Some of Michael Jordan’s former Chicago Bulls teammates are furious at their portrayal in hit series ‘The Last Dance’, but cast aside the fawning response to the show and it’s Jordan whose reputation should be questioned most.
Jordan’s longtime wingman Scottie Pippen is said to be “livid” at how he was depicted in the smash 10-part docuseries, which centers around Jordan and the all-conquering Bulls teams of the 1990s.
Among other things, Pippen’s gripes apparently stem from Jordan calling him “selfish” over the decision to have ankle surgery at the start of the 1997-98 campaign, while another episode paints Pippen unfavorably over his refusal to play the final seconds of a 1994 playoff game against the New York Knicks.
“[Pippen] felt like up until the last few minutes of Game 6 against the Jazz [in the 1998 NBA Finals], it was just ’bash Scottie, bash Scottie, bash Scottie,’” ESPN host David Kaplan said this week, relaying the seven-time All-Star forward’s perspective on the acclaimed series which concluded last weekend.
Pippen isn’t the only one aggrieved at how he came out of ‘The Last Dance’ – which has effectively served as a hagiography to the all-powerful Jordan.
Former Bulls forward Horace Grant has labeled Jordan a “liar” and a “snitch” over claims that he leaked information to journalist Sam Smith for his 1992 book – ‘The Jordan Rules’ – which lifted the lid on the NBA icon’s turbulent relations with his teammates.
“Lie, lie, lie… If MJ had a grudge with me, let’s settle this like men,” Grant said this week.
“Let’s talk about it. Or we can settle it another way. But yet and still, he goes out and puts this lie out that I was the source behind [the book]…
“When if you say something about him, he’s going to cut you off, he’s going to try to destroy your character.”
In any case “90 percent” of ‘The Last Dance’ was “BS,” according to Grant – who featured in interviews on the series along with a string of former teammates.
“When that so-called documentary is about one person, basically, and he [Jordan] has the last word on what’s going to be put out there… it’s not a documentary,” Grant said.
“It’s his narrative of what happens in the last, quote-unquote, dance. That’s not a documentary, because a whole bunch of things was cut out, edited out. So that’s why I call it a so-called documentary.”
Much has already been made of the fact that two of Jordan’s close associates served as executive producers on the series, while the NBA icon’s own production company – ‘Jump 23’ – was an unnamed co-producer – leading to suggestions that Jordan essentially had the final say on what made the cut.
For a generation already familiar with Jordan’s legend, ‘The Last Dance’ has afforded a misty-eyed chance to revel in the ’90s nostalgia; for younger viewers or even casual basketball fans, it has been a chance to be inducted into royal court of ‘His Airness’.
But as the current bickering between former Bulls teammates illustrates, on closer inspection Jordan himself should hardly emerge from the series with halo undimmed.
Jordan’s all-consuming desire to win has been well-established, encapsulated in the viral ‘Last Dance’ monologue widely held up as a beacon of what it takes to achieve the kind of rarified greatness that Jordan soared to on the court.
“One you joined the team, you lived at a certain standard that I played the game, and I wasn’t going to take anything less,” Jordan says.
“If that means I had to go in there and get in your ass a little bit, then I did that.”
If this doesn’t motivate you to be great, I don’t know what will. “Winning has a price, leadership has a price… ‘The one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t ****ing do.” pic.twitter.com/sEt4eE9nTz
And get in their ass he undoubtedly did.
From the kind of hazing of new teammate Scott Burrell that would do the US Marines proud, to trying to deprive Horace Grant of food on a flight home after a poor game (a story unsurprisingly not included in ‘The Last Dance’) – Jordan could be tyrannical.
This was supposedly the price to pay for his greatness, something excusable because he operated in a stratospheric realm and would naturally feel resentment when others fell short of that same brilliance.
It’s true that Jordan occupied an exclusive sporting pantheon alongside the likes of Muhammad Ali and Pele, and as a result had to deal with levels of fame that few people – sporting or otherwise – even came close to.
In one of the more profound scenes in ‘The Last Dance’, Jordan is seen lying on a hotel couch, lamenting the intense glare in which he was forced to live his life.
Yet at the same time, Jordan undoubtedly reveled in that status, once apparently referring to himself as “Black Jesus” in an exchange with former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller.
He was not a man without ego.
As for some of Jordan’s more controversial moments, the series has paid mere lip service to those – such as his comments that “Republicans buy sneakers too” when defending his decision not to publicly back Democrat challenger Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race.
Jordan dismissed the statement as being made “in jest,” and the documentary wasn’t about to dwell on the issue either.
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Horace Grant’s claims that Jordan himself is a “snitch” also hold water; after all, Jordan was content to talk fairly openly about his early Bulls teammates and their wild-child ‘cocaine circus’ reputation.
“He said that I was the snitch… and still after 35 years he brings up his rookie year going into one of his teammates’ rooms and seeing coke and weed and women,” Grant said.
“My point is: Why the hell did he want to bring that up? What’s that got to do with anything? I mean, if you want to call somebody a snitch, that’s a damn snitch right there.”
Likewise, characters such as Bulls general manager Jerry Krause – frequently portrayed as the villain of the piece – are either no longer around to defend themselves, or are given scant chance to do so.
The snippets we gain from Jordan’s basketball contemporaries convey the awe and respect in which he was held, but are also laced with the prickly nature of main protagonist of ‘The Last Dance’.
Even former teammates such as Steve Kerr – who has partially defended Jordan’s berating as a necessary evil – basically confirmed that he was not a particularly pleasant person to play alongside.
Given the intrigues and animosities at play throughout the series, it should come as little surprise that reputations have been bruised and old wounds reopened.
But dig beyond the sheen of ‘The Last Dance’ and it is not Jordan whose legend should be enhanced by it.
Just ask his old teammates.
By Liam Tyler