REVIEW: Ghost of Jordan’s father looms in “Last Dance”


Courtesy of IMDB

Like many of our greatest and most prolific athletes, Michael Jordan’s career and legacy are shaped by the relationship with his father.

Episodes seven and eight of “The Last Dance” are framed within the context of Jordan’s relationship with his father, James, who was tragically murdered shortly after the Bulls completed their first three-peat in 1993. 

These episodes show Jordan at his most vulnerable and identifiable, as we see glimpses of the legend as more than a mere basketball machine. He was a man — flawed and broken after the tragedy that befell him and his family. 

The episodes evoked great emotion in myself, as I think of my father and his father, too. Each of us are molded by these familial figures, so much so that we hardly realize it in the moment. These narratives exist beyond the page and the screen — they live within our hearts and our souls. 

We also see Jordan retiring for the first time, having felt he accomplished all he needed to. He shockingly and famously veered into baseball, playing with the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, a decision which has become recontextualized within this series. James Jordan always wanted to see his son play baseball, and despite people’s feelings at the time, we now see it as a way of honoring his beloved father.

The media once again trashed Jordan for this decision. Pundits called him an embarrassment to the sport of baseball, without allowing Jordan to explain what motivated his transition. More than anything, this series has shown us how the media and the public idolizes figures, puts them on a pedestal, until they are tired of their success. Then, they proceed to tear them down, until they’ve been torn down long enough to crave a comeback story.

These toxic narratives are pervasive and go beyond athletics. But Jordan is an example of a figure treated with such vitriol and disrespect, that it, in part, drove him away from basketball. “The Last Dance” magnificently captures the antagonism of the media and the public, and the expectations they place on ordinary people for their extraordinary abilities. Jordan just happened to be a great basketball player, perhaps even the greatest. But even the greatest, atop the mountain for too long, are eventually torn down. 

Despite Jordan’s relatability in these episodes, we still witness his ultra-competitiveness and his willingness to alienate himself in order to get his teammates to perform. It’s almost as if we’re observing Jordan stripped naked of all his iconography, seeing a man who could be kind and funny, but also relentless and cruel. I’ve stated this again and again throughout this review series, but it cannot be overstated — the level of truth on display is unlike any documentary series I’ve seen in a great while.

Jordan was a winner and an idol for millions of people, but his cruelty towards teammates and his willingness to bend his competition until they’ve broken forces us to re‐evaluate the man. Did he go too far? Does it matter, considering the tremendous results for his teams? 

“The Last Dance” provides us with unprecedented access and the behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews is enough to make you salivate. I can honestly say that Jordan’s actions upset me on more than one occasion, but his mere participation and willingness to bare his soul has made me love and admire him more than I already had. 

And as previously stated, his deep bond with his father connected with me, as I consider myself to have a similar bond with mine. Love him or hate him, Jordan was (and is) a soulful man, whose love for the game and his family is infectious — I could feel it in my heart through the buzzing static of my television screen. 

It wasn’t long after his baseball stint that Jordan leaped back into basketball. In 1995, he joined the struggling Bulls, where they lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Orlando Magic. This loss to a younger, well-conditioned team was likely the flame that reinvigorated his fire to climb atop the mountain once again. And climb he did.

The following season, 1995-96, the Bulls, with a newly acquired Dennis Rodman, became a legendary team, breaking the record for most wins in a season with 72. 

The narrative of fatherhood comes full circle in episode eight, when the Bulls captured their fourth title in 1996, clinching the victory on Father’s Day. The moment was overwhelming for Jordan, to the point that he collapsed on the floor, enveloped in tears. It is a moment in sports that feels so close to my heart that I even hold back tears while writing this. It was a moment so magical, so emotionally wrought, that it felt stranger than fiction. It was a moment that felt like it was pulled straight from a storybook or a cliched sports film, only it was reality.