In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls allowed a film crew to follow them as they went for their sixth NBA title in eight seasons. It resulted in an incredible series about one of the sport’s most iconic athletes and celebrated teams in the history of sports. “The Last Dance” follows the Bulls’ 1997-98 season from start to finish, while also covering the rest of the chapters in Jordan’s remarkable career, including his childhood and relationships with his parents and siblings. The series takes its name from a phrase coined by then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who knew that the season would likely be the final run for the core members of that 1990s Bulls dynasty.
The new 10-part Netflix-ESPN joint documentary series is already an enormous success; its premiere reportedly averaged 6.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched ESPN documentary ever!
As is often the case around enormous success, both Michael Jordan’s career and the documentary sparked some criticism. Some of Michael Jordan’s ex-teammates are criticising the legitimacy of “The Last Dance” — and Even Scottie Pippen is reportedly “wounded and disappointed” by his portrayal. Moreover the film cemented Jordan’s notorious reputation for being mean to his teammates, driven at all costs and even a liar
Regardless of where you stand on Jordan’s character, there were a lot of great takeaways on success and leadership.
Here are a few of my favourites:
1. In order to get the most from your team, pay attention to each individual. Head coach, Phil Jackson, paid careful attention to each player and pushed them in the right ways to get the best out of them. He worked to find common ground and connect with every player.
2. Discipline and investing in yourself are key for success. Jordan notoriously spent his off time relaxing and taking care of himself. He ate healthy, recharged and re-calibrated his mind. “I was looking to get some rest,” he said. “Get up and go play.” Jordan prioritised his physical and mental health at all times and stayed away from alcohol, late nights out or anything else that would hinder his ability to perform.
3. The importance of being present. In one of the last episodes someone commented on Jordan’s success. He pointed out that Jordan wasn’t successful because he was the fastest player or the greatest shooter, he was the best because of his ability to remain present. When faced with a stressful situation, many players think about all the ways the shot could go wrong, whereas Jordan was focused entirely on the present moment. He simply didn’t think about anything other than the present moment.
This wasn’t highlighted in the series, but Jordan’s ability to be present was greatly influenced by Head Coach and one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, Phil Jackson. One of Jackson’s nicknames is “Zen Master,” because his leadership was greatly influenced by Eastern philosophy and Zen beliefs. Uniquely within the sports world at the time, he encouraged grace, love and freedom as guiding ideals.
Jackson, was a big proponent of meditation. “As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up… so we can focus… so we can be in concert with one another.” One way Jackson had his team practice mindfulness was through meditation. In an interview Oprah asked, “So, you would literally have the guys sit in stillness?” Jackson answered, “That’s right.”
For many, “The Last Dance” was a fascinating story and an incredible sports film. Whether you like Michael Jordan or not, it was also an insightful Masterclass in leadership and success.