The media is dealt a blow during episodes No. 7-8 of the documentary series “The Last Dance” when that Chicago Bulls team shed a spotlight on them.
During episodes No. 7-8 of the documentary series, viewers may be prompted to question if the media is responsible for pushing Jordan to retire.
For one thing, when the death of Jordan’s father was discussed, the media as a whole takes a bit of heat for its reporting. At the time, certain media outlets published articles suggesting that Jordan’s gambling is allegedly related to the incidents surrounding his father’s death.
As the film shows, some of the headlines at the time read, “Jesse Jackson claims cover up in Jordan death,” “Jordan death was more than a coincidence,” and “Was Air Jordan’s retirement an elaborate ruse?”
In the film, Jordan took time to address his gambling at fair length. He categorically denied the basis of the rumors that were spreading.
“I needed a break,” Jordan said in the film. “My father had just passed, and I retired. I retired on the notion that I wouldn’t come back.”
Talk of the conspiracies only grew louder when word spread of Jordan wanting to trade the game of basketball for baseball. Some questioned if the league’s top executives were colluding with Jordan to coverup a suspension ordered in response to his gambling. The speculation wasn’t helpful in any regard. Hardly anyone could rationalize that Jordan would leave the NBA as abruptly as he did.
In the film, former NBA Commissioner David Stern disputed the conspiracies, saying there was no basis for fact.
As the documentary shows, part of the rumors would become reality when Jordan left the Bulls to play baseball. The rest is history as we know it. Jordan would be extended an opportunity to play for the minor league affiliate to the Chicago White Sox.
In the film, Jordan said he felt betrayed by the media, but it fueled him to work harder to improve his game.
“It did hurt, you know, but you had people that were throwing darts who wanted to hurt me anyway,” Jordan said in the film. “It wasn’t from the people that knew me and people that cared. It was the people that got tired of me being on top.”
As the season progressed, he would drive in 50 runs batting .200 for the minor league affiliate to the Chicago White Sox.
The narrative surrounding the death of Jordan’s dad did change course when two men were arrested. Still, the effort to paint the media as a whole as the villain is wrong.
In the film, several media professionals commented on how the work of a few writers brought shame to the sports journalism industry.
Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune said it is clear that Jordan was wronged by the media.
“That was bad. That was really unfair,” Smith said in the film. “Can you imagine that your father gets killed and now they’re blaming you? That was really cheap-shot stuff.”
Bob Costas of NBC Sports shared that sentiment.
“There wasn’t a thimble’s worth of evidence to connect that horrible incident to Michael Jordan’s gambling or any other aspect of Michael Jordan’s behavior,” Costas said in the film.
The media as a whole was chastised on more than one occasion because of the actions of a few writers as the documentary series shows.
Take for example when Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause was asked by a reporter at an April 1998 pre-playoff press conference if he’s surprised by the team’s chemistry while there is backstabbing between he and the head coach. As the film shows, Krause made it a point to set the reporter straight.
“There’s no backstabbing going on here,” Krause said in the film. “Second part of it is, ‘no, I’m not surprised at all. I’m amazed that you would even make a statement like that, but I’m not surprised at all because this team is composed of professionals. It’s composed of guys who know understand what they have to do and who are winners, unlike the comment you just made.”
Krause is subsequently seen and heard in the film, saying goodbye to reporters and leaving the room abruptly.
This isn’t to say the media shouldn’t be criticized. In actuality, it’s quite the opposite. What’s not right is the way some villainize the media as a whole at the expense of a few. The media performs an important function for the people, and it simply doesn’t bode well for anyone to degrade it.