Basketball: Jordan and The Last Dance provide timeless inspiration for Singapore's athletes

The Last Dance is based basketball legend Michael Jordan's career with the Chicago Bulls.
The Last Dance is based basketball legend Michael Jordan's career with the Chicago Bulls.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The Last Dance, the critically acclaimed docuseries based on National Basketball Association (NBA) legend Michael Jordan's career with the Chicago Bulls, may be based on events that happened over two decades ago, but it still provides timeless inspiration for Singapore's athletes.

Released last month, the 10-episode show focuses on the No. 23's final term as he led the Bulls to their sixth championship trophy. With an average of 5.6 million viewers, it is ESPN's most-watched documentary.

And what struck most of the 12 national athletes The Straits Times spoke to was Jordan's competitive spirit and how he managed to overcome various challenges to reach his sport's summit.

WHAT MJ TAUGHT THEM

Swimmer Teong Tzen Wei learnt how a champion first conquers his mind before his opponents.

The 22-year-old, a gold medallist at the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games, said: "When you watch him play, it almost seems like he's not nervous at all but the truth is, he's definitely nervous. It's just that he found the ability to channel that nervousness into good and positive energy.

"Nerves and jitters have very bad connotations. But if we start to educate people that this nervous energy is like excitement that gets you going, people will look at it differently."

Jordan's hiatus from basketball after he completed the first hat-trick of his career in 1993 also teaches valuable lessons. Exhausted and devastated by the murder of his father, he retired and the following year signed a Minor League Baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox.

Sailor Kimberly Lim was impressed by how he knew what to do at critical junctures of his illustrious career. The 23-year-old, who won gold at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 Asian Games, said: "When he saw that he had lost that fire, he dared to take a step back, find himself and rediscover that fire that he really needed to perform.

"Sometimes it's really difficult to take time off because you're always on that chase, you want to keep improving, you're always thinking about your competitors and how much more they are training or how much you are training, so it's difficult to unwind as an athlete."

For national bowler Jazreel Tan, The Last Dance provided not only a sporting masterclass, but also a life lesson in "independence, maturity, determination, setting goals, striving to achieve them, and never to give up or be complacent".

KUDOS FOR SUPPORTING CAST

While Jordan is rightfully the star of the show, the supporting cast also caught the attention of Singapore's athletes.

National netballer Aqilah Andin was struck by Scottie Pippen's ability to put the team ahead of himself as the latter had said "my day will come" when asked about his relatively low salary back then when he was the Bulls' No. 2.

 
 
 

The 24-year-old said: "It's like how defenders don't get the limelight that shooters do for scoring, but people will see and appreciate how important it is for defenders to intercept a play."

Teong's favourite episode was the one that featured Dennis Rodman, the NBA's rebound king and bad boy with a penchant for colourful hair and controversial behaviour.

He said: "Off the court, he's a mess and people flame him about what he does but when it came to crunch time, he was exceptional on the court.

"It shows you need to know how to put your focus into different and specific areas, but also learn how to relax and have fun. In Singapore, we are generally hardworking and single-minded, and we always have this fear that if we don't work hard enough, we will regret it.

"But sometimes, it is not all about grinding it out, you've got to work smart too."

National basketballer Wong Wei Long has represented Singapore for 14 years and is also a coach after establishing the Scholar Basketball Academy in 2015.

Looking at how Bulls coach Phil Jackson handled personalities like Rodman helped him understand the importance of flexible man management.

The 32-year-old said: "Instead of being hard on Rodman when he started to miss training, Jackson tried to understand who he is as a person and not just a player.

"The Last Dance has taught me to understand every player before I set ground rules or objectives. It makes me think out of the box, like what is best for my students and not what I think is best for them."