What can we learn from Michael Jordan and The Last Dance?

It is the 19th of April 2020. 9.00 p.m. ET to be specific. Most of the US population is confined at home in fear of the Covid-19 pandemic. But then comes Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance on ESPN. And for the next month, millions of Americans would be treated to the untold story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Of course, the rest of the world would soon join in the viewership of this in-depth 10-episode series. Before getting into the lessons we can draw from Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, let us recap a few interesting facts about Michael Jordan:
  1. Michael Jordan donated his first-year salary from Washington Wizards to help 9/11 bomb blast victims
  2. Michael Jordan is the only athlete who is a billionaire
  3. Michael Jordan is the only player who ever won the Scoring Title and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season
  4. Michael Jordan averaged 33.6 PPG in the six final series, of which he won every one of them.
  5. Michael Jordan really fears water, thanks to a childhood incident that saw a good friend of his drowning in the ocean.
The list can easily go up to 50, but let that suffice for now. At least it serves as a good intro to this revered basketballer. We now move straight into the meat of the matter.

1. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

This wise saying has never been more materialized than in Michael Jordan’s career. You see, as Jordan was just starting out in this sport, he really focused on improving his own playing. To be honest, this really improved his skills. But he was still far from winning a championship. Simply because basketball success is a matter of teamwork. Thus he trampled down his ego and embraced the team mindset more than ever before. That was essentially the turning point for the team. As you think of moving into the high-performance realm, remember it is not a good idea to go all alone. You need to have the company of valuable people with whom you will fight the battles commonplace on the road to success. The emphasis here is on valuable people, not just any Tom, Dick, and Harry, as we are about to see in our second lesson.

2. Be ready for loneliness - if that’s what will bring success

It seems quite contradicting to the first point, but just look at it closely. We laid emphasis on surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. Consider the instance when Michael Jordan walked in on his entire basketball team partying wildly. Some smoking weed, others caressing women, and so on. “I had never seen such in my life since I was a kid,” confesses Jordan. His decision? Not to join the party! And his reasoning?
  1. He would be as guilty as all the rest in the event that the boys in blue raided the hotel at that moment.
  2. We can only guess…
On your road to success, you should not force yourself to fit in. Stand out whenever you can. Don’t be afraid to stand for your values and convictions. After all, you will never please everyone as they’d like you to.

3. Building a name from scratch is very possible

There is a tendency for many people to “hide” in the security of established brands. We don’t blame anyone. That is just so natural. But think the Jordan way for once. In his heyday, Converse was the go-to brand for everything sports. And so most of the NBA superstars at that time became brand ambassadors for Converse. Contrary to that, Michael Jordan and his teammate David Falk went for the little known Nike. We now understand that Jordan’s mom played a big part in making her son sign the deal. Be as it may, here is the point: Building a brand from scratch is very possible if you are ready to go all the way. What started with 0.5 million dollars per year has now earned Michael more than 1.3 billion USD over a period of 36 years. That is exactly the confidence you need for your startup. Years of baby steps may follow, but the end will justify the means.

4. Teamwork is not always rosy, yet it is critical

  • “Shoot it you mi***t” - MJ to Mugsy Bogues
  • “You Black Jesus!” - MJ to Reggie Miller
  • “Was he big enough?” - MJ on Mel Turpin
Sounds quite a mouthful for a world-renown player. He is better known by some for his trash talking. In fact, there are entire articles on the web describing his trash-talking stories. His teammates particularly feared him, with substantiated claims of harsh treatment. Talk of name-calling and outright bullying! During his interview for the last dance, Jordan does not as such offer an apology. “It’s because you never won anything!” He quips. “That was my style of playing the game! That was my mentality! My aim was to win, and it drove to such extents.” You at times work in a team and it seems as if you are the one doing all the pushing. It is sometimes needful. Otherwise, the team will simply stay in its comfort zone and never scale the intended heights of performance.

5. Remaining positive is key to success

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry recently showed the world how it feels to be under 24-7 media scrutiny. MJ’s case was not any different. Being the star he was, media houses were ever on his toes, looking for the slightest drama involving MJ. Especially rife was the heated contract negotiations for Scottie Pippen under coach Phil Jackson. It was such a big drama that Scotti had to walk away in 1999. The interesting bit about it is that MJ showed support for his teammate but never got to castigate the managers. No matter how hot the situation is, strive to remain positive. See the good side of things. Avoid drama at all costs. That simply wastes your time and energy.

6. Success seldom comes overnight

How many million-dollar Jackpot winners do you know? Few, or none, to be honest. At least that is the nearly the only thing that can take you from grass to grace in the spur of a moment. For real-life engagements like Sports and Business, you may have to sweat it out. Not for weeks, not for months - but for years. MJ did not just start and attain the Greatest Of All Time status. He had to put in years of hard work. The story is told of how he handled losses against Detroit in three straight seasons. He literally added about 7 kgs so he could fight back properly. When given say 6 reps to do, he would do 12.

7. Developing the military mindset is critical for teamwork

There are certainly varied angles to what the military mindset is. The most popular school of thought is “Train as you will fight”. We have already seen this in Michael Jordan’s career. Under this point, we’d like to highlight the need to hold up your fellow teammates as you push towards your goals. Dennis Rodman asked the coach for a 2-day vacation in the course of the 97-98 season. After returning from Las Vegas, MJ saw the need to actually bring Rodman back to the team. He was already late for practice. So MJ personally went to Rodman’s room. As you probably thought, MJ found him sensually relaxing with his girlfriend Carmen Electra. Oops! She had to literally hide from MJ. And Rodman had to get out of bed. Soldiers do not leave the others behind. If it is time for war, everyone has to be present, otherwise, the battle will easily be lost. Encourage those in your team who feel like they won’t go any further. Be of help to others. You won’t do yourself any good with selfishness. The last Dance got particularly emotional when Kobe Bryant showed up. That was in praise for Jordan who helped him become the legend he was before passing on. To make matters worse, or better in this case, Jordan went looking for Kobe way before he was considered anything in the basketball world. Has a beginner in your field ever approached you for mentorship? Live up to the expectations. Do not consider his present look. You were once in the same shoes. Offer guidance to your level best. You never know who it is you are coaching. He may be your successor!

8. Failures are inevitable

In normal circumstances, we are yet to hear of a star who shot through to the skies without instances of failure. Be it musicians, businessmen, politicians, name it. They all had their low moments during their formative years in their trade. MJ too had his fair share of failures.
  • “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my basketball career.”
  • “I’ve lost close to 300 games.”
  • “I failed my team 26 times after entrusting me to take the winning shot.”
  • “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.”
  • “And that is why I succeed”
The ending of this Michael Jordan quote on his failures could not be sweeter. Only remember that it may feel inspiring to recite it in its written form. The real test comes when you have to work your way out through the failures.

Summing it up

Press on as a real soldier and fighter. If everything in the world was as easy as many want it to be, everybody would be a billionaire by now. In The Last Dance, Michael Jordan clearly reveals what a typical road to success is like. Full of obstacles, to say the least! But with determination and a positive mindset, things do work out in the end. If you haven’t yet watched Michael Jordan’s documentary The Last Dance, make a point of doing so - all 10 episodes.
June 23, 2021