The Last Dance: Entertainment (and reality check) for Nuggets fans

Image courtesy of ESPN communications

Thank the heavens for The Last Dance. With all due respect to Jerry Jeudy, one can only discuss the unproven talents of those recently drafted into the NFL for so long. 

But Jordan? Pippen? Jackson? Rodman? 

It’s like a gift from the sports gods when we all needed it most. 

I love basketball. Playing it. Watching it. Discussing it. Amidst this damn-demic, forget about going out to eat or birthday parties that don’t involve Zoom or drive-by well-wishes – give me shirts-n-skins at the Denver Athletic Club or a Denver Nuggets game against the crappiest team in the East. I don’t care. I miss my hoops…dearly. 

The Last Dance reminded me just exactly how much I miss my cageballers. The most popular documentary ever made also reminded me how much I miss Michael Jordan and (in my opinion) the greatest NBA team(s) to ever grace the hardwoods. I’m not a Bulls fan per se – I’m a Nuggets fan, per me – but in thinking about it recently, I loved those Jordan-Bulls teams as much or more than any team in any sport I’ve ever watched. Call me a front runner; I don’t care. When Jordan’s Bulls took the floor, it was must-see-TV. Every. Single. Time. 

If you’re reading my quarantine-induced prose, there’s no need to tell you how and why The Last Dance is so great. You already know. Like me, you’ve already watched each of the first six episodes twice. You and I both know that anything involving Jordan is sheer entertainment, and some 22 years later, His Airness still holds up. LeBron is fine and dandy, but there’s nothing or nobody like Jordan. 

You know this. And anyone who has been recently acquainted with Jordan now knows this, thanks to ESPN’s recent – and brilliant – decision to release The Last Dance earlier than originally planned. 

But hey, I’m just reporting facts. 

Here’s another fact: The Last Dance provides a glimpse of what an NBA champion looks like. 

And here’s an observation from a fan of the Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets don’t look like that. 

I’m sorry. I know. During this time of personal challenge, we all need a boost. Something to be excited about. Something to daydream about. Something to be positive about once all the dust settles. 

But if The Last Dance teaches us anything, it’s that the Denver Nuggets are not ready to win an NBA title. Go ahead and thank COVID-19 – you don’t have to purchase playoff tickets that will come to a screeching halt after the first or second round this spring. 

Per The Last Dance, every NBA champion has the following: 

  1. An undeniable superstar (beyond Jordan, the documentary points our Larry, Magic, Isiah, Kobe)
  2. A long and painful run to the top (most champs struggle before they become the champs, even the Bulls). 
  3. A great coach (Pat Riley, Chuck Daily, Phil Jackson) who has an uncanny ability to both relate to and accommodate every contributing member of a roster. 
  4. Ego. Lots and lots of ego. 

So, ask yourself: How do the current Denver Nuggets stack up? 

Is Nikola Jokic a superstar? On the stat sheet, yes, absolutely. The man posts some amazing numbers, especially for his position.  He’s out of this world, unprecedented. 

But is he Jordan-esque? Disclaimer: There’s only one Jordan. Nobody is “like” Jordan. Kobe, mentally and competitively? Maybe. LeBron, physically? Sure. But is Nikola Jokic like Jordan at practice? Is he demanding? Does he refuse to lose? Would he be upset about not playing in a late-season, meaningless game because of injury limitations? 

I love me some Joker. But if I’m being objective, I don’t believe he’s developed those Jordan tendencies just yet. Could another Nugget become that way in terms of leadership? Jamal Murray? Michael Porter Jr.? Possibly, but we don’t see it yet. (Again, remember, there’s only one Jordan, so it’s not an entirely fair request). 

Have the Nuggets struggled? Yes. Absolutely. If one compares them to the Bulls (or even the Warriors of recent domination), it’s safe to say the Nuggets are beginning their ascent to the top. There are quite a few steps between now and the summit (think Jordan ’86). 

Is Michael Malone a great coach? 

He’s a good coach. There’s no doubt. But the difference between good and great is often an NBA championship. Malone is an old school hoopster who often gets the best of what he’s given. But he’s also reluctant to embrace what he’s been given at times. Think of how both Phil Jackson and Chuck Daily handled Dennis Rodman. How Jackson dealt with Pippen’s development while Jordan still ruled.  Could Phil Jackson have found a home and minutes for both Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic? Could he – would he – have treated Michael Porter Jr. like a rookie who’d better earn his keep, or found a creative way in which to maximizer his youngster’s talent? How has Malone handled those situations? Is that what Jackson would have done? You can answer that one. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and (like Jordan), there’s only one Phil Jackson. At the same time, this comparison is worthy of consideration. 

And do the Nuggets have enough ego to win a title? 

In nearly every walk of life, too much ego is a problem. In the NBA? It’s a must. It’s just that all the ego has to be carefully managed, coddled, guided. 

Michael knew he was The  Man. Michael slowly – very slowly – came around to the notion that the ball, at times, needed to find the likes of John Paxson. 

Scottie Pippen believed he was The Man. Maybe he knew Jordan was really The Man, but Pippen thought of himself as The Man from Day 1. 

Rodman was the man in a variety of ways. He knew it and didn’t care who else was or wasn’t. All of them had great big egos. 

Phil Jackson has a monstrous ego. Even (and especially) Jerry “Crumbs” Krause had an ego bigger than his own chin. 

Who’s the man in Denver? Who in Denver has this type of ego?

It’s Jokic. But again, that might be based on ability and stats. He just so happens to be one of the most selfless stars to ever play – that’s both a good and bad thing. 

Do any of Denver’s other key players resemble anything along the lines of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman? 

Jamal Murray has ego. He’s got a silky smooth game and an Instagram account that featured his… well, nevermind. Can he be consistent? That will tell a lot about the Nuggets next season. 

We’re going to learn if Michael Porter Jr. has ego very soon. If he does, he won’t be long for the treatment he’s been getting in Denver. His ego, if it’s big enough, will throw a fit. 

Gary Harris? Solid player. Doesn’t crave the spotlight, or so it would seem. 

How about Tim Connelly? One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But is he ruthless enough – egotistical enough – to do what Jerry Krause was willing to do back then. Krause loved him some Krause, so much so that he was willing to tear up the greatest team ever assembled just to prove a point. Connelly is absolutely not that type of guy. 

The Last Dance shows a blueprint as to how to win a title. Are the Nuggets there yet? 

Right now, it’s safe to say “no.” But there’s still a lot of time for this young roster. 

And, by the way, there are four more episodes. See you all Sunday.

SHARE