This is the first commentary in a series of articles analyzing ESPN's 10-part documentary, The Last Dance, a detailed look at the career of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, and the Chicago Bulls.
Who knew that in April 2020, the biggest story in sport would be about someone who had not played a meaningful, competitive game in 17 years and had not won a championship since 1998?
But there he was once again in prime time, conjuring up enough memories and emotions to turn the most hardened boomers and disaffected Gen Xers into misty-eyed saps. Even the millennials and Gen Z’s — who mostly know Michael Jordan from lit shoes and crying memes — put their phones down and were part of the more than 6 million people to tune in.
"I want to become an athlete of influence!"
As promised, The Last Dance is a glimpse at a group of humans who are typically put on pedestals. We look up to them. We cheer for them. Most of us — at some point — want to be them. But these athletes were different; they were led by someone who had his own throne among them.
We tend to get hooked on stories like these. We love to peek into the locker room of a dynasty or into the life of a modern-day Samson.
What makes them different from everyone else? How are we similar? Some of us gain inspiration, while others relish a train wreck (see Tiger King).
It would almost be like watching live footage from the life of Jesus. Imagine a crew following Jesus and the disciples, filming their every move. Viewers would experience Jesus’ love for people, the healings and lessons, along with the drama, fear, despair, triumph. We get great glimpses of it in the New Testament, and movies like The Jesus Film can bring even more life to this story.
So what did you see on Sunday? Were you impressed by the gold-plated triumphs? Did Phil Jackson’s wisdom in approaching this final season inspire you?
Was the will to be transcendent something that drew you to connect with Jordan and his teammates? There’s a part of each of us that, at some point, hopes we can be remembered forever, isn’t there?
There’s a lot to appreciate. In different ways, the greatness of this team brought glory to God, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Our journey into this story has just started; we’re two episodes in, with eight more remaining. But already it’s clear some of these players, coaches and front office executives were desperately searching for something more than another ring.
I was struck when Michael Jordan, the most powerful, recognizable athlete on the planet for nearly a decade, claimed that his competitive fire stemmed from a desire to gain the love and attention of his father.
“I don’t think from a competitive standpoint I would be here without the confrontations with my brother (Larry),” Jordan said. “When you come to blows with someone you absolutely love, that’s igniting every fire with you. And I always felt I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention.
“When you’re going through it, it’s traumatic, because I want that approval…”
The world was in the palm of his hands, and all he really wanted was what his dad could give him… as long as he was able to earn it.
Can you relate? Have you tried to earn and fight for the attention of your earthly loved ones — maybe even your parents?
What about God?
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that we must perform and win to gain the Lord’s approval. Our society can dictate that our worth is found in our performance. Even the Bible mentions that we are to please the Lord. Colossians 1:10 says: “… to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him…” and Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
If we’re followers of Jesus, we are called to bring Him glory. But there’s a difference between bringing God glory and trying to earn God’s love and acceptance. The truth is that we were already loved and seen by God long before we had a light to shine and even when we did not walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
Are you familiar with John 3:16? “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This verse tells us that God loved everyone — even before we knew Him and chose to follow Him. Even when human beings weren’t ‘winning’, God still sent His only son Jesus to die on a cross so that everyone would have the chance to know Him. We have always been the focus of His attention. The mere fact that God would come to earth as a human being (Jesus) shows His desire to draw near to us.
Speaking of knowing, it is our Heavenly Father who also knows everything about us. As the sovereign God, He said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” The same God who knew Jeremiah before he was born knew you before you were born and knows you now.
You didn’t do anything to gain this attention or approval. In Ephesians 2:8 Paul says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works. . .” This was already done by the work of Jesus when He died on the cross and rose again.
All children clamor for the type of attention and approval from their dads that Jordan sought from his. We’re all like him. We all want to make our dads proud. It’s no wonder Jordan won as much as he did — that’s how strong his desire was to not only gain the approval of his dad, but to show his dad how much he loved him.
If you have chosen to follow Jesus, you have a heavenly Father who sees you! He loves you! He wants to continue having a relationship with you as you live out your life on earth. He is your heavenly Father, and there isn’t any additional approval you can earn from Him.
If you haven’t made this step, be seen by God! In John 14:6 Jesus says, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So the opportunity to be seen and known by God takes place when you make a commitment to give your life to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you of your sins.
It’s because of Jesus’ death on the cross that we have a chance to be seen by God.