KEN HOFFMAN GETS IT RIGHT FROM THE SOURCE

Why Michael Jordan would probably sit out this part of 'The Last Dance'

Photo by Vincent Laforet/Getty Images. Composite image by Jack Brame.

But didn't Michael Jordan say he hated rap music?

If you're watching The Last Dance, ESPN's 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' six NBA titles, you're sure hearing a lot of rap music in the background. We'll get to, well, this really isn't a documentary later. For now, let's focus on the all the hip hop that's playing as Jordan buries the Pistons, Knicks, Jazz and whoever dares to stand in the path of his obsession with winning.

We're hearing tracks by Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G. Mase, LL Cool J and classic rap hits from Jordan's playing days. The show's music supervisor says he picked hip hop to reflect popular culture of the time. But is hip hop an accurate soundtrack to Jordan's career in the NBA?

A rapper named N.O.R.E. told the Rap Radar podcast about the time he was at a party and heard Jordan bash rap music in no uncertain, but graphically profane, terms. As we've heard in The Last Dance, Jordan is quite at ease with expletives. He made his feelings clear about rap music – he's not a fan.

Jordan, through a representative (of course), denies ever saying that he didn't like rap.

But he did say it … to me.

January, 1993, at the height of Jordan's majesty, the Chicago Bulls met the Houston Rockets at The Summit, and I had a one-on-one – just the two of us – interview with Jordan. Talk about your unique opportunity. We met about two hours before the game, two chairs in a corner of the visiting team's dressing room. The first thing I noticed, he was wearing headphones around his neck. This was before headphones became the standard fashion accessory for professional athletes. I had a list of questions I intended to ask Jordan, but that went out the window. Instead, I pointed to his headphones and led with "What kind of music do you like?" He answered, and it's the One Big Thing (thanks, SVP) about the interview that I remember …

"Anything but rap."

The interview lasted 10 minutes and I never got around to a single question about basketball. We talked about music. Jordan said he liked jazz and rhythm and blues and old Motown hits. He said it a second time, emphatically, "not rap."

For those keeping score at home, the Rockets won the game that night, 94-83. Jordan led the Bulls with 27 points on 12 for 27 shooting. The Rockets were paced by Hakeem Olajuwon and Vernon Maxwell with 18 points each.

It's interesting to note that in 1989, NBA Entertainment produced a documentary about Jordan's childhood and early days with the Bulls called Come Fly with Me. That documentary contained some of the same footage used in The Last Dance. In place of rap heard in Last Dance, Come Fly with Me featured music by smooth jazz artists Yanni, Nagee, John Tesh and David Benoit. Those would be better selections from the Michael Jordan jukebox.

The Last Dance is an undeniable, huge hit for ESPN, the most-viewed documentary in the network's history. The 10-parter has the ultimate captive audience – there's nothing else going on in sports due to the coronavirus crisis. Sure, maybe we need to stop calling The Last Dance a documentary. It's more an autobiography, written, at least approved and lorded over, by Michael Jordan himself. Jordan had to approve every inch of archival footage included in the series. Jordan's production company, Jump 23, is a partner in the series. As Jordan would say, he doesn't have a gambling problem, he has a competition problem. Add control issues.

I'm thinking that critics, hung up on journalistic purity, need to back off whining about Jordan's participation in making The Last Dance. Yes, the subject of a documentary shouldn't have final say over what goes into the documentary. ESPN never hid the fact that Jordan was behind the production. His company is in the closing credits. Without Jordan's OK, obviously there would be no Last Dance. I'll live with Jordan's OK. You do know what the E in ESPN stands for, right?

But even though Last Dance contains juicy, often unpleasant insights into Jordan's personality, private life and contentious relationships with Bulls management and teammates, fans have a right to wonder - what else could be out there that he doesn't want in there?

***************

Here's a funny story, via former Miami Dolphins public relations director Chip Namias, about Don Shula, the NFL's all-time winningest coach, who died this week at age 90.

"Coach Shula was completely unaware of pop culture. I was the Dolphins public relations director in the mid-80s, the height of the Miami Vice craze. Don Johnson, the star of Miami Vice, was a big Dolphins fan and really wanted to come to a game and meet Coach Shula. We won the game that day, and after Coach Shula finished with his post-game press conference, I brought Don Johnson over to Coach Shula and said, "Coach, I want to introduce you to Don Johnson from Miami Vice.

"Coach Shula shook Don's hand and said, 'Nice to meet you, you guys do a hell of a job!' I realized that Coach Shula had no idea who Don Johnson was, and thought he was an actual City of Miami vice officer. Johnson was unaware that Coach Shula didn't know he was a TV star, and said, 'Coach, I'd like to invite you to come watch us shoot some time.' To which Coach Shula responded, 'Oh no, that's way too dangerous for me.'"

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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