Among the many offshoots of the airing of The Last Dance has been the revival of “Best of All Time” discussions in hoops circles. That Michael Jordan reportedly decided on thumbing up the production of the documentary series shortly after LeBron James, against whom he is often pitted for the accolade, engineered a remarkable comeback in the 2016 National Basketball Association Finals speaks volumes of his mindset, not to mention competitive spirit. He had previously sat on comprehensive behind-the-scenes footage of the Bulls’ title run in 1998, content in his place at the top.
In any case, reception to The Last Dance has been overwhelmingly in Jordan’s favor. The timing was nothing short of perfect. It not only had a captive audience under quarantine and thirsty for compelling entertainment. Prevailing circumstances ensured that recency bias would favor his position; in an ESPN survey taken shortly after the seventh and eighth episodes became available last week, fans picked him in a landslide over James through a dozen different categories. Mission accomplished, and on several fronts.
Not that Jordan needed to be given air time equivalent to three-quarters of an hour speaking without filters in order to dictate the narrative of The Last Dance. In a deal he made with NBA Entertainment, he was always going to have the last say about any part of the series deftly directed by 30 For 30 veteran Jason Hehir. All the same, it’s clear that he was stoked enough to remind all and sundry of the hold he had — and still has — over the sport. Which is all well and good. What isn’t: how players with vested interests have also used the occasion to pile on James.
Take Paul Pierce, for instance. Never one to give his longtime nemesis much credit, he noted in “NBA Countdown” yesterday that James shouldn’t even be part of the Top Five. “What has LeBron did (sic) to build up any organization from the ground?” He asked. “I’m talking about these players, Top Five players. Bill Russell built the organization of Boston, Kareem, Magic, Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kobe, Bird. These guys are all-time Top 10 players who helped build their organization or continued the tradition.”
Pierce’s take is, to be sure, informed by his dealings with James, who — save for a brief period in the late 2000s — had his number throughout his playing career. Nonetheless, he seems to hold his rival to a standard more apt for general managers. And, needless to say, other analysts in the episode called him out for his outlandish position. Interestingly enough, Jordan has kept quiet all this time, preferring to let others do the talking. And, following The Last Dance, others have, and will for some time to come.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.