KEN HOFFMAN GETS IT RIGHT FROM THE SOURCE

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

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 are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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