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Lessons From “The Last Dance” That We Can Apply In Business

Your brand if done right will be your legacy

Image via WallpaperAccess

The sporting world, among many others, has been put to a halt by this ongoing pandemic. After months of lockdowns all over the world, people are looking for ways to keep their minds off the crisis. With news of the NBA planning to resume games this July, basketball fans can’t wait to restart the season. Not all players though are receptive to it and are suggesting to cancel the season altogether.

The timing couldn’t be so right when ESPN and Netflix decided to release the 10-Part Docuseries of “The Last Dance” earlier than scheduled. It tells the story of the last season of what many basketball pundits describe as the greatest team ever assembled. It features Hall-of-Famers Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and the G.O.A.T. himself, Michael Jordan.

It’s refreshing to see and hear the human side of Michael. He was viewed almost as a cult-like, superhero status during his playing years. He’s an epitome of greatness. The series showed his obsession with the perfection of his craft, and unmatched desire to win at the highest level. And what an experience it was! Michael Jordan was recounting the stories, on how they persevered, not only the intense challenges they faced on the court but off of it as well.

There are so many key lessons to be learned from the series that are also relatable to business. It’s true that sports is a business and NBA basketball is one of the biggest worldwide. Here are my key takeaways on the docuseries:

Failure is a prerequisite of success. We always look at the end result of successful people or businesses. But we also don’t recognize the countless failures that they had to endure to be on top. Some of his notable ‘failures’ throughout his playing career were: 

  • Michael Jordan was cut off from the varsity team in his sophomore year. He worked even harder and went back the next year. Growing four inches taller was a big help too.
  • His team lost to the Detroit Pistons for three straight years in the playoffs. He lived through the saying, “To be the best you have to beat the best”. In their 4th year (1991) matchup, they finally beat them en route to their first-ever NBA championship.
  • It took him seven years before winning his first NBA championship. Instead of giving up after each loss, he worked harder and got better and pushed his teammates to do the same.

There’ll be setbacks along the way. In only his 3rd game of his 2nd year in the NBA, he broke his foot and missed 64 games. He came back late in the season on limited playing time to avoid any chance of re-injuring his foot. This was enough to help push his team to the playoffs and book a matchup against the eventual champions, Boston Celtics. He averaged 43.7 points per game and in Game 2 of the series, scored an all-time NBA playoff record of 63 points.

Sometimes you need to step back and disconnect. The 92-93 season was eventful, to say the least, for Michael Jordan. Coming off a successful defense of the NBA championship, he also took part and won a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with The Dream Team.

With just a few weeks between the 1992 championship, the Olympics, and the start of the 1993 season, he was exhausted. The games, more than ever, sky-rocketed his fame even further. His gambling issues were also feasted on by the media, with some questioning his dedication to the game. With the tragic death of his father, James Jordan Sr. in the same year, Michael Jordan, at the peak of his career, chose to walk away from the game.

In 1998, his teammate, Dennis Rodman too had to take a vacation in the middle of the season to go to Las Vegas and party. He said he needed to escape to get his head back in the game. You can be successful regardless of your background. Most of the players in the team came from humble beginnings. Star players Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman came from poor families. But it didn’t deter them from their dream of playing professional sports. It also proved instrumental to their success as evident by their work ethic and dedication.

Challenges bring out the best in you. He faced and lost to the toughest competition during his first seven years. He used the losses as motivation to improve his game and go at it again. In Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan suffered from flu-like symptoms. It was revealed that it was food poisoning from eating pizza the night before. He was weak during the first quarter of the game and had to muster all his strength to help the team win the game. It was one of the defining moments of his career with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block performance.

In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the team was riddled by injuries, most notably his running mate, Scottie Pippen. He aggravated his severed back after making a dunk on his first attempt in the opening minutes of the game. He was never the same after the shot and was hardly mobile. He had to gut it out and try to contribute as much as he can.

Michael Jordan had to take on most of the scoring load to make it a game. If they lose, it will be a tied series at three games apiece and Game 7 to be played at Utah. The Utah Jazz was up by three points with 41.9 seconds left in the game.

What happened next was the greatest performance ever made in the NBA Finals by any player in history. He made a quick basket to cut the lead by a point with 37.1 seconds left. The Utah Jazz now has ball possession and ran a play feeding the ball down low for their superstar Karl Malone. Michael Jordan stole the ball from him with 18.9 seconds left to play. He then went on and made a game-winning shot with 5.2 seconds left in the clock. They played great defense on Utah’s next possession. They missed a 3 point shot that earned the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan his 6th NBA Championship. 

You have to have a system that will help you be more efficient and effective. The Chicago Bulls hired Doug Collins to be their head coach at the start of the 1986-1987 season. Michael Jordan identified with him right away. They were both competitive and wanted to win.

His system brought out the best in Michael Jordan. The 1987-1988 season was astonishing, to say the least. He averaged 35.0 points per game, won the regular season MVP, won the NBA All-Star Game MVP, and was also awarded the Defensive Player of the Year. He was unstoppable and has taken the claim as the best player in the league. They’re now considered one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. They won the first round of the playoffs against a better team, the Cleveland Cavaliers in the deciding Game 5 of the series. Michael Jordan made one of the many memorable game-winning shots to close out the series.

In the next round, they went against the more experienced Detroit Pistons. The Pistons game plan was simple, stop Michael Jordan. They exposed the weakness of their predictable system, which was the ball would eventually fall into Michael Jordan to take the shot.

They met again the following year, this time in the Eastern Conference finals. The winner would go on to play the NBA Championship. The Pistons also perfected their defensive game plan against the Bulls. It’s famously known as “The Jordan Rules”. The rules were simple, when Michael drives to the basket, they will put him to the ground. They believe that when Michael is airborne he’s unstoppable. With the Bulls offense usually ending up in Michael Jordan’s hands to shoot the ball, it’s easier for them to stop him. Again, they lost the series to the Pistons in 6 games.

In the 1989-1990 season, management decided to fire Doug Collins and promote his assistant, Phil Jackson to be the new head coach of the team. They implemented the system of a longtime assistant, Tex Winter. It’s called the triple post offense, most popularly known as the “Triangle Offense”. Everybody has the opportunity to touch the ball which makes it tougher to defend. It created many unpredictable open shots that any player can take. They believe that it’s the system that will make them beat Detroit and ultimately win the NBA Championship. With a deeper team and a more balanced attack, the Bulls were able to extend the series to a deciding Game 7. Scottie Pippen was suffering from a migraine in that game and was ineffective, losing the series.

Teams and players would usually go on vacation after getting eliminated in the playoffs. Not the Bulls. Everyone immediately went back to work the next day. The team is now more familiarized with the system. And with the players now more mature in their game, they knew that they had a chance to finally win a championship.

You need to have the right people in your team. Basketball, as in business, is a team game. And like every team, you need to have the right people that will play their role at their very best. Jerry Krause was widely criticized for his comment about their success. He said, “players and coaches don’t win championships, organizations win championships.” This statement has been edited according to him on what he originally said, which was “players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations win championships.

This comment offended his players, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Head Coach Phil Jackson.  It caused tension within the team. In some ways there’s truth to what he said. He really did a good job of getting players that work well in their system. And it resulted in winning six championships.

Trust your teammates. They were hired with the sole purpose of helping you in areas where you need help. Michael Jordan learned that to be more successful, he had to trust his teammates and make them better. The best example was Scottie Pippen, who in his own right, became one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players with Jordan being the best player that he could be. He also trusted his teammates, John Paxson and Steve Kerr to hit big shots that led to winning championships.

Your team is looking for you to lead. Success begins and ends in you. Though there are important members in your team that plays a significant role in your success, it’s up to you to lead them and show them how winning is. Michael Jordan put it best when he said, “You ask all my teammates. The one thing that Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t do.” And he displayed it on the court night in and night out.

Preparation is the key to success. It’s been well documented that Michael Jordan plays harder in practice. He takes practice seriously because he believes the game itself will come easily because of the preparation that they made. He was so hard in practice that it went as far as punching his teammate, Steve Kerr in the face. It was also widely said that the greatest basketball game ever played is not in an NBA game. It was at a practice of The Dream Team where Michael Jordan’s team defeated Magic Johnson’s team.

Your brand if done right will be your legacy. It’s been weeks now since the docuseries concluded and yet people are still talking about it. And it has been 17 years since he last played in the NBA. This docuseries introduced him to a generation who didn’t get a chance to see him play. It also cemented his legacy as the greatest player of all time. He now has a net worth of $2.1 billion according to Forbes as of June 2020 and is one of the most marketed in sports. His shoe sale every year is approximately at $100 million, even if he’s long retired from the game.

Basketball and sports in general is a multi-billion dollar industry with a global market. This docuseries may have centered around Michael Jordan, but the way he put work into his craft is worthy of admiration. His legacy will live on even after his time on Earth has passed, and it was an honor to have witnessed it. 

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Written By

Arvin Unabia helps coaches and online course creators to add more students using automated marketing systems. He became deeply interested in how a customer journey goes into digital marketing and how businesses thrive by understanding what their market really wants. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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