The Price of Greatness

By Philip D. Mock, CFA, CPA, CFP®

You may have heard of “The Last Dance,” a recent docuseries produced by ESPN and Netflix, that chronicles the life of Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player (and perhaps athlete) of all time. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend it. Even if you don’t like sports, I would still recommend it.

The Last Dance is an in-depth look at Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, 1997-98. Going into that season, the team’s General Manager Jerry Krause announced that there would be coaching and player changes the following year. The Bulls had won five of the last six NBA championships, so basketball fans knew that this last season with that line-up would be special. A documentary crew was allowed to film the team throughout the season. The footage was archived until it was released in documentary-form this year.

 Scenes and Behind the Scenes

Some aspects in this film are expected: Michael Jordan’s greatness is further cemented and his competitiveness was fully on display. The man fed on competition. In practice, he was relentless and expected perfection from his teammates. He pounced on them when they faltered and berated anyone giving less than 100%. Obviously, that was the case during games, too.

But his competitiveness continued after games. In the locker room, he bet on games of throwing quarters across the room with his security entourage. On the plane back to Chicago, he played high-stakes card games with his teammates. Every minute of the day was competition. While it is interesting and alluring to see this on film, it is not surprising. At some level, we realize that it takes someone hyper-focused like that to compete at such a high level for so long. This side of Jordan is fascinating to watch, but that isn’t why you should watch the film.

Be Like Mike

The reason I would recommend you watch the series is to see the toll it took on Michael Jordan to be famous. There are scenes of him alone in the hotel room (except for the film crew) in which he laments on the fact that the lonely hotel room is the only escape he has from everything else. From the very moment he left his home or hotel room, his life was scrutinized by the media and fans.

In those scenes, Jordan did not seem happy at all. In fact, sometimes he would call a local grocery store in advance to tell them he would be coming in at closing time. After all the other shoppers left and the store closed, Jordan would shop in peace.

In the 90s, Gatorade ran a commercial series with a song about how everyone wanted to “be like Mike.” Everyone did in a way… I know I did. But, it was surely because we only saw one side of his life. We didn’t see the extent to which he suffered. What really makes Michael Jordan great is how he overcame the less famous part of his life.

Reality Is the Full Story

As an accountant, I like things to balance. Debits must equal credits and all that. To me, this documentary provided balance to Jordan’s story. He epitomized athletic prowess and greatness, but it came at a great cost.

Today, we live in a world with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, cable television in high-definition, and phones in our pockets with more computing power than what allowed the Apollo 11 astronauts to reach the moon. We have social media platforms to reach people beyond what any of us could have imagined 20 years ago. But most of what we see is imbalanced. We see photos of friends on the days when their house is clean, not dirty. Days when they are happy, not sad. Motivated, not lazy, etc. What you see is half the story.

And, as with Jordan, it is probably the other, more-realistic half that is more inspiring. Just like Jordan, our entire story makes us human and great.

Philip D. Mock, CFA, CPA, CFP®

Senior Vice President

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