Part 1 of Michael Jordan’s documentary The Last Dance airs on ESPN tonight and there has been a ton of hype behind the 10-part series. MJ related content has flooded my social media ever since ESPN locked in the April 19th date and deservingly so.
One thing we learned leading up to this moment is that this documentary was in “a vault in Secaucus, New Jersey” for years according to reports but without approval from the G.O.A.T. it just collected dust.
That was until the 2016 NBA season concluded and LeBron James and the Cavaliers were celebrating the city’s first NBA Title. On that same day, “His Airness” was ready for his story to be told. But why did Jordan choose that specific date to give the okay? I have a theory and I’ll let you decide if it holds water.
Michael Jordan is very smart, very calculated and very competitive even in retirement. These are the reasons why I cannot believe that it was a coincidence that Jordan was ready to release the documentary after LeBron’s 3rd NBA title.
June 19th, 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers completed the first-ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in Finals history to claim the franchise’s first NBA title. The Finals MVP? LeBron James of course. The Akron native owned the Warriors in 2016 averaging 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists in the series.
Some would argue that June 19th, 2016 is the day that LeBron surpassed Jordan as the greatest player of all time. The Golden State Warriors won 73 games that season a new NBA record previously held by Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who had 72 wins.
In his playing days, Jordan took on the game’s best on the biggest stages to earn his spot as the G.O.A.T. MJ was the reason many of these legends like Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Gary Peyton retired ring-less.
But when a 40-year-old Jordan was giving his farewell tour as a Washington Wizards Shooting Guard in 2003, his eventual replacement, LeBron James, was at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School finishing his Senior year and being labeled as “The Chosen One” by Slam Magazine.
Thirteen years after Jordan retired (for good) he has had to watch this kid from Akron who he could never compete against taking the league that he created and metaphorically call it his own. The new generation saw LeBron have their G.O.A.T. and as a competitor and a distant memory, this ate at Jordan.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the late Kobe Bryant (who basically mirrored Jordan’s game throughout his career) as Jordan’s original replacement as the face of basketball. Kobe had already been in the league a few years before Jordan called it a career. He competed against Jordan and even became brothers with the Bulls legend as we all heard at Mamba’s funeral during Jordan’s speech (R.I.P. Bean).
There was something about this kid from Akron that separated him from Kobe. Kobe’s game was Jordan’s game, so how could he pass Jordan? But to quote Kobe’s classic Nike commercial, LeBron was “a different animal but the same beast.”
With no on-court similarities to Jordan, LeBron was still elite across the board. Scoring, passing, rebounding, defending in the perimeter, defending in the paint. People said LeBron can’t shoot, he developed a jumper. People said LeBron can’t go left, he started to look ambidextrous. People said LeBron didn’t have the “killer instinct”… LeBron can’t win… then 2012 came.
The “killer instinct” narrative is very subjective and not worth touching. But what isn’t subjective is that LeBron’s run as the face of the league wouldn’t be like Mike’s.
LeBron had lost 2 NBA Finals before he captured the gold in 2012 thanks in part to a Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade link up in South Beach. The individual accolades were piling up for King James. First team all NBA, First team all Defense, Most Valuable Player, and more but the one that alluded him took almost 10 seasons to achieve.
Mike got to his first NBA finals after 7 seasons and never looked back. MJ and the Chicago Bulls won 3 straight championships from 1991-1993 before Jordan retired for the first time. In 1995, Jordan returned to Chicago and gave the city 3 more consecutive championships before his second retirement after the 1998 season.
LeBron didn’t have such fortune. Prior to June 19, 2016 LeBron James had a 2-4 Finals record which right there is enough for Jordan fans to say he’ll never pass Mike because Mike not only doesn’t lose in the Finals, he doesn’t do game 7’s in the Finals.
2 rings is an outstanding achievement but when you’re chasing the ghost of 6-0 Michael Jordan, prior to June 19, 2016, it’s hard to argue in favor of LeBron.
But there was something about June 19, 2016, that felt like a power shift. These were the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. 2x MVP Steph Curry, dead-eye shooter Klay Thompson, 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala led by former Michael Jordan teammate Steve Kerr. This team was stacked! Stacked beyond anything Mike had ever faced in his playing days many would argue.
My Top Sportsbook had the Warriors with a 66 percent chance to win it all and that was prior to the start of the series. The Cavaliers went down 3-1 in that series. But despite the odds, LeBron carried these Cavaliers over the greatest regular-season team in NBA history.
This ate at Michael Jordan. Don’t get me wrong, Jordan doesn’t hate LeBron. Jordan has repeatedly praised LeBron James as an athlete. But as a baller, it killed Mike to see this kid from Akron influence the young fans who truly believe that the star of Space Jam was no longer the greatest to ever do it. 2007 no longer mattered. 2011 no longer mattered. 2015 was a distant memory. When you beat a 73-9 team while averaging 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists throughout the series you have to be the king of basketball… right?
Generation Z and many millennials know Jordan more for his shoes than his game. The actual “Flu Game” carries less weight with Gen Z than the Flu Game Jordan 12’s. Jordan’s crossover of Bryon Russell in 1998 is less of a moment than LeBron’s chase-down block on Andre Iguodala… and LeBron’s 2016 championship win is the gas that fans needed to bring any legitimacy to the Jordan vs LeBron debate.
Driven by competitiveness and a need to re-introduce his legacy, on the day of the Cavaliers championship parade after beating the greatest team in NBA regular-season history, number 23 picked up the phone and made the call that would give these new generation fans a reminder of who he is.
We’re now almost 4 years removed from that call and we finally get to see the stories that were locked in the vault for “years” while LeBron took over what Michael Jordan created.