave him a reason to leave the grind of touring and the increasingly insane demands on his time, his emotions and his artistry from the media and audience who pigeonholed him as the voice of a generation.
In that refuge from the crash, he was able to not just change his art, but also to reclaim a sense of himself that had disappeared in a whirlwind number of years.
For Dylan, it meant settling into Woodstock (where Phil Jackson’s co-writer was probably sleeping in a hammock next door) and writing the old, weird American songbook with The Band.
For Jordan, it meant riding a bus with a bunch of minor league baseball players.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives.
May we refute?
Does anyone else get a real animalistic vibe from this documentary?
As we jump back to 1998 and the Bulls chase for a final title, there are times where I feel like everyone is talking about Jordan as if he were a member of the food chain who was quite literally considering eating them alive.
But there are also times in the documentary where Jordan is a little wounded physically, so his opponents start thinking they can eat him alive?
Also Jordan has a tendency to look sidelong like a lion, so that may play into my feelings.
Former Bull B.J. Armstrong has one of the best games of his life for the Charlotte Hornets in the 1998 playoffs and, after hitting a jumper to seal a Game 2 win, yells at the Bulls bench and Jordan.
Jordan, in the present day 22 years later says, “I’m supposed to kill this guy."
Trust me, he doesn’t say “kill this guy” in the sporting sense.
Anyway Jordan, of course, smokes Armstrong and the Hornets for the rest of the series.
Hehir jumps back in time to when Jordan is making his comeback from baseball to play for the Bulls in the ‘95 playoffs.
And at this point he really is a weakened player. He doesn’t have his legs or his mystique.
He makes the Bulls a better team, but they can’t hang with the Orlando Magic, and even more than that, Jordan looks human.
He makes bad reads and commits turnovers, he air balls late game jumpers and he loses his first playoff series since 1990.
But like any terrifying nightmarish animal, he comes back stronger.
While Jordan films 'Space Jam' in Hollywood, Warner Bros. builds him an entire basketball court and he invites the NBA out for pickup games.
He rebuilds his energy, changes his game, scouts every player, and the Bulls return the following season to win 72 games, the most in NBA history.
The narrative is almost too perfect as Jordan completes his comeback and wins his fourth NBA title, and first since James’ death, on Father’s Day.
But the challenges remain as Hehir jumps back to the ‘98 playoffs to show us another threat to Jordan and the Bulls supremacy: the supremely confident, always quotable Reggie Miller.
Miller says he had a vision that he was going to end Michael Jordan’s career by defeating him in the ‘98 Eastern Conference Finals.
I can’t wait to see how that goes for him.
Grade: 9.9 out of 10
1. At a press conference a reporter named Craig asks Bulls general manager Jerry Krause a bunch of leading, aggressive questions that Krause hates, so Krause leaves the press conference. As Krause leaves another reporter hollers, "Way to go, Craig!" Yeah, Craig!
2. I found out that Jordan's security guard with the perm mullet from last week was named John Michael Wozniak and here's the thing, now that I have seen him I can pick him out of ANY scene like Where's Waldo or something.
3. Not that it's big in the scheme of things, but we see James Jordan smoking a cigarette in the North Carolina locker room with Jordan in uniform. I just can't believe how much we used to not care about smoking.
4. When Jordan retires from basketball a reporter refers to it as "the ultimate press conference" which I promise you is something only a member of the media would say. THE ULTIMATE PRESS CONFERENCE. The average human wouldn't even cross the street for the ultimate press conference.
5. In one of the present days interviews with Jordan he is wearing camo shorts. We are eight hours into this and I only just noticed this.
6. David Stern word of the day: calumny.
7. Facebook fails in numerous ways, but they need to learn that when you ask a trivia question you don't answer it immediately for your audience. Not everyone participated in Harvard debate. Drives me insane every week. Here's the question, do you know the answ ... HERE'S THE ANSWER IDIOT.
8. Jerry Reinsford needs his own fact checker each episode, he is so full of nonsense about his role in the demise of this team it's ludicrous. Jerry Krause getting dirt kicked on him while Reinsdorf keeps acting like he is uncle Jerry. Everyone hated Jerry Reinsdorf.
9. A couple of times we have seen this goofy kid who hoped out of a truck to get an autograph from MJ in traffic and I gotta say, I respect the person who just lays on the horn for 15 seconds while the kid stands there terrified. Also the kid is wearing a red button-up tucked into jeans. Everyone just tucked into jeans back in the day.
10. I'm digging MJ wearing cornflower blue slacks. That's a look.
11. There's no question that Scott Burrell has a very nice disposition and there's no question that Michael Jordan views that nice disposition as the weakest trait of any human he has ever encountered.
12.There's a slo-mo of MJ strolling through a crowded stadium with his crew behind him, including John Michael Wozniak, hair flopping. It's just beautiful.
13.Scottie Pippen shooting jumpers in practice wearing a red turtle neck. WHY NOT?
14. 'Error Jordan' is the kind of headline a copy editor can live on for their entire life.
15. Bill Wennington has a slot machine behind him in his interviews. I wonder how you decide on that location to be interviewed? "Uhhh can we get me in front of the slots?"
16. I have to believe that NBA players will eventually bring back the full T-shirt under the jersey look.
17. Speaking of looks, how many arm bands and leg bands did Michael Jordan sell? I always thought I looked like Mike in my arm band. I did not look like Mike.
18. Once again Jordan shows himself to be a newspaper freak. This whole documentary should have sports fans and athletes rethinking subscribing to the print edition. When we do the LeBron doc we're just gonna have a bunch of shots of people flipping through Twitter on their phone. Not engaging.
19. My favorite hippy in this show, besides Phil Jackson, has been Phil Jackson's co-writer with the Woodstock t-shirt. But now we have Joe Pytka, the long haired lovely director of Space Jam. And when I see Pytka race into the scene to get a shot of Michael playing with the green screen Looney Tunes, well, I fell in love.
20. Space Jam made $230 million at the box office against an $80 million budget. Somehow Pytka never made another film?
21,Tim Grover almost starts crying talking about Jordan's desire to work out and I now understand why Jordan and Tim Grover worked together for so long.
22. Shawn Bradley.
23. When talking about punching Steve Kerr in the face Jordan refers to Kerr and fellow new teammate Luc Longley as "Steve and Luc" with such disdain it poured out of the television.
24. Look, we all are thinking about it, and I'll end with this ... I need to know a whole lot more about B.J. Armstrong and Michael Jordan going to a Bakers Square in 1995. That's the heigh of Michael Jordan. That's 1995 shutdown the earth with the ultimate press conference Michael Jordan. I almost refuse to believe it. But it's so specific. It's almost so strange that I can imagine MJ going without security. Did they get pie? You can't not get pie. It's Bakers Square!