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Why Michael Jordan Couldn't Dance Alone


"It's all because of him [Phil Jackson] that I turned out to be the player that I was."

So many of us have been at a loss for what to do without our beloved sports to play, watch, and enjoy. However, thanks to ESPN's 10-part documentary, The Last Dance, Sunday nights became our saving grace. The series documenting the final season of Michael Jordan's career with the Bulls went in-depth on the many people who influenced, or were influenced by Jordan. While the series certainly shed light on the legend status of Michael Jordan, it also made one thing very clear— Michael Jordan did not dance alone. When the Chicago Bulls won, it may have been understandable that some overlooked coaching and other players’ roles as secondary to his transcendent talent. But if we learned anything from 'The Last Dance', it's that he needed his coaches and teammates to help him achieve those championships. Legends never stand alone.

Whether it was the support of his coaches Dean Smith, Doug Collins, or Phil Jackson, his teammates Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, or Dennis Rodman, or even opponents like Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, or Joe Dumars, all of these individuals contributed to Michael Jordan’s legacy. Jordan wouldn’t have reached the heights he did if it wasn’t for his teammates, resiliency, and the competitive edge he gained by playing with and against athletes who made the sport, themselves, and the team better. Many of these outstanding sports figures also happen to be members of PCA's National Advisory Board or have been key supporters over the past 20 years. Interestingly enough, Phil Jackson was introduced to Positive Coaching Alliance by a friend who sent Jackson one of PCA Founder Jim Thompson's books very early on in his coaching career. Below, we'll break down 'The Last Dance' and share how key PCA supporters like Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, and Terry Francona influenced Jordan's career. And sure, Jordan had influencers, but his legacy continues to impact the game even today— people will never forget Michael Jordan.

*Several other PCA supporters also made appearances in the series, such as Keith Van Horn, Joe Dumars, and Jerry Reinsdorf.

Phil Jackson + Resilience

Phil Jackson, Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls from 1989 to 1998, was not only a major reason the 1997-98 season was the final season of Michael Jordan's career, he also provided the namesake of the documentary. Throughout the documentary, Jackson exemplifies what it means to be a Double-Goal Coach® and instills positivity in all of his players.

As The Last Dance proved, Jackson knew how to get the best out of his players, whether it was recognizing Dennis Rodman's individuality or forcing Jordan to play team basketball. Jackson’s style in and of itself required players to keep their mind in the moment and react to what was available, and research shows negativity takes athletes out of the moment and distracts them from the task at hand. Phil pioneered this in the most impactful way—by winning multiple NBA Championships with a mindfully positive approach. In Jordan's own words, he couldn't have done it without Phil.

"I wasn’t a Phil Jackson fan when he first came in. He was coming and taking the ball out of my hands.”

-Michael Jordan's thoughts on Phil Jackson when he first became the Chicago Bulls Head Coach

"Phil had the knack, no matter how big you are, no matter how big you think you are, to always draw you in to be part of the process."

-Michael Jordan's thoughts on Phil Jackson after the 1997-1998 season

Steve Kerr + Teamwork

Steve Kerr played a major role on the Chicago Bulls championship teams in 1997 and 1998. Kerr was an excellent example of a Triple-Impact Competitor® in his role with the Bulls. He worked hard every day to help the team achieve their goals and it paid off when he hit the numerous clutch shots in the playoffs, including one to seal the championship in 1998. Jordan needed Kerr to help him win those titles. Kerr took the time and effort to build Jordan's trust over the years and the results followed.

In The Last Dance, Kerr discusses how he followed in the footsteps of John Paxson to become a role player and earn Michael Jordan's trust. He calls himself an "overachiever" saying he didn't have the star power of others on the team, but went in each day to contribute what he could. Kerr's role on the Jordan-era bulls is an example of the importance of teamwork in winning. Kerr continues to carry this legacy forward in his work as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, who have won three titles in four years under his leadership.

"So I thought to myself, well, I guess I gotta bail Michael out again."

-Steve Kerr, jokingly, during the 1997 Championship parade on taking the championship-winning shot

"I think he respected me because he knew I fought and I was competitive and I worked and I got the most out of myself, but I hadn't performed very well in the finals."

-Steve Kerr on the lead-up to his shot

Terry Francona + Growth Mindset

Terry Francona, now a World Series Champion manager, had the unique opportunity to coach Michael Jordan as the manager of the Birmingham Barons, a Double-A minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Francona also appears in another documentary about Jordan, titled 'Jordan Rides the Bus.'

In each documentary, one thing stands out about Jordan's time on the baseball diamond: his unique ability to overcome a challenge and improve quickly. This is a great example of a Growth Mindset, and no one epitomizes this more than Michael Jordan. Perhaps more than any other time in his basketball career, Jordan's growth mindset was front and center during Francona's time as Michael Jordan's baseball manager.

"Hey man, I'm Terry, and I guess I'm gonna be your manager."

-Terry Francona on Michael Jordan joining the Birmingham Barons

"In my opinion, with 1,500 at-bats he would have found a way to get to the Major Leagues."

-Terry Francona on Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan's Continuing Legacy and Inspiration...

Many current and former players and coaches told us a little about what Michael meant to them, which you can see below.