For those of you living under a rock, ESPN and Netflix has been airing a documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls over the last two weeks that is pretty good viewing.
I was lucky enough to see a whole lot of Michael Jordans career, so a lot of the series is just rehashing highlights and stories I already knew about. For viewers that were too young to see Jordan play at all though The Last Dance has been brilliant.
One of the interesting things inn the series that has jumped out at me so far is the way many NBA writers and media types changed the way they looked at players post the Michael Jordan era.
When Jordan was a younger player he was seen as an amazing athlete, a flashy, high scoring player, and someone who couldn’t lead his team to an NBA championship.
Like most great athletes, Michael Jordans early career was punctuated by disappointment and failure. No matter how hard he tried to win, he just couldn’t get past the best teams in the NBA. It took years of failure, learning lessons from other great teams and players, and getting more experience in big moments that saw Michael Jordan turn into the winner we all know him as today.
The problem you see these days with NBA players is that they are expected to be winners out of the gate. Even a player like LeBron James was criticised very early on in his career when he couldn’t help some terrible Cleveland Cavaliers teams to an NBA title, a criticism that was terribly unfair for a player who was still so young.
The mentality that you either win a title or you’re a complete bum is also one of the hangovers from the Michael Jordan era that I find to be unfair.
We have seen some truely great players not win NBA titles. Sometimes they had a shot and just couldn’t win one. Other times they ended up in bad situations where they didn’t have the right team mates or ran into great opponents who they just couldn’t overcome.
Once Michael Jordan retired the expectation on so many great players was completely ridiculous. It has seen some of the best basketball players all time written off because they “never won a ring”.
What makes matters worse if that the NBA talent levels have skyrocketed over the last 15 years. During Michael Jordans era, a team with two to three great players was a contender. Now, a team with two great players might not even be a playoff team. The depth in talent in the NBA has never been better, and you know what, they still only crown one NBA champion ever year!
We are going to see so many great players from the current NBA era retire without winning a championship. Does that mean we are supposed to completely write them off as losers who couldn’t get the job done?
If there is one thing I hope we see come out of The Last Dance, it is that people see that even a player as great as Michael Jordan needed to go through struggles, have the right team mates around him, the right coaches, and then a bit of luck to become a great winner. It wasn’t something he was just ordained with, he earned it after a lot of failure.
That is the pathway most great players have to walk down, but not all are lucky enough for things to line up right and lead to an NBA titles.
Hopefully people see this series and are more forgiving of NBA player. They appreciate their skills, their wins and their failures for what they are…the complete journey of an NBA player from any era.