Monday, May 18, 2020

Basketball player DESTROYS the New York Knicks for Ten Hours

There is no universe where a Michael Jordan documentary can provide a searching, searing take on the Legend of Michael Jordan that involves the participation of Jordan and his various representatives and phalanxes of brand protectors; without them and their own ability to shape the narrative Jordan does not agree to allow the use of archival footage and appear on camera with fuchsia eyeballs to say fuck and cackle derisively at his vanquished foes presented to him on iPads like platters bearing the heads of slain enemy generals. 

While I understand frustration with The Last Dance for anyone looking for anything beyond a glossy advertorial for the master Michael Jordan narrative, I enjoyed it because I am a Bulls fan who grew up watching Michael Jordan, imbibed all of the swirling Jordanian lore, and reveled in him destroying his-- and by extension my-- basketball enemies, and did not mind reliving this for ten hours during a sports-ending pandemic.  Perhaps those who don't have Proustian sense memories of the very Baker's Square where B.J. Armstrong tried to get Jordan to come back from his baseball hiatus or the traffic-stopping Rodman billboard on the Kennedy or the McDonald's Beef Wennington or the soothing existence of the phrase "The JCC Presents Jud Buechler's Basketball Camp" can look at the documentary and demand that corporate behemoth ESPN put together a thoughtful critique on the greatest meal ticket in sports history with intricate financial ties to the network, but for Jordan delighting in the various times he made Pat Riley angry with a few fucks and sometimes shits thrown in was entertaining enough.

The Jordan story that they tell is the one everyone already knows: Michael Jordan is an insane, competitive monomaniac who blazed a trail of destruction through the National Basketball Association off of a deranged obsession with real and imagined slights who wins and wins until stopped by an avaricious owner and his chief henchman who would get rid of him and finally get to shape their vision of the Bulls as cheap and shitty and run exclusively by people with oddly-shaped heads. 

If a filmmaker is going to involve Michael Jordan in a Michael Jordan documentary, then Jordan will get to tell the story he wants, and the way he likes to tell it is as a vanquishing of enemies and redressing of grievances.  And while it is exhausting for a person who won all of the time to constantly harp on the people whom he has already stomped upon-- his deranged Basketball Hall of Fame Speech remains the purest strain of Jordan ever released into the wild-- Jordan had the benefit of collecting hideous enemies.  Consider his nemeses: the revolting Bad Boy Pistons, Pat Riley's blackjack and knuckle-duster Knicks, Utah's vile penis-punching operation led by the odious Karl Malone.  One of the funniest things to come from this documentary was a week of sputtering Isiah Thomas television appearances to defend his honor after Jordan and a legion of former Bulls had an unprecedented national spotlight that they all used to shit on him.  To be fair to Isiah Thomas, the admittedly funny walkout after the '91 Eastern Conference Finals is probably the least disgusting Isiah Thomas scandal.

The vaunted behind-the-scenes footage amplifies what most viewers already knew about Jordan.  Anyone who wanted to see footage of a legendary Jordan roasting session has minutes of new insults inveighed against Jerry Krause for being unkempt and roly-poly and Scott Burrell for being worse at basketball than Michael Jordan.  There's Jordan the gambler matching up with the unexpected breakout star of The Last Dance, a mustachioed perm-mullet security guard who took a twenty off Jordan in a game where they threw coins at a wall in the bowels of the United Center.  The new footage largely shows Jordan swaggering into a locker room, exchanging some mildly amusing and vaguely hostile banter at teammates and staffers forced to sort of chuckle through it, and then going into the arena to humiliate Patrick Ewing.

The central question I have for anyone looking for something more from Jordan in The Last Dance is what if there's nothing else there?  What if the way that Jordan presents himself as a relentless, berzerk competitor righting an unending number of imagined wrongs by beating someone at basketball at a time where he had the muscle of bazillion-dollar corporations to make him transcendently famous and sell him to the entire world is in fact how he sees himself and there exists the sum total of what Michael Jordan is able to tell us about being Michael Jordan? 

I'm not sure what additional depths of Michael Jordan still exist to plumb.  Jordan was incredible at basketball through a combination of athleticism, skill, and ludicrous obsession.  He is also petty, vindictive, obsessed with gambling, and an asshole.  There are, I am sure, more horrid examples of his bullying that Jordan or the dozens of producers involved with this kept out of the documentary-- insults that would result in his immediate cancellation, sordid gambling anecdotes, an admission that he was actually part of the infamous "cocaine circus"-- that would not tell us anything more than the internet's various Codices of Michael Jordan Insults that have been floating around for 30 years.  How much more vicious do we need to see Jordan in rare footage to get the point that we get from a Jud Buechler talking head where he tells us that he was terrified of him?

I was not expecting Buechler to transform into Artie, the Strongest Man in the World

The only time Jordan shows emotion other than suppressed rage, delight at having vanquished someone, or derision while staring at an iPad interview is when he gets choked up at the thought that everyone thought he was an asshole.  But even here, Jordan doesn't seem to show remorse for ceaselessly calling his teammates "twenty-one feet of shit," but frustration that no one seems to understand that he only insulted people because he wanted to win.  Jordan cannot fathom anyone not getting that the Bulls could not win a title unless he mentally broke Will Perdue.

There still remain compelling Jordan mysteries.  There is the question of Jordan's sudden retirement and attempted baseball career that, even throwing aside conspiracy theories about a secret suspension, still keep me wondering why even the potent cocktail of grief at his father's sudden, senseless murder, a growing gambling scandal, and the ever-present pressure of being the most famous athlete in the world that could understandably get him to retire nevertheless manifested in him joining another sporting concern that would lead to unending scrutiny, failure, and ridicule.  There is the question of whatever was gnawing at him from the insides to get him to invent insults from LaBradford Smith.  The documentary does not even touch on latter-day Jordan from his Wizards career to a comically disastrous run as an executive and team owner who keeps drafting various versions of Frank Kaminsky.

The most compelling Jordan question, though, is the overarching riddle of what it is like to be Michael Jordan, to achieve a level of success and fame that most people will never approach, to attract massive crowds and people for whom a single glimpse of Jordan could provoke a religious reaction.  To Jordan, it appeared to be a crushing burden, the price of his desire to dominate his rivals on the basketball court and then sell more shoes than them, one where a step outside of a controlled zone meant crowds of people who all wanted something from him and recorded his every move.  It seems strange and awful.  Does this interest Jordan?  Is there a human being alive who can wring insight into this bizarre life out of him?  Because what seems to interest him more than anything in the world where he has reached a zenith of fame achieved by few people in the history of human civilization is discovering whether Antonio Davis said something to him that he could use to work himself into a frenzy.

Maybe The Last Dance is the most interesting portrait of Michael Jordan that he is ever willing or able to tell.  And in that case, maybe the only way to understand him is like Magic Johnson telling a Jordan anecdote. One time someone told Jordan he could beat him at basketball. And Jordan said uh uh I'm gonna beat you at basketball.  And then he did.

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