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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3 reasons Deshaun Watson looks poised to fill Harden's diva shoes

Houston fans haven't had a lot to cheer about lately. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I'm a fan of sports athlete divas. I don't have to play with them, so it doesn't affect me, and it adds an extra layer of entertainment to the product. And at the end of the day, we're all just in this to be entertained, right?

Some fans, however, don't share that opinion, which is fine. They prefer no distractions. They want their team's stars to resemble something more like superheroes with flawless moral character. The quintessential locker room leader.

Those guys are great, but those guys are boring.

Luckily (for me at least) Houston was--until recently--home to one of the biggest divas in basketball for the past eight years. Rockets fans have had the pleasure of watching James Harden blossom from a humble sixth man of the year recipient just looking to lead a struggling franchise, to the Kardashian-dating, GQ cover modeling, "hunny bun" gifting ($100k cash for the less fluent, surrounded by actual honey buns), after hours club aficionado that we all know and…well…know.

Harden—as is common knowledge at this point—has finally moved on from the Rockets. This would seem to most that Houston is now either diva-devoid or diva-free, depending on your perspective. To that I say, "not so fast."

Filling Harden's shoes won't be easy, but it looks like there's a budding contender already in town looking to take the crown. Head out of the Toyota Center and make a quick drive down 288. There, you'll find a 25-year-old football player throwing touchdowns and raising eyebrows.

For all intents and purposes, Deshaun Watson is a good guy. He's charitable, he's taken a beating behind an abysmal offensive line and never complained. He is, for the most part, the superhero some clamor for.

Yet, there are several key similarities between Harden and Watson that suggest a changing of the guard may be in store. Let's take a look:

1) Undue influence on personnel decisions

In a recent article from ESPN, Tim MacMahon noted just how much pull Harden had over personnel decisions. From Dwight Howard, to Chris Paul, to Russell Westbrook, Harden has pointed his finger, declared "I want that," and watched as the Rockets' front office followed his marching orders. Now it wasn't quite as straightforward as that, but when Watson was asked about players potentially being traded this past deadline, he provided a curiously concrete response:

"Them boys ain't getting traded…[t]hat was something that we squashed."

"Nobody is going anywhere. We're going to stick with this team and keep pushing forward."

Following the deadline, Watson was asked about the fact that wide receiver Will Fuller had been shopped.

"It would've been hell if they did that for sure."

You have to be pretty comfortable with your staying power to throw candid general manager decrees and criticisms like Watson has.

2) Commitment

I don't doubt that Watson leaves it all out on the field, and the stats can back that up. And up until the last few games in a Rockets jersey I would say that Harden, too, gave everything he had. But playing hard and caring aren't always the same thing.

Any pick up game I take part in, I'm going to give 100% of my effort into helping my team win. The difference is that I honestly don't care if my team wins or loses, because we're just playing for fun. When you're a franchise player, though, fans typically prefer that you care, and both superstars have shown through body language or actions that they might not.

Take Harden for example. It was never a good look after losing a playoff series to the San Antonio Spurs in 2017 to be caught at a strip club just a few hours later. Nothing about that suggests that he cared.

Now take Watson, laughing and giggling and smiling game after game during a 4-12 season. Stepping into press conferences with an almost oblivious level of optimism permeating through his responses. It's ok to not take a JJ Watt style approach and look absolutely defeated week in and week out, but it's hardly too much to ask to put on a face for the fans for three hours every Sunday and look a little frustrated over being continuously embarrassed.

3) Immaturity

Whenever I'm in a bad mood or mad about something, I do one of two things. I don't talk to you at all, or I tell you exactly what is wrong. Not so much the case with these two.

Over the past few months, following Harden and Watson's social media has been the equivalent of knowing that you're significant other is mad, but them denying it. When asked, you get the "I'm FINE," response, but then you check their Instagram and there's some picture of a bird flying off with cursive lettering muttering some cryptic message about being held back from seeing how high they can soar. Usually in that situation it just ends up being a fight about eating the other person's leftovers without asking though.

With Harden it was an Instagram post of him holding a bottle cap, leading the sports world to spend DAYS trying to figure out if a grown man unscrewing a bottle was a hint that he wanted to be traded, or that he was just thirsty.

Now it's Watson, tweeting last Friday that "I was on 2 then I took it to 10." Again, no context. He's been caught "liking" tweets and posts suggesting trades to the Jets or the 49ers, but when confronted he denies that it's because he wants to be traded there. It's all childish, and it's pretty lame to be honest. Either be quiet in public, or be as loud as you can. When Harden finally spoke out, he was gone within 24 hours.

Now the difference is that Harden is about six years older and has been in the spotlight much longer than that. Harden is a tried and true, textbook, dyed in the wool diva. Watson's not there yet, but his jet-setting, fashion model-esque Instagram account paired with his recent antics suggest that there may be something brewing.

The question at this stage is whether he'll be in Houston long enough for any of us to find out.

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