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Struggles of an Athlete

  • Hayk Gyokchyan

Cultural Changes from The Last Dance to Today

The Last Dance has solidified Michael Jordan’s place at the top of the pedestal as the greatest player of all time. The documentary that was released with footage over 20 years old depicts MJ as a mythical creature all players after him will be chasing. It will never be a fair competition and I do not think anyone will have his playing style, talent, athleticism and charisma to dethrone MJ. What stood out to me in the documentary is the vast cultural change has taken place in the world of sports over the last 20 years. With the technological advances came a new standard of living and a new platform for characters in the world of sports to be judged upon.


The 90s were a time with absence of social media. Most of reports were in newspaper and on TV. It seems crazy that a sports athlete from that time is still more popular than any athlete in our generation. It confirms just how charismatic of a figure MJ was to be so well-known at a time during which information wasn’t as easy to pass on as today. It is not only his skills as a basketball player that define him as the GOAT in arguments, but his image and charisma in general. Michael Jordan wasn’t just number 23 on the Chicago Bulls, he was the face of Nike, he was the trend-setter of the shoe deals, his shoe-sales still outperform those of the next 5 combined, he was in the McDonalds ads, he saved Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes. That is why it would be an impossible fact for anyone to surpass MJ in the hearts of the public until at least the last person who was alive when MJ played dies.


Athletes nowadays have much less privacy than those in the 90s. Most athletes today are actively engaged in social media and choose to put their life on display to the eyes of the public, thus reducing a sense of mysticism that came with the life of MJ. MJ was a quiet person in nature and not much was known about him and what he did compared to athletes nowadays. Lives were more private, locker rooms were more private, practices were more secluded. Sports teams nowadays put a lot of emphasis to try to control the image and the brand of the organization in the eyes of the public. Doing so seemed much easier in the 90s without the easy access to every person in the club. What went on in practice was easier to hide back then and not many people had access to every piece of information about the club.


Imagine Lebron and KD going out to play golf in the sun the day before they faced each other in a playoff game. That’s what MJ and Danny Ainge did and no one batted an eye back then.

Reporters nowadays would be all over the story blasting both players in the media about how they were not taking care of their body and taking a playoff game lightly and being ‘friendly’ with each other. Fans of each team would hate the fact that their own player was socializing with the opponent before the game. A video of them teeing-off would have went viral with dire consequences to the image of both athletes, and every single mistake (even the slightest of mistakes) would be blamed on the fact that they were out golfing the day before or they were taking it easy on each other because they are friends.

Imagine Lebron sitting in the locker room with a cigar in his mouth and Frank Vogel (the head coach) walking in and asking him for a lighter. That’s what MJ was doing when Phil Jackson walked in and asked him for a lighter.

Imagine Lebron leaving his hotel before a playoff game to go to the casino and come back late at night. That’s what MJ did.

Athletes go through great lengths to sustain an image of healthy living and subdue to the opinion of fans since they are being constantly judged for every action they take. Cultural changes have brought different views and set standards for athletes to be accountable for. Breaking small such views would lead to a ‘bias’ in every argument by bringing up the fact that what that player engaged in outside the court impacted his game on the court, even if that might not be the case.

Imagine Draymond Green not showing up to morning practice in the Finals and leaving the team to go perform a stunt show for the WWE. Imagine Draymond asking for a ‘vacation’ mid-season in order to go crazy and party to let off some steam. That’s what Rodman did with the Bulls. (I chose Draymond Green for this comparison with Rodman since they both were role players and did the little things no one else could to help their team win a championship).

Steve Kerr, or any other coach today, would have kicked out Draymond from the team and the GM would have breached his contract. Players are left today with little to no room for error in their off-court performance. These days players are judged not only for what they do on the court but also how they conduct themselves off it and the social responsibilities the players have to be good citizens and role models. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a fairly recent term and applies to sports organizations as well. Athletes and organizations as a whole are judged under a microscope in recent years taking away their ability to live a private life.

Cultural change has facilitated the access of the public to the life of athletes and brought the two parties closer together. However, this change seems to have diminished the significance and impact that some popular athletes had years ago when access to their lives wasn’t as easy. So back then, if you were talking about someone, then he must have been someone special for you to have heard of him. Nowadays information is easily accessible and the public knows almost every player on the roster. MJ thrived in an era by having this mythical brand built about him that will last for many generations to come.

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