Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Michael Vick: The Past and Important Perspective

Although The Match 2: Champions for Charity didn't leave my Sunday totally devoid of a sports shot in the arm—the trash talk was great—my evening entertainment was remiss. Perhaps you too have developed some sort of ritual the past five weeks in anticipation of "The Last Dance" two pack we were given during shelter-in-place. As much as I would enjoy and anticipate a docuseries on the five time championship Los Angeles Lakers, we are hopefully NOT another pandemic away. In the meantime, until the sports world moves beyond UFC fighting, the Outlaw Tour, Korean baseball and Bundesliga, I have one suggestion: the 30 for 30 Vick.
I don't know why this two part ESPN program didn't get more attention. Released in January 2020, Stanley Nelson's documentary divides its time between the two reasons you are most likely familiar with that surname—football and dogfighting. 

In the article ‘Vick’ Review: Latest ’30 for 30′ Installment Shows the Difficulty of Considering a Life in Full, Steve Greene writes
In an attempt to provide a full accounting of Vick’s life and career, “Vick” stops short of full absolution or outright condemnation. With a person who’s still capable of inspiring equally passionate reactions — from those who argue for his superiority as a generationally influential football player, as well as those who say his role in a highly publicized dogfighting scandal should negate any athletic legacy — Nelson has made something that looks to address both as thoroughly as possible. It’s an admirable goal, but in this expansive project that winds between moments of insight and moments of redundancy, that pull between two opposite ideas doesn’t leave much room for anything else. Sounds fitting for the times we are living in today. 
To reduce Michael Vick's story to one of two domains is short-sighted, Take one look at the current trends, changes and developments in the NFL, and it's hard to deny his story emerges as that much more intriguing, complex, worth watching and discussing. 
Though the past NFL season may feel like a lifetime ago, the director Stanley Nelson had it right when he said in an interview with The Undefeated: "The timing of this story is impeccable when you look at the season that Lamar Jackson had, and what Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and others have achieved in recent years. Some don’t comprehend the historical significance of Vick’s legacy as the first African American quarterback to be selected with the NFL’s first overall draft pick."

He added, "Not only was it significant that he was a black quarterback taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft, but it’s also significant in light of the way he played. The decision that was made by the Atlanta Falcons was that this style can win. Ten years prior, he would have been switched to defensive back, running back or wide receiver. We’re seeing his impact come to fruition with this current generation of black quarterbacks. And it will continue this way, this emphasis on having more athletic quarterbacks. Vick was at the vanguard of that and we’re going to see more and more of it."

I love the word vanguard....
Nelson's message, though timely, it not new. In "Success is a Journey" an article written in June 1980 in Sports Illustrated hall of fame basketball player Bill Russell said,
I can remember watching a game on TV a couple years ago, and I was moved to say something like: "Man, that Unitas is great." One of the black guys I was watching the game with, said: "Who knows?" A little bit stunned by that, I asked him what he meant, and he replied that he really could not evaluate Unitas or any other quarterback fairly since they had never faced a full range of competition. A Paul Hornung, Mickey Mantle, Jerry West—you cannot deny their greatness, because they have stood the test of time in a free market, so to speak. But no one can pretend to know how good our best white quarterbacks would be if the NFL permitted the development of black quarterbacks to compete with them.
Michael Vick opened that door to a full range of competition. Though not the first black quarterback—the program shows Donovan McNabb as a mentor—his position as the top pick  in the draft is significant, regardless of race. However to consider the norms both spoken and unspoken add import and bear reflection. 

William C. Rhoden, New York Times Columnist 1983-2016 adds, "Back in the day, if you were a Michael Vick type of person, there was no way you were going to play quarterback in the National Football League. They would put you in a wide receiver, slot receiver. Anywhere else but quarterback Athleticism was a punishment. You were being punished for being athletic. That was a source of frustration for a generation of black guys."

But what became of such promise? We know some of the story. "Vick" offers much more. The cultural critic Alejandro Danois said, "the thing about Michael Vick is that I don't think it's too difficult to examine his legacy and think about What he could have been as opposed to what he actually was. He set the stage for the Cam Newtons and the Russell Wilsons. What if his career was not interrupted?"
To reduce the "interruption" to a federal investigation for dog fighting is totally limited. The climate in Michael's home, personal relationships, substance use and abuse, money, media and more were a mounting storm. The trial and conviction, the public outcry and response, his time in prison and community service are worth (re)examination and evaluation. 

When asked the question "What would you say to people who are opposed to watching this film, who are still adamantly yelling that Vick is nothing more than a dog killer?" the director, Stanley Nelson says:

"I hope we all believe in some sort of redemption, because we all make mistakes. And if anybody is a representative of redemption, it’s Mike. But if you want to watch the film and hate him more, you’re welcome to do that."

In the ESPN Sports Daily podcast, Bomani Jones is much more direct. He says, "to anyone who says Michael Vick should never be forgiven, I challenge them to check their definition of forgiveness." Again watch and decide for yourself! 
Today, I see Michael Vick in the announcer's both during NFL games and enjoy his commentary and insight. Wondering how the public regards him today, I was drawn to this story when I heard about an ad that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wanted to run during the Super Bowl. Allegedly, “The National Football League (NFL) apparently found our new Colin Kaepernick–inspired ad — with its message of inclusion and respect — too daring and pressured FOX to snub our commercial," However, many believe conflating the struggle of African Americans with one that animals have endured is problematic, inaccurate and dehumanizing. Bomani Jones added "many Blacks believe that animals have more rights than humans." None of this can be ignored in light of Michael Vick's story, his work for PETA since his conviction and the public's response both past and present.

Vick doesn't have the backdrop of 90s beats, bad uniforms, renowned profiles and championships as one will find in "The Last Dance."  You will however see another example of a unique talent. As Nelson says, "You wanted to watch him on TV regardless of who his team was playing against because he was simply breathtaking. Every time you watched him, you saw something new. He was the athletic embodiment of Jazz and hip-hop, his improvisation on the big stage took the game to a level it hadn’t been to before." 
And, in it own way, VICK is "a classic American story. Sports is a part of all of our lives, it’s a part of who we are as a larger society. It allowed me to talk about other things within the context of this one-man story. That’s what storytelling is about. It’s not, “this is what happened day-to-day” to Michael Vick, or The Freedom Riders or Marcus Garvey or The Black Panthers." It’s about, what’s the bigger story behind all of this and how does that reflect on who we are? Human rights, animal rights, family, friends, prejudice and bias, expectation and more. Times like today afford us with the opportunity to watch, discuss, and share. 

Photo Credits
With Mahomes

Final Head Shot

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Upshot from Notre Dame Magazine, Spring 2020: Sports and Spirituality Style

Some of the most voracious readers I know have admitted to what is for them a common quandary. During this time of shelter-in-place, they have had difficulty reading. I will leave it to the psychological experts to explain why. They are the first to acknowledge, it certainly isn't because there is a shortage of time or material. My solution to any problem is to take those requisite baby steps. And for those who love sports, spirituality and Notre Dame, here's a suggestion.
Biased or not, I believe Notre Dame Magazine is one of the finest alumni publications in the country. The articles are outstanding, the layout is invitational—pleasing to the eye, functional and engages the reader easily. However, this quarterly publication might find perfect as the enemy of the good. There are so many thoughtful pieces—many of them quite lengthy that a number of my classmates and friends admit to not reading any of them. I heard this often enough that I have committed to informally "clerking" and speaking to what relates to and promotes Sports and Spirituality. That being said, Spring 2020 is quite light my favorite symbiosis. There are but a few touch points. Here goes.

STILLPOINT Shot (p 2-3)by Matt Cashore 
This photograph captures Junior guard Nate Laszewski shooting what became the three-point shot that led the Irish to a much needed 77-76 victory over the UNC Tarheels .

In that game, the Irish rallied from 15 down with 8:57 remaining. This image captures so beautifully what I remember, because I happened to watch this game and came to find out a whole host of others did too. 

With the time change and the irregular scheduling of games, sometimes it feels like watching a women's or men's basketball game is like catching lightning in a bottle. However, when I do and it's one like this one—exciting and emerging in a victory—it's a sports shot in the arm. The picture captures that, too.
Great Shot (p 4-5)
Jason Kelly '95

While we are still talking about basketball and photographs...

On January 19, 1974 Notre Dame men's basketball ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak thanks to a buzzer beater by Dwight Clay '75. This moment was captured in the Observer and went as viral as it could at that time.

Kelly writes "The image is at once an artifact of its time—long socks, short shorts, gaudy shamrocks on the vintage, Digger era jerseys—and timeless. Most often, if credited at all, it's published "Courtesy of Notre Dame." However, "Joe Raymond '74 took the that picture. I learned that the day he died." You can read more about Raymond's work and legacy in the story.

From Would-be Doctor to the Musical Theater Stage (p 10)
Sarah Cahalan '14

I didn't need John Krasinski's "Some Good News" Episode 2 to remind me that the musical style of "Hamilton" is revolutionary. But when Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of the show Zoom bomb the program to sing "Alexander Hamilton," I have to admit it reignited that spark. I listened to the musical for the next week! 

I share that memory because one cannot hear "The Fighting Irish (Of Notre Dame Y'all)" and wonder from whence it came. If you haven't checked it out already, give it a listen—it's good and read the story of the mastermind behind it, another Puerto Rican: Jorge "Jay" Rivera-Herrans '20.

I look forward to hearing his beats cheering on a Notre Dame sports team when we can!

Having Coffee with G. Marcus Cole: Of religious liberty and freedom of speech
Margaret Fosmoe '85

The profile of G. Marcus Cole, the newly appointed dean of the law school painted a holistic picture of this man as a devout Catholic, lifelong Notre Dame fan, shrewd thinker, talented lawyer, husband, father and coach.

When I read that his "Younger son Constantijn is a high school senior and a basketball player at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, California" I leaned in. BCP is in the West Catholic Athletic League like St Francis where I teach (and St Ignatius where I was before). I have the utmost respect for their coach and program.

Fosmoe writes "Cole learned basketball from scratch when Constantijn was a grade-schooler playing on a community basketball team that needed a coach. The boy was a little nervous about it. “He sort of supervised my learning of basketball,” Cole says. “Every video that I watched, he watched alongside me. Every drill that I tried to learn from the books he learned and demonstrated for me.”

I love that this came up over coffee. This recollection reminds we have the resources and the ability to learn new things at any stage of our life. Why not do that with those we care about and with whom we can to spend our time? Seems like a good approach toward his current job! 

Creative Works (p 66)
Born to Coach: The Story of Bill Squires, the Legendary Coach of the Greatest Generation of American Distance Runners 

A review of a book for when you finish reading ND Mag....
The theme of the Spring issue is "A Changed America." I am certain the editors chose those prophetic words long before we could have projected the impact of COVID-19. Personally, I believe one of the greatest needs for self and for others in these times is compassion and empathy. Though the piece "What Good is Literature?" by Beth Ann Fennelly '93 (p 36-39) does not resonate with Sports and Spirituality, it speaks to WHY we need to read....even when and if it's not easy to do. 

Lastly, please keep in your prayers the Navajo Nation, who has the highest coronavirus infection rate in the United States. "Calling Home" by Nora McGreevy '19 (p 52-57) profiles Tazbah Shortey Yazzie '10 who lives and ministers to her people as the principal of St. Michaels' school.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Last Dance: Discussion Guide Part 5 of 5

As much as I have enjoyed watching and rewatching every episode of ESPN's 30 for 30: The Last Dance to create a discussion guide for coaches, athletic directors, fans and those who find spirituality in sport, the final installment, Part 5 of 5 boils down to one singular idea, one claim so meaningful it could serve as the thesis for a paper, a presentation, heck a new series. That insight is the only talking point I would like to offer in response to Episodes 9 and 10.
A number of basketball fans I know and respect have had common reaction to "The Last Dance." They claim that docu-series didn't reveal much they didn't already know. I find that a little hard to believe. Smug too. To me, one of the great attributes of the program is the number and variety of respondents who weigh in. Everyone from Steve Kerr's mom, Ann to Justin Timberlake, players like Gary "The Glove" Payton to the fit as a fiddle Reggie Miller, MJ's kids and #43, himself Barack Obama weigh in.  Surely they offer a new insight or narrative gem. Doesn't that count?! 

Whether or not you learned a lot from "The Last Dance," whether or not you watched one hour or all ten, there is however one singular idea that stands alone as incredibly important. I will be referencing this moment, this scene, this takeaway as long as I teach.

I absolutely love that the director decided not to include this truth until Episode 10. All nine programs before gave evidence for why Michael Jordan is truly one of the greatest and what he did and for this revelation.

Mark Vancil, Author Rare Air said, 
Most people struggle to be present. People go and sit in ashrams for 20 years in India trying to be present. Do yoga, meditate. Try to get here now. 
His words are juxtaposed against an image of Jordan sitting on the team bus, six hours before tip off of the 1998 Finals in Salt Lake City. He is wearing sunglasses, beanie and Beats-like headphones long before they were cool. He is in his own place, bumping to hip hop music created by his friend, the artist.
Vancil adds, 
Most people live in fear because we project the past into the future. Michael is a mystic. He was never anywhere else. 
His gift was not that he could jump high, run fast or shoot a basketball. His  gift was that he was completely present. And that was the separator. 
I heard those words and said to myself, "I want some of that."

You will not find a course on spirituality or its many iterations—mindfulness, meditations and so forth—that suggest doing anything but that: be present. Truly it is a gift. Truly it is a quality that makes human beings great. Truly it is the separator.

The good news about Michael's gift is that it is something anyone can attain. Whereas I'll never fly through the air to dunk or steal a ball on the left side of a great player like Karl Malone, I too can be nowhere but here. Now.

So debate all you want about whether or not The Bulls would have one #7. Argue if they should have gone for it. I get it; we don't want this story to end or maybe we would like another 10 hours of basketball highlights, trash talk, personality quips and coaching insight. I would only look to continue for more evidence of Michael as a mystic. What I received was abundant. I'm grateful, here and now.

Photo Credits
Last Night
Sitting Solo

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Last Dance: Discussion Guide Part 4 of 5

The third discussion guide for The Last Dance: Episodes 5 and 6 focused on the humanity of Michael Jordan. Perhaps I should have saved that theme for Episode 7 or 8 or just name this one "redux." Instead, I would like to call this one "break." 

I say that because I am going to take a break from creating the questions. With the absence of major professional sporting events in the United States, every last sports writer, their mother AND their father are writing about "The Last Dance." What they have written, their context and history, knowledge of the players, the league, and leadership is more than substantial. It's infinite, it's unyielding and it's also amazing. As I say often, let's leave it to the pros.  Done.
Before I do that however, I must say  that so far, the most poignant moment of the entire series occurred at the conclusion of Episode 7, when a tearful Jordan explains his character. Jordan’s response is one of the most interesting portions of the film thus far. He says he was just holding his teammates to the same standard he held himself. He adds “Look, I don’t have to do this, I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t wanna play that way, don’t play that way.” He chokes up in a way that is different than when he talks about his father's death. He brings the conversation and the camera to a close—quickly. His personal timeout—the "break"—followed by tears, prompts more questions then gives answers. Do you agree?
And yet, you know a series is good when the next episode eclipses what you once thought to be the highlight. What is not said and what needs no explanation is captured in the final scene of Episode 8. The very fact the camera was in the locker room to record such a personal, emotional and vulnerable moment—MJ lying on the floor alone, sobbing and clutching a basketball on Father's Day is not something I could have ever predicted. Regardless of whether you like Jordan or not, I don't know how you can be human and not be silenced by this revelation. Kobe may have concluded his Hall of Fame speech with the words "Mamba Out." In this case, no words are necessary. Your thoughts?

The only question I have for you is this one. On the podcast "The Sports Reporters," co-host Mike Lupica admits that although he admires Jordan for what he has accomplished, "the more this goes along, the less I like him." I could not disagree more. In general, I tend to find the good and am sympathetic to most athletes and coaches. Even with the heat coming down from Jordan's teammates, who describe him as a bludgeon, I do—I like him ever more. You have now seen eight hours of footage. What's your take? 
And for what it's worth, I will admit I like Scottie less and less. As written in the Chicago Tribune, "That postseason is remembered for Pippen refusing to leave the bench when Phil Jackson designates Toni Kukoc to take a last-second shot that beats the Knicks."

“We knew it was going to be a stain on his character,” Steve Kerr says of Pippen refusing to go in late against the Knicks, noting “the worst part was that we knew it was not Scottie’s character.”

To which Scottie says "It’s one of those incidents where I wish it never happened. But if I had a chance to do it over again, I probably wouldn‘t change it.” 

I heard what he said and asked myself: Can those two statements BOTH be true? To me, there's a conflict....Your thoughts?
A lot of people wanted more highlights of MJ playing baseball....I guess this is more of a basketball story, folks.
I'm going to sign off and let the hometown writers, take things from here. Phil Rosenthal's pieces each offer their own "best" insight—Best Anecdote, Best Vintage Clip, Best Insult, etc. that can continue the conversation until our shelter-in-place is entirely lifted. 
"The Last Dance" comes to a close this coming Sunday, May 17. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to revisit the music and the memories, to learn about complex people and competitors. I am already dreading the fact that it will come to a close....but as our time in quarantine and shelter in place does too, we have new talking points, better perspective, and a deeper appreciation for so much. I hope MJ is one of them....

Photo Credits
White Sox

Friday, May 8, 2020

A Question You Have to Ask: What If Michael Jordan Had Played Football?

I lived in south, rural Louisiana from 1996 to 1998, while teaching in the Alliance for Catholic Education Program (through Notre Dame). My time there is characterized by memories made from the simplest of questions which became the most spirited of debates. Living in Napoloeonville, Louisiana—a town of 800 people—we didn't have cell phones, anything more than the most basic cable and our internet access was very limited. Time passed slowly. As new teachers doing service we didn't have money or knowledge of that many places to go. But, when we took road trips or made the 20 mile drive to the closest movie theater, we had a lot. We had questions and we had answers--or so we thought.

Thinking about it now, those days aren't much different—and yet they are—that life today. That being said, I know the question I'm about to share with you would be an ACE Gators favorite: If Michael Jordan had played football.... go ahead. Fill in the blank. 

I start my day with EPSN's Sports Daily. Today's podcast, "Michael Jordan's Brief, Strange Life in Baseball" served as the perfect preview for Episodes 7 and 8 of "The Last Dance." Thanks to another ESPN 30 for 30: Jordan Rides the Bus, I am already somewhat with Jordan's successes and struggles playing America's past time. This particular episode—an interview between Mina Kimes and ESPN senior writer Steve Wulf—did one of two things. It strengthened my belief and value for why athletes should play more than one sport AND it set my imagination soaring. 

ESPN Sports Daily writes: 
In the midst of becoming the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan retired from the NBA and set his sights on baseball. The reason? To pay homage to his recently slain father. Jordan training with the White Sox and joining the minor leagues created major media buzz, as ball players and fans criticized the move. Steve Wulf was with Sports Illustrated at the time, and his 1994 coverage of Jordan's foray into baseball made news of its own, as it angered MJ himself. Wulf tells us about Michael's efforts to succeed with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, and how Jordan may have been closer than we know to being called up to bigs, had he not returned to basketball.

Having already watched "Jordan Rides the Bus," I was familiar with Jordan's success and his limitations with America's past time. Just listening to the interview of Wulf break it down further, did one of two things. It strengthened my belief and value for why athletes should play more than one sport AND it set my imagination soaring.

In the limited time he did play with the Birmingham Barons, several truths emerged, one that speaks to his character in a significant way: he was an outstanding teammate. Wulf said, "He went from being 'the man to one of the guys." He added, "They respected him because he was competitive, they admired his work ethic and he didn't act like a superstar." He began with a 13 game hitting streak but struggled to hit the curve. Any athlete who plays two sports will shine in one and serve another role in the other. To me, sitting on both ends of the bench makes you a better teammate and competitor. Sports fans should rightfully wonder what would have become of MJ had the season not been shortened by the strike. And, as much as I value that question, I have been asking myself a different one. In fact, I can't stop thinking about it. I want to know: How good would Michael Jordan be on the gridiron? 

A good friend, who coaches football offered a fantastic response. He said "Let’s see...high level skilled athlete, confidence through the roof and a fierce competitor...yeah, I think he could have been all right. I wouldn’t say that about all hoops players, especially today’s breed." Noted.

Has anyone else thought of what MJ would be like as a football player? Every highlight reel sets off another internal debate in my mind. What position would he play? Of course he could play on both sides of the ball—just as he did in the NBA (not a given!).  I have had more fun asking this question that COVID quarantine should allow. So I put it out there for you to ask and answer.
Just when I think I have things figured out, a friend offers a compelling reason for where he should play and why.

Same friend said Wide Receiver. He wrote: "Cannot see anyone guarding him. He would be better than Randy Moss. Maybe OLB on defense. Some of the more modern schemes would fit him well. Hey, if he can throw a little...imagine him at QB... definitely has the confidence for it." Another said "Jordan would have been a great defensive back. And then older with muscle, a tight end. Yeah, big but fast. Fit but fast. Low body fat." Personally, I'd like to just ask MJ what he thinks! 

One of the compelling aspects of sport is that each one speaks to different personalities, and accommodates for various body types and skill sets. When a great athlete comes to play and compete, it's exciting to think about what they could do and how they would do it. Who knows? Maybe MJ would have hated grass and grime, flags, face masks and pylons. I doubt it so I'll let this debate continue. And amidst our days that might be a little slower, a little less harried—see where and how far this conversation with go.

Photo Credits

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Last Dance: Discussion Guide Part 3 of 5

Episodes 5 and 6 of ESPN's "The Last Dance" present a much more complex, controversial or should we say "human" side of basketball great Michael Jordan. Although relentless advertising by Gatorade beckons young athletes to "Be Like Mike" this two-part series concludes with the Bulls' shooting guard admitting, "If I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d never want to be considered a role model. It’s like a game that’s stacked against me. There’s no way I can win." 
The questions from the third discussion guide invite you into what you see and what you heard from the May 3 premiere (the '90s beats paired with Bulls' highlights continue to tell a story within the story poetically....powerfully!). Send me your questions! Tell me your answers! Shoot!

Episode 5: The Black Athlete in America
  • You might not agree, but I believe the starting point for discussion of Ep 5. is in response to the words of Michael Jordan. He said, 
"I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player. I wasn't a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably, but that's where my energy was."

    Jesse Washington of The Undefeated believes that Jordan could have dedicated but five to ten percent of his time toward social justice.

    I am intentionally leaving this very open-ended. Respond.
  • President Barack Obama weighs in with powerful insight. He said, "any African-American in this society that  sees significant success has an added burden. And a lot of times America is very quick to embrace a Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama so long as it's understood so long as you don’t get too controversial around issues of social justice." This quote might reveal more about Obama than it does MJ. Respond.
  • Nathan McCall of the Washington Post weighs in heavily. As the camera flashes to a picture of Jordan embracing "The Greatest," McCall states, "Everybody in the world respects Muhammad Ali. You know why? because he stood for something. He stood for something even if it meant sacrificing a payday We respect that. Ultimately, Michael Jordan will be forgotten. Muhammad Ali won’t be forgotten." Will history prove him wrong...or right? 
  • Jordan said, "My game was my biggest endorsement." Through endorsements, Jordan became a billionaire. According to Forbes, he is one of thirteen Black billionaires in the US. Thoughts?
Now, back to the hardwood!
  • "You’re only a success at the moment you’ve performed a successful act." How does Coach Phil Jackson's definition of success sit with you? Is that (more) true for professional athletes/teams?
  • Among the best of the best, any sports fan must ask why a given athlete is great. Chicago Bulls point guard, BJ Armstrong lends some insight about his teammate. He said, "

I felt MJ never played basketball anymore. He just figured out how to win the game. He knew how to steer momentum. How to get guys going. And not only was he that good on the offensive end, he was just as good on the defensive end. He was playing a different game than the rest of us. He let us play but he was there to win the game He knew that and once he figured that out. You couldn’t beat him." Respond.
This question is for the hard core Bulls fans. Please talk. I will listen.
  • Michael Wilbon, son of Chicago, co-host of PTI and writer for the Washington Bulls believed the 1992 Bulls were the best team ever. Agree?
  • Episode 5 concludes with a Michael Jordan, sitting alone, lacing up his high tops. His words are poignant and haunting. They speak to another face of success...or at the very least the price of it. He says, "When you get to the top, it’s great to be admired and respected. I’m not saying that wasn’t 
fun” but every time I would get by myself, I would think about of the end of the season and my ultimate goal—holding up the championship trophy and be recognized as the best team in the world—it’s something at the end of this rainbow that I’m fighting for and I’m going to give every little bit to get to it."
Episode 6: Internal and External Competitors
  • David Aldridge of ESPN said, "A lot of people in that era that you would consider Michael’s peers had won two in a row. 
Isaiah had won two straight. Magic had won two straight but none of them won three in a row. A third championship was the separator. You win three, you’re on Mt. Rushmore. For that team it was all about winning that third straight." Jordan spoke about the pressure to win again and again.  What do you know about the psychology of winning?
  • Michael Jordan and his father went to Atlantic City to gamble the night before Game 2 of he NBA Finals. Jordan violated no team rules, no league rules, no state laws. All he violated were people’s expectations. Should he have gone?
  • When asked “Do you have a gambling problem?” Jordan responded “No. I have a competition problem.”  Respond
In an interview with Ahmad Rashad, requested by Jordan, he said he did not have a gambling problem.
Sunglasses included.
  • Charles Barkley, power forward of the Phoenix Suns said "I have no problem losing to Michael. Losing to Michael…there’s no shame in that." How often do we recognize the greatness in our competitors. Coaches, do you acknowledge the talent of athletes on opposing teams for your own athletes to respect and admire.
  • Over and over again, Jordan is battling an enemy on the opposing team and an enemy within his own organization. His desire to prove Jerry Krause wrong by shutting down players Krause was interested in, talked about and promoted fueled the competitive fire in MJ. Do you have an internal competitor? an external one?
Music Notes!
  • In Episode 5, Naughty by Nature's Hip Hop Hooray underscores Air Jordan taking flight. SO good.
  • In Episode 6, I was thrilled to hear Stereo MC’s "Connected" as Jordan took down the Suns. This song was a huge hit in Farley Hall...Fall of 1993
Photo Credits

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Last Dance: Discussion Guide Part 2 of 5

Those of you who have watched Ken Burns' Baseball can raise your hand. Otherwise, I would like to know sports fans, Have you ever watched a 10-part series that lasts 10 hours? By no means is this a complaint about the latest 30 for 30: The Last Dance. In fact, as soon as the Sunday two-pack comes to a close, I can't wait for the next two. However, given the dynamic content and the many years it covers, I would like to propose a suggestion to help me organize and differentiate one episode from the next. Do you agree? With that request, I will launch my suggested names and questions for further discussion.
Enjoy.  We have six episodes and six more hours of a great documentary.
More than a Bad Boy: Dennis Rodman's Path to the Bulls

In the opening scene, Rodman is asked: Does it hurt you that the public perceives you as this bombastic crazy guy? He responds by saying: "I created this monster. The public will say I'm a bad person, but no one can say anything bad about me as a teammate."
  • Have you ever coached an athlete or had a teammate who was a challenging if not problematic person off the court, but a great athlete/teammate on it?
The Worm was known as being the player who was willing to do all the dirty work. In fact, he played seven games where he had 20 rebounds and 0 points. Pippen admitted " He’s a huge reason for our success. He brought us the edge we needed." 
  • Does every team need an athlete who is willing to do the dirty work? Who is the athlete on your team who brings the "edge" you need?
In 1986 Jerry Krause hired Doug Collins as the head coach of the Bulls. Before his first game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, Collins who is extremely competitive and high energy admitted that he was sweating profusely and chewing his gum until it was like chalk in his mouth. Jordan said "Coach, you can relax I’m not going to let you lose your first game."
  • What does this reveal about Jordan and about Collins? Do we want our players to carry that responsibility? 
  • BTW: that night Jordan set a record for the most posts (50)scored by an opposing player in MSG. The Bulls went on to beat the Knicks
Collins built his system around Jordan. He told the camera, "Michael understands the greatest respect you can give a great player is to coach 'em and coach 'em hard.
  • Athletes: please rewind that line. Listen. Repeat.
From Give it to MJ to Who's Open?

After losing to the Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals, Jordan committed to getting stronger by gaining 15 pounds of muscle mass. When the personal trainer asked him to do six reps, he did twelve. 
  • All coaches have encountered an athlete like this. What are the positives and negatives of coaching an "overachiever?" How do you handle him or her? Do you?
The Chicago Bulls won their first ever championship in 1991 because Coach Phil Jackson got MJ to trust his teammates.... In short, he asked the question: Who is open? Rather than ask for the ball, Jordan said "Paxson. Let's give it to Pax..." You know where this story goes: Jordan with the assist and Paxson for 3!!
  • If you ever doubt the importance of teamwork and surrender, remember this play. Any other thoughts?
Rodman thrived under the leadership of Phil Jackson because they mutually understood one another. Jackson who was familiar with Lakota spiritual practices told him, "In their tradition you would be a backward walking person,a Heyoka." He added 
"there was always a person that was different. You’re the heyoka in this tribe." 

Steve Kerr noted "he would weave Zen Buddhism and Native American philosophies into our own culture. 
Everything was about being focused and playing as one
  • Who is the heyoka in your tribe? How do you work together?
  • Coaches: how do you integrate your spiritual beliefs into all that you do—at practice, in games, while traveling, etc.
Lastly, what I believe makes this documentary so outstanding is the way the director integrates music. In both episodes, the songs—with highlights together tell a unique story. Each one is poignant, outstanding.

Prince: Partyman
Beastie Boys: The Maestro
Kool Moe Dee: How Ya Like Me Now

Photo Credits
Last Dance