The State of Play: American society should not strive to be just like Mike

Despite the rampant chaos and dysfunction that’s likely ensued since I left my throne as Daily Trojan sports editor, some positives still remain — one of them being the abundance of time that I have now, which leads me to the topic of today’s column: “The Last Dance.” 

For those of you who haven’t logged on to any form of social media in the past month, “The Last Dance” is a 10-part ESPN docuseries that chronicles the final season of Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Chicago Bulls. I binged every single episode recently and it was an honest-to-God masterpiece.

Often, the focus of this column is American politics. Today, however, we’re gonna shift the focus to American society, and American society should not strive to be like Mike. More specifically, American society should not strive to be like the Mike that “The Last Dance” portrays. 

First, calm down. I am aware that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest competitors in the history of sports. I would encourage any inspired American to try to reach the same heights that Michael did during his career.  

In fact, if anyone got even remotely close to six NBA Finals MVPs and 10 scoring titles, I’d buy their bobblehead, dedicate a shrine to it and shed all of my worldly possessions to worship their athletic greatness. 

Yes, Michael was a six-time NBA champion and the best player of all time. By the end of “The Last Dance,” that reality had already been successfully instilled into the nether regions of my consciousness. The documentary captured how great Michael truly was and sent one message clearly: Michael Jordan was an absolute badass. 

Immediately after watching the series, even I, a lifelong Lakers fan, had been fully converted — more than anything, I wanted to be like Mike. Not like Kobe, Shaq or Kareem — but Mike. 

However, the more I read about Michael after watching the series’ last episode, the more I realized that I was wrong. Michael Jordan was a badass, yes, but what “The Last Dance” fails to honestly explore is the fact that Michael, by many accounts, was a tyrannical bully.

I’m not saying that the documentary completely ignored some of Michael’s less savory qualities. In episode eight, an incident where Michael punched his teammate, Steve Kerr, in the face is described and recounted by both of the brawl’s participants. 

Rather than characterizing the event as what it was — a dick move — the documentary presents the incident at practice as a positive development in Michael and Kerr’s relationship.

Listen, I know sports is often the domain of testosterone-fueled egos, but you shouldn’t have to defend yourself against a sucker punch to mend a relationship with a co-worker. 

And Michael’s fight with Kerr wasn’t just a singular dick move but part of a recurring pattern of dick moves made over the course of Michael’s career. 

Along with Kerr, Michael also punched teammate Will Perdue at practice. This instance goes along with other dick moves such as Michael repeatedly deriding Bulls captain Bill Cartwright and mocking Bulls general manager Jerry Krause for his height and weight. In the documentary, this behavior is either excused, ignored or characterized as the traits of a champion. 

Many have analyzed Michael’s leadership style and come to various conclusions, one of them being that Michael suppressed his humanity and behaved this way to lift his team to greatness. 

That may be true. Michael does demonstrate some vulnerability in “The Last Dance,” nearly reaching the point of tears when discussing his harsh leadership style and obsession with winning.

I don’t discount the possibility that Michael did what he felt he had to do, but even if it’s true, we are still led to the same conclusion: His brutal leadership style and win-at-all-costs approach to basketball shouldn’t be the model we aspire toward. 

I’ve said it a thousand times — sports is a medium through which we spread and teach values. In an equally significant way, sports is also the most influential education on masculinity children receive as they grow up. 

If America embraced the Michael Jordan that is presented in “The Last Dance,” our society would be in shambles. The American family would crumble underneath everyone’s no-holds-barred, winner-take-all pursuit of success and children would claw and gauge each other’s eyes out at youth basketball games. 

It should be noted that for all the attention the documentary pays to Jordan’s athletic accomplishments, little is paid to how his personality affected his own personal relationships or to how some teammates felt like they played for, not with, Michael. Considering Michael had editorial control over the series, this is not surprising. 

And in exercising his editorial control, Michael made sure he had the last word in the documentary. 

“When people see this, they’re going to say, ‘Well, he wasn’t really a nice guy; he may have been a tyrant,’” MJ says right before the documentary ends. “Well, that’s you because you never won anything.”

C’mon, do you really think we’d be better off as a society if we all tried to be like Mike?

Stuart Carson is a rising senior writing about the intersection of sports, politics and American society. His column, “The State of Play,” runs every other Wednesday.