Bar none, if you are a NBA fan, you are glued to the Last Dance. If you are reading this article, you are most definitely glued to the Last Dance.
The Last Dance is a phenomenal, compelling documentary. The easy takeaway is that it displays Michael Jordan’s brilliance. The other takeaway, bubbling under the surface?
That the 90’s Bulls dealt with their share of drama, their share of reported issues that they may not have wanted out in the public sphere.
That dealing with drama, as a NBA franchise, is perfectly fine. In fact, as long as the drama does not evolve into dysfunction, it is a good thing.
The Last Dance puts on full display that the Bulls managing their share of interpersonal issues, negative reports, and a slew of talking heads getting their licks in. Michael Jordan was crucified during the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals for going to Atlantic City the night before a game. He responded by shunning the media for two weeks. Jordan and Scottie Pippen detested the Bulls’ general manager, Jerry Krause, and appeared to hate their own future teammate, in Toni Kukoc. Jordan did not want the ball to be passed to certain teammates. Tension brewed between Jordan and Pippen concerning how Pippen handled his summer of 1997 rehabilitation and contract demands. Dennis Rodman fled from the team to go to Las Vegas. Jordan, if you read content from historians of the era, coach killed Doug Collins.
And yet, despite all of that reported drama — documented then and now — much of it was barely recalled, before the Last Dance. Why is that?
Hint: number 23 can give you six reasons.
All of this begs a question. The 90’s Bulls seemed content letting this drama be made public. There was no rush to dance around these issues, or pretend they were not going on. The Bulls simply let their results speak for them. So, why is it that when teams and players face drama today, there is a rush to quiet the noise? Why do we feel that need?
The answer, of course, is social media. When the teams of yesteryear dealt with drama, the issues were reported by a select few newspaper reporters covering the team, and maybe a national beat or two. The reporter documented what happened, and folks took the report for what it was. There was no need for the reporter to sensationalize the story for clicks — with fewer voices covering teams, why force it?
Today, on the other hand, there are hundreds of voices closely covering and discussing teams, at various levels. Inevitably, competition leads to some media members wanting to stand out, which leads to sensationalism of the issue to ensure that said media stands out. Jordan skipping town for AC today? We would have seen hitpiece after hitpiece, tweet after tweet. “He lost his desire to win.” “He wants out of Chicago.” “Did you see the grimace he gave Scottie? He’s done with Pippen as a teammate.” Fringe folks wanting in on the action would take something Jordan did or said (like a glare towards Phil Jackson), and used that to launch a hit piece as well. Different coverage leads to a different fan response. When a dependable newspaper voice simply documents that Jordan was in Atlantic City, fans can accept that at face value. But, when media sensationalize the events as something way more dramatic than what it is, the natural response from teams, players, and fans, is to oppose that, take umbrage to the characterization. It leads to an overly drastic market correction, wherein the Bulls and Jordan likely would have denied the claim he was in AC, and fans would have run with that denial.
This cycle leads to an interesting phenomenon. The response to teams or players dealing with drama, is to attack the reporting of said drama. The perception: “drama is bad, and we must deny that we are facing it.” This leads to outcomes like LeBron James denying his personnel power in Cleveland and Los Angeles, Kevin Durant denying reports of drama within the 2019 Warriors and his having one foot out the door, and the like.
But as we saw with the 90’s Bulls, there is no reason for that. The 90’s Bulls were loaded with drama and interpersonal issues. But it does not matter, because they won six championships. As the Bulls showed us, drama is fine, as long as it does not lead to dysfunction. Just look at the Shaq and Kobe feud. The feud predates their three peat. So, clearly, drama between the two superstars did not harm the Lakers. However, the feud, eventually, grew into dysfunction in 2003 and 2004. The Lakers handled drama just fine — we all do. It was only when drama veered into dysfunction, that things went off the rails.
This brings us to the Brooklyn Nets. Just about one year into the KD Kyrie era, there has been plenty of drama. Jackie MacMullan Jackie MacMullan reported, after spending days with the team, that KD and Kyrie were reluctant to engage in portions of the Nets’ daily routine for players. KD and Kyrie reportedly had no desire to play for Kenny Atkinson next season, and he was fired. Kyrie said it was glaring the Nets needed more players to complement just six players on the roster — a quote that implies that the non listed players are not part of the core and must be upgraded. And, in a move that was just too on the nose, it was reported that KD and Kyrie’s tension as to Kenny arose in part from their wanting DeAndre Jordan to start over Jarrett Allen, and Jordan “won” the starting job in interim coach Jacque Vaughn’s first game.
That makes for a lot of drama. And, you know what, that is good. Embrace it. If the media is not uncovering drama within your organization, that means you are not relevant. The best teams deal with public drama, whether it was the 90’s Bulls, the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the Heatles (between this “accidental bump” and LeBron-Wade tensions over whose team it would be, the issues in Miami were real until they won a title), or the Warriors. LeBron’s Cavs? One issue after another, after another. Tim Duncan’s Spurs were the exception, not the rule. All of these teams won, because all is well in paradise as long as drama does not become dysfunction and affect performance. In fact, when you win, you recall the drama fondly. Jordan tells tales about Rodman with a smile, not a frown.
The Nets will encounter drama during this KD Kyrie run. Who knows what exactly it will be, but it will be reported. Maybe KD or Kyrie will give a dirty look to a teammate, or to each other. Maybe KD and Kyrie will be reported as wanting some substantial trades to upgrade the roster. Maybe they’ll say something passive aggressive about their teammates. Without a crystal ball, who knows what it will be, but it will be something. Some of it will be exaggerated, sensationalized. Some of it, however, will be true.
My suggestion? Embrace it. Enjoy the drama, the colorful rumors, the explosive reports. It is a sign of relevance — only good teams are covered that way. As long as KD, Kyrie, and the rest of the Nets focus on their play, and do not let the drama become dysfunction and affect their on court performance, the Nets will be just fine. They might just win a NBA championship.
The Warriors do not deal with drama now. The Nets did not deal with drama during 2017-2018. Things are pretty calm in about 20 NBA cities.
They can have the quiet. I’ll take the drama, and a shot at Larry O’Brien.