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Success Lessons from The Last Dance: Why Michael Jordan is The G.O.A.T.

May 23, 2020

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Image Credit: Clutch Points

I am not a big sports fan, but growing up in the 90’s, I of course loves Michael Jordan. I did not watch a lot of basketball but learned enough so that I could be in a conversation with a cute guy and act like I knew what I was talking about. 

I don’t watch a lot of television.  With the exception of my family movie nights with the kids or my Thursday night red wine and popcorn (my ode to Olivia Pope) for TGIT on ABC, I am usually writing or reading at night.  But the last 4 weeks (I missed week 1 but had to join in week 2 -5 after I heard all the hype), I have been glued to ESPN on Sunday nights for The Last Dance, the 10-part docuseries about the Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls 6 championships.

I started watching the series as a quarantine “date night” with my hubby, but it taught me/reinforced so many life lessons.  

Watching MJ in his prime and being able to seeing him reflect on that time 20 years later teaches a lot of lessons.

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from watching The Last Dance.

1. Some of the greats we under-estimated. Don’t worry about it, you can show them better than you can tell them.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school varsity team as a sophomore. That cut would make a lot of people give up and second guess themselves.  They would allow “lit” thoughts like, “Maybe I am just not cut out to do this”, creep in.  But instead of quitting, Michael used that cut as his motivation to work harder and get better.

Michael went on to play at UMC, win the college national championship and then was selected 3rd in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls.

Michael is arguably the GOAT (I say arguably because I personally can’t choose between him and Kobe).  If he and his talent was underestimated by folks who are supposed know talent when they see it, what makes you think you may encounter anything different. 

But who cares. Don’t worry about the opportunities that may pass you by.  Focus on doing your best.  Your accomplishments will show people much better than you telling them how great you are ever will.

2.  You can be great, but you need the right team to win.

Michael played with the Bulls for six seasons before winning his first championship. It took years to build the team that could win championships.  Under the leadership of coach Doug Collins (you might be saying who???), the drill was “give the ball to Michael and get out of the way.”  But when coach Phil Jackson came to the Bulls, he knew Michael was great, but he also knew Michael could not do it alone.  When Phil Jackson came to the Bulls in 1989, he focused on building a team that honored Michael’s greatness but was not solely reliant on it.  Phil instituted the triangle offense which used the strengths of other players and let them complement each other and work as a team.

Always remember, being great at what you do only gets you so far. To win big, you must build the right team.  You must surround yourself with other great people who will help push, strengthen and complement you.

3. Don’t allow yourself to settle for the norm.  Chart your own path.

While players settled for securing “lucrative” endorsement deals, Michael decided he didn’t just want an endorsement deal, he wanted his own shoe line.

Although there were established brands like Converse and Adidas, Michael negotiated a deal with Nike after his mother made him go sit down and listen to what Nike had to say (Another lesson: Momma always knows best LOL).  Instead of just getting an endorsement, Michael received a 5-year endorsement with Nike and his own shoe, Air Jordan.  The rest is history and transformed Michael from a player to a brand himself. 

4.  Follow Your Heart and Try New Things

So many of us stay in a place of comfort, especially if we are good at it or making the money we want. But haven’t you heard the saying, everything you ever wanted is right outside your comfort zone?

After the 1993 championship and the death of his father, Michael decided to retire from basketball and do something else. Michael had played baseball growing up and by all accounts was a good player.  In 1994, he went to spring training with the Chicago White Sox and played a season with the minor leagues.   Although his 13-month career as a professional baseball player wasn’t seen by many as a success, he did what made him happy and showed that he was not just a basketball player.  

Baseball was a different sport, not just physically but mentally.  Michael put all into being a good player and proved to himself that he could do it.  It did not matter that others thought he was crazy.  It was always something he wanted to do so he did it. 

Remember, your path may look different than others. That is fine. Take it anyway. Your detour may lead you right back to the intended destination, so what.  At least you were able to enjoy a different scenery.

5.  Success Takes Time and Hard Work

Before Michal’s first championship, it was said he was a great player but could not win a championship. Michael admits in the docuseries that talk bothered him but he stayed focused on proving the haters wrong. He knew he would win a championship…it would just take time. 

So many people give up on their goals because it doesn’t happen in the time frame they want or expect.  Patience is a virtue.  Patience and dedication is POWER.

6.  Be self-motivated

We all have reasons we do things.  My motivation for almost everything I do is my family.  They are my why.  And so whatever it takes to psych myself up to push me to my goals, I am all for it.  I place pictures of them on my desk, so when I am on the phone with an arrogant opposing attorney (yes, I said it), I look at my family and remind myself, I can deal with any jerk if it means I can make money to support my family. 

In the Last Dance, they showed how Michael pushed himself hard and when he needed that extra boost of motivation, he would motivate himself. 

In Episode 8, they show the Bulls playing the Washington Bullets in the 1993.  LaBradford Smith, who scored 37 points over Michael’s 22 points in game at Chicago supposedly said to Michael “Nice game, Michael” as they walk off the court.  That statement allegedly ticked off Michael so much, that he told him teammates he would score 37 points in the first half when the teams met again the next night in Washington.  Michael perceived slight by Smith motivated him to show up and show out. He scored 36 points in the first half. 

Later, it was discovered that Smith never made that statement.  Apparently Michael made it up in his head to motivate himself. 

7.  To be the best, surround yourself with the best.

I learned many things from The Last Dance but I think my favorite was if you want to be the best, you have to surround yourself with the best.  You know, “Iron Sharpens Iron”. 

After Michael came out of his 1st retirement, he realized his body was not in basketball shape, it was in baseball shape.  He was determined to get himself back during the off season, but he has already agreed to shoot the movie Space Jam out in LA.  As part of his contract, he requested that the studio build him a gym on the lot so he could work out while he was not taping.  After shooting all day, he would fly out some of the NBA’s best players to play pick up basket ball games.  Players like Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Reggie Miller, Grant Hill and Patrick Ewing. The pickup games had no referees so it was truly about skills.  By the next season, Michael was back.

I could go on and on about the life lessons of The Last Dance but I won’t. I will just end by saying, we all can implement these and other strategies to help us be our best.  Michael wasn’t just about being his best, but about making himself and everyone else around him better.  Always striving for excellence, but then once getting there, pushing himself towards another goal.

That is something we all should strive for.

I would love to hear some of your success lessons you have learned from Michael Jordan. Feel free to share below.

Tameika Isaac Devine

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