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Life after ‘The Last Dance’

Brian Michael Icasas Cabral



If you’re a basketball-loving Filipino, you’ve probably watched The Last Dance, the latest series on Netflix about the Chicago Bulls and their last run at a championship. My love for the sport was in large part due to Michael Jordan (MJ) and the Bulls. I wanted to “Be Like Mike.” I didn’t have the shoes, I didn’t have his game, but that never stopped me from trying. From the baggy shorts, working out as much as I could to jump as high as my body would allow, to learning to shoot the fadeaway (despite my coaches hating it every time I did), I wanted to be him.

I remember crying while watching him speak during his Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech, and my wife amused beside me as I did. I saw every video about MJ…

Yes, including Space Jam. But what I liked the most about Jordan wasn’t the winning. It was how he approached the game, how he overcame adversity on his way to becoming the GOAT (greatest of all time.)

A lot has changed in society since the time of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. But through the 10 episodes of The Last Dance, there are actually a lot of life lessons that remain relevant. Some I already knew; some I wish I knew back then. Let me share some of the things I took away from the series and share them with you.

Competition is everything. In this “Everyone is a winner,” and “You’re all going home with a medal” society that children are now being exposed to, I think it becomes important to remind them that real life just isn’t that way. Not everyone is out there to be your friend. And the friends you think you have, actually aren’t. If you want to succeed, you have to bring it, every single day.

Family is the core of success. During the first few championships, the first wins, in every photo there was a constant. Right next to MJ was his dad. His family were the people he could really count on, the only people he could trust. The same holds true today. A solid family is important — it is the only place that one can find true support.

Home is where you hear the truth, about yourself and about who you are as a person. Everyone needs a place where they get the benefit of the doubt, where they are understood and where being taken out of context isn’t always a concern.

photographs courtesy of IMDB
what I liked the most about Jordan wasn’t the winning. It was how he approached the game, how he overcame adversity on his way to becoming the GOAT.

Win humbly, lose graciously. Ok, maybe MJ wasn’t exactly the best example of winning humbly, but he wasn’t really over the top either. I think his celebrations matched the magnitude of the win. He didn’t always win though, he had his share of losses, but he never walked off the court without shaking the hands of the other team even in a loss.

Losing graciously is important. We can’t let the low moments of life make us bitter, angry, or resentful, because these are the moments that define us and build our character.

It’s easy to celebrate and be happy after a victory, but it’s the losses and setbacks that really define a person’s character. For what it’s worth, that Pistons team is more remembered for refusing to shake hands with the Bulls than the two championships they won.

Everyone loves a hero, but an unforgiving public loves watching a hero fall even more. For a time, Michael literally walked on air. He was a winner. Everybody loved him.

Then his penchant for gambling and betting became an even bigger headline. Not that it caused him or the people around him any harm. He still kept winning, but sometimes society is funny like that. They enjoy building you up, but they can enjoy tearing you down just as much. As I’ve often taught my mentees, “You’re only as good as your last performance.”

When MJ went into baseball, while everyone remembers that he was a bust, what people don’t know is that if he had stuck with baseball a little longer (rather than un-retiring from basketball and winning 3 more titles), all the baseball experts felt he actually would have made it into the Majors. What’s important really isn’t what other people think of you, what’s important is whether or not you care… and if you do, should you really?

Oftentimes, you need to push the people around you to be their best. I used to try to be everyone’s friend. I wanted people to love me, but that was the wrong approach. It was the wrong approach because I was unconsciously in need of their approval. Thankfully that is no longer the case because of this one reason. I know who I am, I understand who I need to be in order to be my best, and I intuitively understand what others need to be their best. From there, it is my primary objective to inspire by any means necessary.

A lot of the players on the Bulls championship teams, never truly experienced the success they did when they were with Chicago. Now, this is entirely up for opinion, but the truth is, if MJ was not there to push these guys, it wasn’t in them to raise their game to that level of performance that they had with the Bulls. Some people are able to pull that out of themselves, and some need help. Whether it’s our spouses, our kids, relatives, friends or our coworkers, we all need to be pushed in a healthy way that raises our level of performance. Never be afraid to push someone, especially if you know it will help them. And when you’re the one being pushed to do better, focus on why they’re doing it, not so much on the how.

A champion is made through his or her lowest moments. It wasn’t the six rings that made the Bulls true champions. It was the years of being at the bottom before the nucleus of the championship teams was assembled. It was taking the beatings from the bad boys of the NBA, the Detroit Pistons. Or coming back from retirement only to fall short of a title, and have everyone doubt if you still have it. I love the “Become Legendary” commercial with Michael Jordan, where the dialogue lets you to see what Michael was truly doing. He was showing us what it took to really be a champion:

“Maybe it’s my fault.

Maybe I led you to believe it was easy,
When it wasn’t.

Maybe I made you think my highlights started at the free throw line,
And not in the gym.

Maybe I made you think that every shot I took was a game winner.

That my game was built on flash, and not fire.

Maybe it’s my fault that you didn’t see that failure gave me strength,
That my pain was my motivation.

Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God given gift,
And not something I worked for,
Every single day of my life.

Maybe I destroyed the game.

Or maybe,
You’re just making excuses.”

I wish my kids shared my love for the sport. Maybe someday they’ll understand why, and how being a fan and playing the sport, played its own part in shaping me into who I am today. Because one of these days, my kids will take these lessons as part of their homework in the school of life. Look at all the times you’ve had to struggle, and look at them as a source of your motivation to be your best. Through every ounce of pain is a pound of inspiration. Use every bit of it, and hopefully become a champion in every part of your life.

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