Basketball superstar

The basketball superstar as a cultural icon

Some moments that seem powerful then become even more meaningful in retrospect, as shown in the opening scene of this week’s episodes of “The Last Dance,” the 10-part ESPN documentary examining the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s. At the end of last week’s episodes, the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls faced continuing turmoil, with general manager Jerry Krause insisting that coach Phil Jackson would leave at the end of the season and that the The team lost to the Utah Jazz in a preview of what would become this. NBA finals of the year.

Recounting the 1998 All-Star Game, Jordan’s last as a bull, the documentary focuses on the interaction between Jordan and Los Angeles Lakers goalie Kobe Bryant. Jordan’s performance in the game at Madison Square Garden in New York City, which earned him MVP honors, impressed the then 19-year-old rookie making his first All-Star Game appearance. While in retrospect, the event began a symbolic passing of the torch – Bryant taking his place on the game’s biggest stage for the first time in his career – Jordan still reigned supreme in February 1998.

In interviews for the documentary recorded before his untimely death earlier this year, Bryant said he blushed during a heated discussion debating his merits as a player vis-à-vis Jordan. Because the Bulls legend provided advice, mentorship and guidance to young Bryant as his career matured, the latter said he viewed Jordan as a big brother more than a competitor. Bryant had a lot to learn from Jordan because Kobe followed in his footsteps by establishing himself as a cultural brand with a presence far beyond the basketball court.

“It must be the shoes”

While telling the story of the 1997-98 Bulls, this week’s episodes also look at the Bulls title from a broader perspective. After the team’s first championship win in 1991, star Michael Jordan became not only a living basketball legend, but a cultural touchstone driven by marketing power.

The documentary interviews Kevin Falk, Jordan’s longtime agent, to tell the story of Jordan’s deal with Nike and the origins of the ‘Air Jordan’ shoe brand. Ironically, Jordan flew to the Nike headquarters in 1984 only because his mother Deloris insisted he hear Nike’s offer. Jordan preferred Adidas sneakers to Nike, but Adidas couldn’t put together an endorsement package, and official league sponsor Converse had so many NBA stars in his team that he didn’t need to. his approval.

Up and coming Nike, on the other hand, needed to make a splash and so offered the rookie a $ 250,000 support contract – a paltry sum in retrospect, but a lot of money for a rookie player who had yet to. made his mark in the league. Falk, whose company had represented tennis stars, leveraged the Nike deal to make Jordan his own “brand” – just as Jimmy Connors or Arthur Ashe had their own personal sponsorship deals – in a way that ‘here unknown to NBA players.

As Falk notes in the film, the Air Jordan brand that originally planned to sell $ 3 million worth of shoes by its fourth season ended up selling $ 126 million in its first year alone. Additionally, the Nike brand helped bring Jordan’s attention to aspiring director Spike Lee. Lie Nike ads, telling viewers that Jordan’s exploits must have come from his shoes, paired with the 1992 Gatorade “Be like Mike”Advertising campaign, made Jordan a global phenomenon.

The best team ever

The cultural impact of Jordan, the Bulls and basketball, in general, reached its peak in the “Dream Team, The group of players that made up the US men’s basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The team represents arguably the largest collection of athletes not only in basketball, but in all sporting periods.

In total, eleven of the team’s 12 players (all except Christian Laettner) and three of his coaches (all except PJ Carlesimo) have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as individuals; the team itself was inducted in 2010, for its contribution to the advancement of the game around the world.

In addition to Jordan, the team included iconic figures such as Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Charles Barkley. But that didn’t include Isiah Thomas, point guard for two-time Detroit Pistons champion. Although Jordan referred to Thomas as a “hole” in last week’s episodes, he insisted, like several other interviewers, that Jordan had not blackballed Thomas from the team as much as Thomas’ story with several other NBA stars led to his exclusion.

Despite the international goodwill the Dream Team has engendered, the history of this Olympic team also shows Jordan’s intensely competitive streak. As NBA writer and analyst David Aldridge noted, Jordan would invent enemies to beat them, so great was his desire to win.

During a Dream Team training in Monte Carlo ahead of the Barcelona Olympics, Jordan used Magic Johnson’s trashy speech as motivation to dominate a scrum against fellow NBA superstars. He used Bulls general manager Jerry Krause’s eagerness to sign Croatian star Toni Kukoc as motivation to shut down Kukoc when the United States faced Croatia at the Olympics. He even used his competitive streak to defend his sponsorship deal with Nike, bypassing an order that required him to wear his Reebok-branded Olympic clothing in drape an American flag over Reebok logos on his warm-up outfit.

Game problem or competition problem

This week’s episodes provide further proof of Jordan’s immense competitive drive. When analysts equated him with Portland Trailblazers goaltender Clyde Drexler, Jordan scored 35 points in the first half of Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals, just to prove his dominance. The game entered the tradition of basketball as the game of “shrugs”, in which Jordan, after doing one of a three-point basket blizzard, shrugged at Magic Johnson – sitting next to the pitch while announcing the game – as if to say even though he didn’t didn’t know how he could accomplish what he is doing.

The following year, Jordan also used a lightweight – the fact that Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley won the league’s MVP award that season – to motivate himself as the Bulls won their third. consecutive NBA championship. But before reaching the 1993 NBA Finals, Jordan faced a controversy off the field on his own.

In the 1993 Eastern Conference final against the New York Knicks, Jordan was criticized for driving to Atlantic City between games on a game trip with his father. Jordan saw it as a way to let off steam and escape the eternal gaze of the New York media. But given its previous involvement Along with James “Slim” Bouler, drug dealer and notorious gamer, some wondered if Jordan had a gambling addiction.

In the documentary, Jordan says he has no gambling addiction, despite spending that most ordinary Americans would consider astronomical sums for gambling. He admitted he had a competition issue, as seen in this week’s many scenes. Bulls center Will Perdue noted that when traveling as a team Jordan would interrupt low-stakes card games and ask to play – just so he could know he had put his money in. teammates in his own pocket.

The price of fame

At the end of the 1993 season, Jordan began to openly think about hanging up his sneakers. The history of the game, the constant pressure from the media and the quest to win three consecutive championships had taken its toll.

Despite the history of the game, Jordan hadn’t faced much criticism during his career. As the documentary notes, however, some members of the African American community wondered why he had not publicly supported Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt when the Democrat ran against Republican Jesse Helms in 1990 to become the North Carolina’s first black senator.

At the time, Jordan commented – a remark he said he casually said – that “Republicans buy sneakers too.” He explained in an interview for the documentary that, especially during his playing days, Jordan did not see himself as an activist and did not want to take a public stand on candidates and a campaign that he did not fully control.

But while this week’s episodes demonstrate the impact of a global icon, they also demonstrate its toll. Particularly on the road, Jordan remains captive in his hotel room – unable to travel anywhere, lest he be besieged by fans looking for autographs, tickets, photos and their own. personal moment with grandeur. Just before the start of the 1998 NBA playoffs, he thanks when Bulls coach Phil Jackson cancels a day of practice, so he can get out on the golf course to relax (and yes, play with it. his friends in the process).

The archive film of last week’s episodes shows Jordan’s Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman saying he would happily play basketball for free – he demands a salary in return for all media appearances and other required responsibilities NBA players. It feels like Jordan feels the same; an interview for the documentary tells viewers that despite the ad campaigns, they really wouldn’t want to “be like Mike” by living their entire lives in a media fishbowl.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, this week’s episodes end with Jordan telling sports journalist Ahmad Rashad ahead of the 1998 NBA playoffs that he wants to end his career at the top and doesn’t want to wait for his skills to decline. to retire. Proving courage by winning a sixth championship would give Jordan the opportunity to do just that.

Episodes 5 and 6 of The last dance will be rebroadcast on ESPN and available on Netflix. Episodes 7 and 8 will air next Sunday at 9:00 p.m. EST, with the final two episodes airing on May 17.

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