When I first saw the trailer for this 10 part documentary a few months back, I; like many of you, were completely blown away. Watching the featured guest interviews in this documentary just being filmed getting ready gave me goosebumps. And, I knew that if the trailer was this compelling that the documentary itself was going to be EPIC...and it didn't disappoint! This by far was the one of the best sports documentaries that I have ever seen. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time reliving my childhood and my adolescent years watching the Chicago Bulls ascend to the top of the Sports World. I had a lot of nostalgic moments in watching this documentary; growing up a Detroit Pistons fan I remember Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars walking off the court and not shaking any of the Bulls players hands. I remember the backlash they received from that and it really cemented the Bad Boys persona that the Pistons had been given by the league. I remember a few years prior where the Detroit Pistons instituted the Jordan Rules as a way to contain His Airness from completely dominating the game. I remember the epic "Flu Game" where Michael Jordan looked physically sick and yet he played 45 mins and contributed 38 pts to the ensure another Bulls victory over the Utah Jazz. And, finding out watching Ep 7 or 8 (I can't remember) that it should've been called the "Food Poisoning" Game. I remember the 87 & 88 Slam Dunk Contests where Michael really become "Air" Jordan and he put his dunking ability on display. I remember watching and thinking to myself that he really can fly. MJ was definitely one of my idols when I was kid. I admired his swag, his approach to the game, his passion, and of course the SHOES. Who didn't love the shoes!
But, the purpose of this blog is not to simply geek out about "His Airness" or about the iconic Chicago Bulls team that won their 6th NBA Championship capping off Jordan's return and cemented the team as a legitimate sports dynasty. But, we want to talk about some of the lessons that we learned while watching this tremendous documentary; life lessons in leadership, commitment, determination and having a consistent work ethic that separates the Champions from everybody else. These character traits were definitely present in the life of Michael Jordan and what we discovered is that most if not all of these traits are contagious. They are attractive to those who desire to follow in the footsteps of whoever embodies these traits holistically. We want to spend a few moments discussing each one and how they were reflected in "The Last Dance" documentary and how we can and should implement them in our lives as well.
"Lead By example"
There is no question that Michael Jordan was the undeniable and unquestioned leader of not just the Chicago Bulls team but I would argue the entire Bulls organization. The sun rose and set on this iconic sports legend as he lead this Bulls organization to heights unknown. Even though Jerry Krause, contended, "That no man is more important than the organization." We all know what the truth actually was, MJ made the Bulls, the Bulls did not make him. When young Michael arrived in Chicago, after begin drafted 3rd overall behind Sam Bowie (Who?), the Chicago Bulls franchise was a debacle, the team was in a major state of disrepair. And, according to the documentary it didn't take long for MJ to become the undeniable leader of that team. His skills on the court; not just in practice, but during the game is what made him ascend to the top of the heap. When his teammates begin to witness some of his game time heroics, his basketball acumen is what ultimately translated into MJ the Leader of the Chicago Bulls. The coach and the players begin to defer to him, because they trusted his ability to not just play well, but lead them to victory. There was a moment, during a game against a team that the Bulls would lose to pretty consistently (the team escapes me at the moment), nonetheless, Michael; during one of the team huddles told the team and the coach that he was not going to let them lose this game. And, I believe MJ put up something like 36 pts. to lead his team to victory. One of the lessons that I gleaned from this was you have to be willing to step up and do what it takes to lead your team to victory, whatever team that you are leading. Your team has to have confidence in your ability to deliver. In Michael's case, his basketball skills was so far above everyone else on the team, that his skills alone is what made him the team leader. On the court, it was his basketball skills that got the attention of not just his opponents but his teammates. In your life, you have to find what it is that you do well, and use that to carve out a niche for yourself. Find that thing that you do better than anyone else, and use that to elevate yourself above your peers. For me it was my speaking ability, at a young age I loved listening to the oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was moved by his melodic style of oratory. I memorized his speeches, and I rehearsed them while doing my chores around the house. Soon, I begin reciting in my classes at at school and then during school assemblies . And, eventually what was inspired to write my own speeches for oratorical contests and competitions, which I placed 1st in every single one of them. Below is a speech that I delivered during one our churches youth services several years ago entitled, "I Know Who I Am."
Speaking, and writing well put me in some very exclusive places and in front of some very special company. My point is simple, God has gifted each of us with something special to share with the world. We need to spend time finding out what that gift is, because your gift is directly connected to whatever purpose that God has assigned for your life. The Bible declares emphatically, "Your gift will make room for you, and put you before great men." There is no question that Michael Jordan was gifted by God to play basketball. In most circles (including mine), he is considered the "Greatest Of All Time" or the G.O.A.T. and deservingly so. What he did in a Bulls uniform was undoubtedly greatness personified. MJ decided early on that he was going to use this gift to go as far as he could possibly go, and this is what the documentary consistently showed us. He was a winner at every level of the sport. And, any obstacle or adversity that he faced he just used as a tool to motivate him to ultimately overcome it. We often hear about how he was cut from his high school basketball team, and many would have thought that this would have been the moment where he decided well...basketball must not be for me. Not so! Instead, MJ took that moment and used as motivation to get better and more skilled. The documentary also talked about how competitive he was, and how he and his older brother would play against each other. Starting out his older brother Larry would beat Michael quite frequently, and you or I would probably resolve to think "...well it must not be meant for me to beat my brother in basketball." "Basketball may not be the sport for me." Just think, if he would have taken that approach, if he would have quit and given up at an early age, think about all that not he would have missed out on, but all that we would have missed out on as fans. He didn't let any of those obstacles stop him, and that was true leaders do. A great man once said, "obstacles are just opportunities in work clothes." Success is something that you have to work at, it something that you have to work hard at. The fault of many of us is that we want to be successful, but we are not willing to do the work that it takes to get us there. True leaders rise to the occasion and that is what Michael did and that is what you and I have to do as well.
"COMMIT to being challenged"
On thing is for sure Michael Jordan was committed to the game of basketball, he was fully vested in the game that brought him so much notoriety and fame. Michael's commitment to his craft is what was attractive to his teammates as well. Another word for commitment is "Passion." It is definitely safe to say that Michael was passionate about winning; and he was passionate about what it takes to win. There was a moment in the documentary where Michael kind of got a bit emotional about how he was portrayed in some cases as a bully or a dictator in practices and in games with his teammates. And, he said something like, "When people see this they're going to say 'well he wasn't really a nice guy - he may have been a tyrant' - but that's you. Because you've never won anything." And, not only did he say it but he got emotional behind it as well, which is an important indicator of how passionate and committed he was to winning. He said in essence, that you words don't really mean much to me, because you never won anything. And, this is not say that your opinion may not have value or isn't important. But, in order for your words to be impactful to Michael, the question he is going to ask is how many rings have you won doing things your way. If you haven't won anything then you really can't say anything to me, because my accomplishments speak much louder than your criticisms.
The life lesson is simple, whatever you do in life, whether it is basketball, golf, public speaking, singing, rapping, etc, stay committed to it, be passionate about what it is that you are doing. You will never excel at anything if you are not committed to it. What's ironic is that YOU are the most important part of the equation. If YOU are are not committed, then YOU have already loss. What the documentary showed is that Michael was willing to do whatever it takes to win; whatever it take to make his team better. I remember; going back to when the Detroit Pistons beat the Bulls back in 1990 for the 2nd straight time in the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals to play the Los Angeles Lakers. And, despite Michael's optimism going into the series they still ended up losing to them a 2nd time in a row. He congratulated the Pistons players, walked off the court headed to the locker room to change and get on the bus. According to the documentary, Michael cried on the back of the bus. His passion for the game showed through his emotions and how disappointed he was that for the 2nd straight time he and his team could not get pass the Pistons. For some this could've been another moment to quit and give up. It could've been the moment where you recess into mediocrity and resolve to only go so far and expect to be defeated at some point by a better opponent. Not so! When the team arrived back in Chicago, MJ had already made up in his mind that he was so committed to his team; he was so committed to the game of basketball; he was so focused on winning that he was willing to forego a summers worth of vacation and relaxation with family and friends, to begin a workout regiment with he and his teammates that would make them a more formidable and competitive opponent next season. MJ was so committed to winning that he wouldn't allow defeat to stop him. Michael laid down this gauntlet to his team of what he was willing to do, and if they wanted to win then they should follow suit as well. MJ made it clear during the documentary that he would not require something of his teammates that he was not willing to do himself. That is the mark of a true leader. In this day and time, you have good and bad examples of this concept of leadership, from the White House to to our house. You have leaders that have so much wisdom and advice for others, but are unwilling to use that advice for themselves. But, when you see a leader that is not only willing to lead, but to lead by example that is another mark of true leadership. The leader should be the first to sacrifice; the leader should be the first to be the example. This is the the true merits of leadership. Being first comes with a price. In this case, Michael and his teammates made the commitment to each other to train during the summer. This was also the summer in which new Coach Phil Jackson begin to implement the "Triangle Offense, " which took the focus off of Michael primarily and incorporated his other teammates into the offense in order to give their opponents some other players to worry about. Before the triangle offense, the Bulls offense would essentially give the ball to Michael and everybody "got the h$#%! outta the way." The implementation of the "Triangle Offense" would now make teams more accountable defensively in order to match up against the Bulls, because you could no longer double and triple team MJ and still win games. You now have to guard Scottie Pippen, John Paxon, Tony Kukoc, Bill Cartwright and BJ Armstrong. This offense took the ball out of Michael's hand primarily and essentially put it in the hands of his teammates. In doing so, Michael's teammates had to be committed to getting better themselves. Once his teammates accepted their role and committed themselves to getting better when the Bulls met the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1991 the end result was much different. Not only did the Bulls surpass the Pistons that year and play in their first ever NBA Finals against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, but they beat the Lakers and they won their franchises first ever NBA Championship.
"Losses are lessons"
A running theme throughout the entire 10 PT documentary for me was determination. MJ was determined to take his game and his team as far as possible. And, no matter what obstacle or adversity they would face, MJ was determined to overcome it. I kind of view determination as the fuel that drives the car. In the case of Michael Jordan, his gift and talent for the game of basketball could be viewed as the car and his motivation and fierce competitive nature was and is determination. In my view there was no greater competitor in the league than MJ. For me, that was the one thing that separates MJ from Lebron in the GOAT debate. I just think that Lebron wasn't as fierce a competitor as Michael when it is all said and done. MJ was the only player that had the ability to "will" a game to victory. His determination was so strong that it could essentially override any opposing forces desire or ability to defeat him. He seemed to be the only player that had that ability. There were some that might have shown signs of it; Kobe probably being the closest, and Lebron being the farthest of the two. But, when motivated, there was nothing and nobody that could stop Michael Jordan. We saw this throughout each episode of "The Last Dance" documentary, whatever the adversity, whether it was an opponent or a team, or a vice - like gambling, MJ was determined to not allow it to get in the way of his goal of winning. Winning was his primary objective and he would not let anything or anybody stop him from reaching that goal.
And, in life this is the type of "bull dog" tenacity that you and I have to have when we set out to accomplish anything. We cannot let anything or anybody stop us from reaching our goal. Whatever it takes. Our determination should push us past any adversary, or adversity that stands in the way of us reaching said goal. This is not to say that in life we want experience setbacks, we won't experience disappointments, we won't experience or encounter hurdles or obstacles that we will have to surpass, but we cannot allow those things to prevent us from reaching our desired goals. It is a determined person that gets knocked down, and doesn't stay down, but rises up to continue in their pursuit of destiny. And, this is one of the overarching themes of this documentary that we undeniably saw as one of MJ's character traits. It almost seemed like MJ's competitive nature was directly tied to his determination. He often challenged himself early on in his career by playing one on one with players he thought could elevate his game. Here's another life lesson, never be afraid to challenge yourself; step outside of your comfort zone and try or learn something new. In our quest to become better, we have to remain open minded to new things, new opportunities, new doors that may come available that will help us to reach our goals. It is also a determined person that is able to learn from their failures and their mistakes or setbacks. When your losses become lessons you have truly become a determined person, and nothing and nobody can ever stop you. When you are able to learn from your mistakes they immediately become teachable moments that will help to propel you to the next level. But, it is only when you look at your setbacks and failures as insurmountable, then you become the causality of your adversary, you become the spoils of your conqueror. And, this is not the character of a true leader. This is NOT who we were destined to be, this is NOT who God saw when He set down at the drafting board of time and created us. He saw greatness in our future. He saw destiny and purpose for our lives. That is not to say that we would not face adversity, that is not to say that we wouldn't face challenges and even some setbacks. But, we shouldn't allow those setbacks or failures to define who we are. I Peter 2:9 declares, that "ye are a chosen generation, a Royal Priesthood and a Holy Nation, a Peculiar People that ye should show forth the praises of Him who brought you out of darkness into this marvelous light." I'm sure if we ask Michael, he would tell you that he learned more from those losses than he did in the many victories, because it was in those losses that his basketball acumen was really challenged, it was in those losses that he realized he need to reach a little bit further, it was in those losses that he had needed more than himself to get to that next level. Sometimes those loses allows us the opportunity to look at ourselves introspectively and transparently to see our flaws up close and personal, to see where we fall short and most importantly what we need to do to get better. The Greek philosopher Plato surmised, "The un-examined life is not a life worth living." Losses affords us the opportunity to see ourselves that way.
This documentary was powerful on so many levels and I could probably write an entire book on some of the things that I learned while watching this. But, I chose to pull out a few key points to share in hopes that this sparks a discussion that I would love to have with many of you. I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at what it was like to "Be Like Mike." I was one of those who song the Gatorade song, who wore the shoes, who watched as many games as I could, and who tried to have the same swagger as MJ did. But, at the end of the day there was and is only one MJ. And, at the and of the day you can only be YOU, out of the billions of people that populate planet earth there is still only one YOU! All we can ask of each other is for YOU and I to be un-apologetically, authentically, unequivocally YOU! Nobody can't beat YOU being YOU! And, I think that is sometimes lost in our fascination with celebrities like MJ, we become so overwhelmed in their celebrity and their gifting and talent that we lose sight of who we are. Our identity, our own individuality is lost in trying to be like someone else. But, for me the BIGGEST takeaway from this documentary is that we have to commit to being the person that God created us to be, because just like MIKE, God created YOU for a purpose. And, instead of spending your life trying to be like someone else, try spending it pursuing the purpose and destiny that God has designed for your life. I guarantee that YOU will be glad that YOU did!