“After watching The Last Dance, is MJ still the GOAT or is it LeBron? NEXT on *insert sports talk show*.” Turn on the television tomorrow morning and the “MJ vs. LeBron” debate will be nauseating so better yet, maybe skip the sports program and read a book, instead.
All pessimism aside, I, along with every sports fan in the world, am jacked up for The Last Dance, which premieres tonight at 9 PM EST on ESPN. Living in a world without sports has been more difficult than expected so The Last Dance comes at a time when society needs it most. ESPN has done fantastic documentaries in the past with OJ: Made in America and the 30 for 30 series so I have extremely high hopes for The Last Dance.
With ten hours of footage, there are going to be plenty of stories to tell about Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, and the Chicago Bulls. Between retirement, his gambling issues, and altercations with teammates, the world is going to get an inside look into what made Michael Jordan not only one of the greatest basketball players, but one of the greatest winners. To serve as an amuse-bouche for The Last Dance, let’s go to Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals between the Bulls and the Utah Jazz. Rumor has it that MJ hit one of the most iconic shots of all time to win the game.
However, I want to focus on the possession before the game-winner. It’s what I call the most underrated aspect of Jordan’s last game for the Bulls. Everyone remembers Jordan’s iconic pose during the shot, but what we forget is how the Bulls got the ball back. With 41 seconds left, John Stockton hit a 3 to put the Jazz up 86-83. On the next possession, Jordan gets right to the rack and hits a layup with 37 seconds left to cut the Bulls’ deficit to 1. The Bulls need a stop. At the very least, Chicago could give up a basket inside the arc to keep it a one-possession game. In most situations, teams are going to play “No 3’s” defense and do their best not to foul. Force a tough jump shot, gather the rebound, and try to win the game on the other end. However, Jordan had other plans.
Did someone say cookies? Michael Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone, one of the best scorers to ever lace them up, in the post, where Malone wreaked havoc on opponents for nearly 20 years. Because offense sells tickets, most people remember Jordan for his acrobatic finishes and iconic, clutch jump shots. However, Jordan’s defense seems to get lost in the shuffle. Michael Jordan is one of the best defenders of all time, and yet, his defensive excellence is somehow the most underrated aspect of his game. Jordan was a member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times in his career. Jordan is tied with Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, and Kevin Garnett for most first-team selections.
Wait, there’s more. Michael Jordan won the award for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in the 1987-1988 season. Since Michael’s win, the only other guard to win the award was Payton in 1995-1996. Don’t worry, the defensive accolades continue. Jordan was the NBA’s leader in steals three times in 1988, 1990, and 1993. You can make a strong argument that MJ was better on defense than he was on offense.
So kids, next time you want to become the greatest basketball player in the world, make sure you can play defense.
Will you be watching The Last Dance? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet us, @unafraidshow.