The Celtics currently trail the Miami Heat 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals.
I like good sports documentaries. I like exploring the psychology of how individuals and teams work.
How does one individual or a team dominate, while another falters? How do certain individuals or teams keep coming back and winning and winning and winning, while others grow satiated and either lose just enough of the competitive edge to never climb that mountain again, or completely fall away?
It’s not just about talent. There are plenty of examples of sublimely talented individuals and teams who never convert that potential to consistent excellence. You wait for them to mature. You see hints that they’re growing.
You might even catch a game which you think is the one – this marks their arrival among the elite.
And then they continue to disappoint.
I love seeing how the heads of people work.
So, while I have little interest in NBA, I binged-watched The Last Dance, and since then have read all the follow-up articles from ex-teammates, people in the know and media about how Michael Jordan conducted himself and treated teammates, opponents and, well, the world in general.
He’s a bully. He’s a sociopath. He’s obsessed.
And my response to that – whether it’s true or not – is simple: so?
To become elite at anything, it’s not just about ability, but hard work, drive and focus. When you look at the very best in any field, they carry themselves with a swagger. They have to believe in themselves unfailingly, believe in their processes, and to go above and beyond, reset their expectations, and then go above and beyond again, over and over and over.
You don’t become the best with a good enough attitude.
In team sports, you hear about locker room dissent. You hear about individuals who – despite their talent – are poison for team morale. You see teams plummet due to disharmony.
We’ve all seen it in the team sports we follow. We hear about trades that are simply about getting a player out of a particular environment. Recently, there have been articles about how Kevin Pietersen was disruptive for England’s team morale.
It might surprise everybody to learn, but I don’t know Michael Jordan, I don’t know the NBA outside of passing references to players and teams, but I know statistics: the Chicago Bulls three-peated twice with Michael Jordan in an eight-year period.
That’s six championships in eight years.
Jordan might’ve been a terror but, given the results, his attitude and methods must’ve unified his teammates. It compelled them to giddy heights – whether they did it out of inspiration or did it to spite Jordan, they did it.
They improved. They got better. They demanded excellence from one another and from themselves.
And they kept themselves up there.
Credit to Steve Kerr, who had an altercation with Jordan, but also credits Jordan for all the success he’s had in basketball – as a player, commentator, and coach. Here’s a guy who might’ve become nothing but a journeyman if Jordan hadn’t been the catalyst for Kerr demanding he get every ounce of talent out of his body.
And then some.
Sports are a result-driven business. Coaches, players, and administrations are retained or dismissed based on their performance. While we love our gracious champions, all these people are striving to be the best. They’re not in it to win popularity contests.
As legendary NFL coach Steve Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.”
We teach kids to be good losers, to enjoy the game, and that it’s not about the score.
As adults in professional multi-million-dollar sporting industries, it’s only about winning.
I honestly don’t get the Jordan-bashing given the outcomes – from teammates’ bitter rants, to speculation about why the documentary didn’t cover this or that, and extrapolating it must be because Jordan’s a master manipulator who was trying to control what information we did get.
The documentary portrays him for who he is: driven, talented, and challenging (and, at times, openly antagonistic).
If the Chicago Bulls flopped, if Jordan was spasmodic in his own output, if players were traded out to accommodate his ego to the detriment of the team and its fortunes, I’d understand all of this negativity.
But it seems like the bizarrest sour grapes: Jordan was mean, and that lead to us winning all these championships.
What a villain.
I’d love a Jordan on any of the teams I follow.