“The Last Dance” set ratings records for viewership of an ESPN sports documentary.
It will probably do likewise during journalism awards season.
And rightfully so.
The marvelous, meticulous account of the Chicago Bulls’ final NBA championship season in 1997-98, the completion of their second Threepeat, was a gift to younger generations of the 21st Century who never got to see the great Michael Jordan play live.
They knew Kobe and LeBron.
But before them, there was MJ.
A man who was simultaneously his game’s best offensive player, and its best defensive player.
Michael Jordan, like Babe Ruth, Jim Brown, Bobby Orr and Secretariat before him, changed the way we think about his game. It is a singular brotherhood.
Jordan took his game, and dominated it in time and space, as well as vertically and horizontally.
Nineteen years after his retirement from the NBA, he’s still collecting $144 million annually in royalties.
When you are the only athlete who has access to every single imagination on earth, it comes with the territory.
The Last Dance didn’t pull any punches, either.
It documented His Airness’ less-than-heroic side, too.
MJ’s penchant for pettiness and holding grudges, as when he needlessly ripped his junior high coach in his acceptance remarks to the Basketball Hall of Fame, could be astonishing.
They confirmed he was no god.
But what he was, was a remarkably decent man amid the world’s ceaseless demands for his time.
Take it from onetime Tehachapi pitching star Mark Ratekin.
As one of their promising prospects, the Angels sent Ratekin to the elite Arizona Fall League at the same time the Chicago White Sox sent Michael Jordan.
“I got up the nerve to ask Michael around the batting cage if he would autograph a ball for me,” Ratekin recalls.
Replied the aspiring Sox outfielder: “Hey Mark, you struck me out three times last night. Maybe I should autograph three balls.”
Which, Ratekin says, MJ did.
He also laid out $400,000 to buy the Birmingham Barons a state-of-the-art team bus.
Our tragic loss of Kobe Bryant and The Last Dance have prompted anew the debate over basketball’s GOAT — the Greatest Of All Time.
And, LeBron James’ place in that debate.
A popular national sports talk host suggested that The Last Dance will now be followed by The Last Chance — James’ last real chance to win his fourth NBA title, and his fifth MVP.
With rumblings intensifying that the NBA will beat MLB back to active duty this summer, this is delicious.
LBJ was the leader in the MVP clubhouse when the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the season.
This would be James’ first title/MVP as a point guard. His other four were variously as shooting guard, small forward and power forward.
This championship would be the Lakers’ return to glory.
Resurrecting one of the NBA’s flagship franchises after seven years that left many thinking the Lakers’ best days were hopelessly behind them, would put the GOAT conversation in a whole new dimension.
But there’s one way that James could end the debate, once and for all.
He could step forward and call the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship what it is — a barbarous, vicious, vulgar evil empire crushing the hopes and liberties of, well, billions.
He could stand with the democracy protesters in Hong Kong and the millions of imprisoned ethnic Muslim Uighurs in the modern-day Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.
Mostly, he would be standing with the oppressed Chinese people whose eyes have been opened in the last six months by a government willing to sacrifice millions of them to cover up the Coronavirus scandal.
To be sure, LeBron would be risking the loss of millions of dollars, along with Nike.
Which is precisely what makes this so heroic, so GOAT.
The CCP isn’t making LeBron wildly rich.
It’s the Chinese people.
And they will make him even richer after the Chinese Communist Party joins Chairman Mao in the grave.
That will be the greatest last dance of them all.