The docuseries “The Last Dance,” which chronicles the story of Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, raises interesting questions about the GOAT.
Here’s my take on why the documentary series “The Last Dance” seems to have a way of romanticizing the leadership style of former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, even when others show equal, if not, greater merit.
It’s arguably no question the reason why many revere Jordan as the GOAT. His ability to make the play of those around him better is to be celebrated. However, there are certain accounts of the GOAT revealing how he possessed a leadership style defined, in part, by fights in practice with teammates and instances of trash talking.
It begs the question of why the court of public opinion tends to tip the scale of balance in favor of declaring the leadership of Jordan as more effective than the quiet, less intense models embraced and displayed by others around the league.
Take the leadership of former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan for example. Duncan quietly set the bar for his teammates night in and night out over the years by demonstrating a quiet leadership style by example holding them accountable without routine abusive behavior. The noise surrounding the Spurs organization hardly made headlines in comparison to the way Jordan and the Bulls had.
There was little to no trash talking or altercations in practice to scratch what would become the squeaky, clean reputation of the Spurs organization. Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich took a ton of the heat for what Duncan at the time wouldn’t do or say to reach his teammates when they needed a leader. Duncan likely preferred to be out of the spotlight. Popovich would consume a bit of the pressure placed unto Duncan because he didn’t have to be as vocal with his teammates.
The way Duncan exuded leadership with the Spurs offers a bit of a shocking contrast to Jordan and the circumstances unto which he led the Bulls. Had it not been for Jordan’s willingness to be vocal and demand greatness of his teammates, it seems the Bulls may not have achieved as much success as they had. For one thing, Bulls Head Coach Phil Jackson tends to draw stronger similarities leadership-wise to Duncan than Popovich.
Still, what works for one organization leadership-wise doesn’t always work for another. Duncan and the Spurs orchestrated a system that seemingly paid dividends year after year with postseason appearances.
Meanwhile, the Bulls found their own success in the way they approached the game. This isn’t a knock against either style of leadership. What’s troubling is how Duncan’s name doesn’t always get spoken in the same breath as Jordan, which is absurd.
For all the differences between Jordan and Duncan, there is something powerful they share in common: at least five NBA championship titles achieved under one franchise. It’s a feat that not too many can relate to. Duncan won five NBA championship titles and was one shot from achieving a sixth, which would have put him on par with Jordan.
The problem is that even if Duncan had six NBA championship titles, Jordan likely would still reign as the GOAT. When people romanticize Jordan’s singular focus and tyrannical leadership style, others are at risk to pay the price.
It’s a shame because it’s not always the domineering styles of leadership that deserve respect, attention and recognition. The media unfortunately has a way of ignoring, tuning out or shortchanging the stories of the more, well-rounded people.
It doesn’t help the way people tend to gravitate to the idea that it is extroverts who rule. It’s an insult to softer leaders, as is the case with Duncan. Duncan’s way of leading by example should be viewed with merit equal, if not greater, to Jordan’s.