Much has been said about ‘90s basketball. Comparisons creep up every day, every hour, every minute, about how this star could or could not impact the basketball of the olden days, or of how the stars of yesteryears would fare in what they call a “softened” league.
However, for ‘90s kids, no matter how many times Stephen A. Smith or Max Kellerman debate about basketball on ESPN, only one thing holds true: YOU wanted to be like Mike. On the court, off the court, in the training room, in the classroom, it didn’t matter.
And when that final season of the man who you worshipped as a God came out in a documentary, everything in your life just flashed before your very eyes. It was a hot-tub time machine of what the blazing F— just happened. Suddenly, “The Last Dance” was more than a documentary to you. It was as if your childhood wrote you a letter, reminding you of a simpler time when everything was about wanting to be like one man: You just wanted to be like Mike.
No matter how people refuse to acknowledge it, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls defined the ‘90s for you in more ways than one, whether you are a hoop junkie or not. They transcended basketball and became lasting icons of a bygone era that to this day, makes you wish for the good old days.
Let’s rewind to the sweltering summer of 1995. You were beyond shattered. “Disbelief” could not even describe what was going through your mind that day. The uncle who a daily beating on the basketball court broke the news: the Chicago Bulls, your favorite team since seeing them on TV back in ’93 as a wee lad, have been unceremoniously kicked out by the Orlando Magic.
Your hero, absolutely embarrassed by some dude who eventually choked important free throws in the Finals, played in an almost out-of-body experience. The killer instinct wasn’t there. The lag from a basketball hiatus was pretty evident. A case of the body not being able to follow what the mind wanted to do.
It was beyond excruciating, at a time when you viewed defeat as the most painful of things. You were on the verge of crying, biting your lip back. So, you did what was the only thing you can do: pick up that ball, hoist your replica Bulls jersey over your head, go out of the house and work on your jump shot in your front yard, trying to perfect that picturesque form of a god.
Welcome to the Space Jam
Moving on from the Orlando loss was short of easy for a five-year-old with the attention span of a, well, five-year-old. A few games on the village court, of getting your ass handed to you by older kids, but you refusing to back down was enough to forget about the stinging playoff loss.
As a preview of sorts for the coming season, the same uncle who drubbed you on the court daily took you to the cinemas to watch a Looney Tunes movie. Nothing special right? Looney Tunes were the rave for kids back then. As a kid, you would be excited out of your socks when characters like Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, Lola Bunny, Porky Pig…
…and Michael Jordan!?
You started bringing Michael’s Secret Stuff to school just so you can power through your prep days, when the chips were down, you just took the Secret Stuff and you found yourself with the dismissal bell ringing, another step to your supposed transformation to your idol.
Above and Beyond
You come home one night to find out you have a package from your godmother, you open them, and you find yourself in disbelief. You have finally received the final piece for your transformation.
The Jordan 12 Taxis are staring you right in the face, fresh off the oven. The most essential piece of a Jordan lifer as a kid. Couple that with a replica jersey and an armband, as the leg sleeve had been long gone, and you’ve got a seven-year-old MJ wannabe who copies most of his mannerisms, from the tongue wag when driving, the half-spin fader, the follow-through, the free-throw routine.
PE was never the same with the Taxis on your feet. You were out for blood. Every time down. You pushed yourself to the limit, believing that the headstart you got at age 4 was enough to overpower the playground bullies, and to an extent, it worked.
Win at all costs.
You marked that mantra every time you played basketball with the fourth graders, fifth graders, and the sixth graders. You were a mere 1st grader but you took it to them. You tried out for the school’s team. You got cut because you weren’t tall enough even for the Milo mini basketeers level. But armed with the Taxis, you kept bringing it on the playground, embarrassing the upperclassmen at the expense of your precious shoes’ soles. That’s how you took the cut.
Because, what else would Michael do, right?
The Last Dance
Fast forward to ’98, it’s early June, classes haven’t started and you and your uncle are in front of the TV. It was the ’98 Finals. Your last vivid memory of your hero in red and black.
41 seconds left. Your favorite team is down, and the inevitable pall of defeat is hanging on their last gasp at immortality. The Black Cat has played 40-plus minutes. He is already breathing through his mouth, at 36 years old. And “The Last Dance” captured the enormity of the entire moment and the events that built up to it.
The crew stopped every interview, every interjection. They switched to pure basketball coverage. A steal here, a three there, and the Bulls are down by one. Another steal on Karl Malone, and the reel kept rolling, nothing, no players’ thoughts. No journo thoughts. Just the voices of the game.
For a kid in the ‘90s, you were thrown back in that moment in front of your TV set that fateful day. You knew what would happen the moment Bryon Russell overcommitted.
Michael would rise up, in that picturesque form you’ve been emulating your whole life, hold the gooseneck as the bomb detonated on the Jazz’s head, you still shouting in disbelief, as you are now, as they escape from dire straits en route to their sixth title in nine years.
You hold that memory in your head. Of how you were there for the Bulls euphoria that is only being talked about in hushed tones now, with this current generation finally bearing witness to what greatness truly looked like in its purest form.
In a way, it was a Last Dance to the ‘90s. The era that was undoubtedly defined by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and the Chicago Bulls. It was a Last Dance for those who grew up and loved basketball thanks to a high-flying dominant guard who killed in the mid-range and whose indomitable will wreak a mystique to a franchise struggling to recapture that long-lost glory.
More than anything else, it was a love letter to you.