As with previous episodes, The Last Dance 7 and 8 cover a lot of ground in the story of the ’98 Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan’s career. This week’s episodes tell the story of of Jordan’s temporary retirement from basketball in favour of professional baseball, while reeling from the loss of his father.
Michael Jordan, the baseball player
The Last Dance episode 7 picks up following The Bulls’ 1993 championship win. Already feeling physically and emotionally drained from winning three consecutive NBA championships while dealing with the media chatter about his gambling, Jordan was ready to retire from professional basketball (not for long). As Jordan was working through this turmoil, his father James was found murdered in North Carolina. Jordan’s father had a tremendous impact on his life and was a pillar of support for the basketball star. His passing had a profound impact on the already exhausted Jordan. The press’ wild speculation as to whether Jordan’s gambling had something to do with his father’s death was the last straw. Jordan went through with his plans to retire.
Jordan surprised the world by signing on to play professional baseball, which was his father’s dream for him when he was a child. The portrayal of Jordan as a baseball player is definitely an interesting one. The popular version of the story is that he failed at it. Contrary to this, we see him approach the sport the same way he did basketball, as a committed player of unmatched tenacity. The coaches paint a picture of of a player that performed above and beyond expectations of any rookie in the league. The media took umbrage at the notion that Jordan thought he could walk into another professional sport and dominate it like he did basketball, but Jordan found this time away from basketball to be restorative. This part of his story proves to be one of the most fascinating aspects of his career presented in the docu-series.
Is Jordan a nice guy? Episode 7 also shows us that there is no simple answer to that question. Can a person be nice while competing on the level that Jordan did? In an interview, Jordan becomes visibly upset while addressing this question, with a notably full glass of whisky on the table next to him. One thing is clear, Jordan may have been a tyrant to teammates, but he held them to a high standard and achieved results. He never asked them to do anything that he didn’t do himself.
The Last Dance episode 8 focuses on Jordan’s return to the NBA. During a baseball player’s strike, Jordan refused to cross the picket line and play. Since he was no longer playing baseball due to the strike, there was an opening for his return to The Bulls. Jordan’s return breathed new life into the team, who were struggling without their star and captain. Jordan seemed to have his drive back as well. However, there were ups and downs. His return brought back painful memories of his father. There was also the fact that he has trained to play a different sport, which meant he would have to recondition his body for basketball. Jordan may have returned to the game, but he would need more work to reach the top again. Of course, if this series has taught us anything about the man, it’s that he quickly silenced any doubts about his ability with his achievements.
Jordan was ready to compete at the highest level for the ’95 season with new teammates. He let them know what he expected of them and tested their resolve. This resulted in him and Steve Kerr getting into a fist fight in a practice game. However with the standard set, The Bulls were once again propelled to the top of the league. The Bulls beat the Seattle Sonics and won the NBA championship on Father’s Day. An emotional Jordan collapsed to the floor of the locker room. He was back at the top of his game, but his father was not around to see it.