Reflections on The Last Dance

As I write this, I am settling into my Sunday night amid a uniquely delightful Memorial Day Weekend. I’m sitting (outside!!!) on my balcony (so thankful for this balcony!!!) surrounded by new a few new plants we bought on a whim this weekend. It is entirely peaceful.

last dance

And yet – something does not feel quite right. This is the first Sunday night in the past five weeks that has not been filled with two straight hours of stories about the 90s Bulls and Michael Jordan, and it’s more than just a little bittersweet that “The Last Dance” has come to an end.

As a kid who grew up playing basketball in the southwest suburbs of this fine Second City, watching the docuseries brought me #allthefeels. Admittedly, I was a little too young to fully appreciate what the 90s Bulls meant to Chicago (and the world); most of my more vivid memories of the Bulls have fallen under the “rebuilding” phase. Watching MJ break down this legendary team’s incredible journey from his unique perspective over the past five weeks has been nothing short of pure delight. The docuseries was a journey filled with raw emotion, moments of extreme candor, and was bizarrely suspenseful (a serious feat when everyone already knows the outcome – spoiler alert: the Bulls won six championship titles).

The docuseries left me awestruck and filled with more questions. Namely: why was Barrack Obama hilariously described with the title “former Chicago resident”? How is Phil Jackson so cool, calm and collected all the time? Is it too late to get the gang back together? And, honestly, who decided that ESPN should air two episodes each Sunday instead of one? We could still have five sweet weeks of content left to go!

But in all seriousness, I did leave both wanting more and with a deeper appreciation for Chicago’s undeniable GOAT and the critical roles of his talented teammates (#everythingisbetterwithPippen). While we all have known MJ to be an extremely competitive player, the way he channeled that legendary competitive spirit shocked me for two main reasons that I have been stewing over for the past week.

First, can we talk about what an amazing imagination MJ had? The man was able to imagine his own realities to channel his motivation. This involved Jordan creating and unquestionably believing in plausible, dramatic situations that did not actually happen or exist in real life. He would make up passing comments or insults from his competition to fuel his fire.

So what? You might think. But it is particularly notable: in these alternate realities that Jordan could create and live in, he was responsible for being the hero. He gave himself little to no option not to perform with fierce confidence. It was personal, even though it was not real.

I think about that against the context of my own life – when I tell myself stories (which is often lately in lockdown), I am not so kind. Sometimes I am not even the hero in my own stories – yes, IN MY OWN STORIES! What does that say about me? How can I change that? How do I rewrite the role I play in my own head? 

Second, Jordan did not think about missing. The way he lived and played in the moment would make a monk jealous. He really did not waste his time on worry or insecurity – so much so, in fact, it seems inhuman. In a scene towards the end of the docuseries, his teammates are messing around at a practice, shooting (and missing) long-range 3-pointers. Jordan steps up and sinks it, and then responds to the camera crew by asking, “Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken?”

I think about missing “my shot” all the time. I think most of us do. What happens if we mess up? We wonder, we ask, we beg; it eats at us. But what would happen if we were not perpetually worried about messing up? I don’t know, but I really want to find out what that feels like. 

I had a lot of expectations leading up to watching “The Last Dance”, and it met, if not exceeded all of them. There are a million more things that can be said, but not enough time or words to break it all down. I guess you just have to see it for yourself. If you haven’t watched it – watch it. Period. Full stop. Even if you are not from Chicago, even if you don’t like basketball – watch it. There are lessons for us all in how to lead, be a great teammate, and bring out the best in others and ourselves. 

Now I must figure out how to spend my Sunday nights without it – or maybe it is already time for a re-watch?

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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.