Striving for sporting perfection as ‘The Last Dance’ enthrals

‘The Last Dance’, a basketball docu-series which has enthralled a global sports audience in recent times, narrates the story of Michael Jordan’s playing influence during his stellar career with the Chicago Bulls.

Played out over ten episodes, ‘The Last Dance’, details Jordan’s successful playing period from 1991-1993 and from 1996-1998 during which he garnered six NBA championships.

Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, former Irish international basketball player and coach, Tim McCarthy, afforded his views on the docu-series, reflecting upon the MJ on and off court impact during his playing career.

One of my childhood memories is the very popular song Save the Last Dance for Me by the Drifters and later in life, my brother and cousins used to perform this at family social events with great gusto.

The last few weeks has brought back more memories to me though not from my childhood but from the 90’s, when I lived in Cork and sat down with my wife and children late at night to watch the NBA finals live on Channel 4 when Netflix released The Last Dance.

This is the story about the final season of Chicago Bulls challenge for a second 3 in a row NBA success and the on court and off court issues they had to deal with, though it touches on the earlier 3 in a row and other facts.

Firstly I loved it, each and every minute of this enthralling journey back to a moment in time when America seemed a million miles away, the NBA seemed a place that only stars played in and rich people got to see live each week, and everything was a fairy-tale about the sport.

The Last Dance breaks through that myth and though it is a documentary based on facts and not a factual documentary, from the first moment in series one to the last in series 10, it was a must-see and cannot miss show.

Secondly, they won the title that year to secure a second 3 in a row in 8 years and have never won a title since or have never looked like doing so.

From its opening when it establishes the tension between the franchise’s general manager Gerry Krause and its top two players Michael Jordan (MJ ) and Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson, to the winning of the title, it twists and turns through many iconic moments both highs and lows.

It took us inside a dream world where we saw the best player ever to play in the NBA i.e. Jordan, show us what winning takes at the highest level and what lessons we can all take for any level of sport.

It highlighted the importance of Coach Jackson who brought this exceptional individual talent in Jordan to become the all time greatest by adding his individual talent to a team structure and game plan.

It let us briefly look at the idiosyncrasy of Dennis Rodman who now is best friends with Kim Jong-un – North Korea’s dictator, but then was a key component of the Bulls line up who went off to become a wrestler in the WWE mid-way through the finals and yet returned to perform for Chicago.

And what about Pippen, the second best player in the team who refused to play at one stage because his ego got in his way, who had a really poor financial contract and was in constant arguments over that, and yet it also showed us his love and compassion for his family in tough times.

Think about this for moment, you had a broken relationship between the General Manager of the club and the coach whom he had told he was firing at the end of this season irrespective of the result.

Your star player had a broken relationship with the club and said he was leaving at the end of this season if the coach did not stay.

Your second best player had a broken relationship with the club because of contract issues and seemed to be pouting regularly thought the season.

You had Rodman who could do anything, Toni Kucoc who had joined the Bulls from Croatia and got a tough ride at times from the top two, you had other players telling of their admiration and their fear of MJ.

And you had a General Manager who wanted shut of the coach and many of the players as he wanted to rebuild a new team at the end of the season.

It reminded of a different time in sport, when people had a few beers after games, when sports science and nutrition was in its infancy and when players even at the highest level in sport still did normal things despite the limitations of their fame.

While all of this was going on, The Last Dance took me on an emotional journey as a former player and coach in looking at how all of this madness and dysfunctional behaviours was overcome to bring the success in the end.

Should you watch it, absolutely and don’t worry if you don’t like basketball.

Watch it as a story of life, a story of hurt and pain, a story of humans working individually and collectively to achieve something despite all the issues that they faced.

It is a story that confirms that life is not a fairy tale but hard, but a story that life is also beautiful and rewarding. And watch it to enjoy it, I certainly did.


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