By Karl Batungbacal
Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid is one of the most iconic figures in cinema history. An eccentric handyman who no one in their apartment minds much, he becomes Daniel LaRusso’s karate master and father figure throughout the movie. The movie was transcendent with multiple quotes that injected itself into our culture.
There would be many quotable quotes to come from that movie including “wax on, wax off” there is one that is often overlooked but is highly applicable to our fast-paced society (pre-COVID-19): “First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature-rule, Daniel-san, not mine.” This was Mr. Miyagi’s response to Daniel’s eagerness to learn the crane kick despite being a beginner in karate. He had to go through the basics of karate first before he could even think of trying such an advanced technique. Unsurprisingly, he uses this very kick to win his final match against Johnny from the Cobra Kai dojo.
In a way, Daniel LaRusso’s struggle was similar to Michael Jordan’s. Throughout the first three episodes of “The Last Dance”, it featured Jordan’s insane offensive prowess and how he had a “win at all costs” mindset.
To his credit, it worked in his first year with the Chicago Bulls. MJ took the Bulls from being a fledgling team that no one wanted to watch to becoming one of the league’s most promising teams. His scoring output in the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics was MJ’s true coming-out party. Scoring 49 points in the first game and 63 in the second game, one would expect the Bulls to pull off an upset but the Celtics were more complete and had championship experience running through their veins. They would go on to sweep the Bulls in three games en route to another championship.
For all of his talent, MJ couldn’t snatch a win against the mighty Celtics. He knew how good he was but he recognized the lack of talent around him. Then general manager Jerry Krause would go on to restructure the team around Jordan and along with it came the most important move in the Bulls’ franchise history: adding Phil Jackson to the team, albeit as an assistant coach.
Jackson worked alongside head coach Doug Collins and it was there where he met Tex Winter. Jackson continued to study the philosophy of the triangle offense and Krause recognized this immediately. Collins was fired and Jackson was promoted to the head coaching role. The pairing of the sport’s two greatest basketball minds was instrumental in turning the tide for the Windy City’s burgeoning team.
Prior to Jackson’s arrival, the Bulls were repeatedly trounced by Isiah Thomas and the Detroit “Bad Boys” in the 1988 and 1989 postseasons. It was then where the legend of the “Jordan Rules” came to be: a plan employed by Pistons head coach Chuck Daly to stop MJ from lighting up the Pistons on the scoreboard ever again. The Jordan Rules were to simply stop Jordan from scoring at all costs which also included hurting MJ whenever possible, especially when he was in the paint. The plan worked to perfection because the Pistons’ physical style of play repeatedly got the Bulls to whine and complain to the referees about the calls, or more notably, the lack thereof.
In the following year, Jackson was promoted to head coach and they were poised to finally beat the Bad Boys by utilizing the triangle offense that Jackson and Tex Winter developed. The triangle’s main appeal was to allow the team to space the floor and allow all five players to touch the ball with the purpose of finding the open man. Winter was adamant about how effective this new offensive gameplan would be to the team’s success as it would help remove most of the burden from Jordan and further capitalizing on his teammates’ skills.
Understandably, MJ was hesitant about not being able to score as much but the “Zen Master” noted that he had teammates open almost everywhere on the court. Jordan tried it out and saw that they were capable of hitting open shots so his confidence in the system grew. He made a point of driving and kicking the ball since the defense would always collapse on him in the paint. The Bulls pushed the Pistons to a Game 7 situation and were becoming recognized as legitimate threats to the Bad Boys’ dynasty. Much like Johnny in the Karate Kid, the Detroit Pistons swept the leg of the Bulls and tossed them out of the postseason en route to the title.
These two Eastern Conference powerhouses would meet again in 1991 but this time, Detroit would receive its comeuppance. Similar to how Mr. Miyagi rubbed his hands together to heal Daniel’s injured leg, the reinvigorated and reorganized Chicago squad swept the Pistons out of the Conference Finals. The Bulls would also go on to sweep the mighty Los Angeles Lakers en route to Jordan’s and the franchise’s very first NBA title.
For as good as MJ was in his early years, it cannot be denied that he didn’t reach this level of success all by himself. Sure, he had the talent to be great and his coaches noted that early on in his career, even in college. However, he was humble enough to recognize that he needed someone to bring him to the next level; a wise elder who knew the ins and outs of the game. Heck, Daniel LaRusso knew he couldn’t kick Cobra Kai butt on his own so he sought the help of Mr. Miyagi. MJ was also the same.
Michael Jordan first learned to stand by bringing the Bulls to prominence on his own and by learning to trust Phil Jackson’s early “Zen Master” ways, he learned how to fly and boy, did he soar.