There is no better sports documentary than the recently released Michael Jordan biopic ‘The Last Dance’. Indeed, Netflix has dropped one of the greatest sports documentaries of all-time. Just like its central character, the documentary is one for the ages, detailing not only the inside story of the 1997-1998 season of the Chicago Bulls, but also threading-in the various highs and lows of Jordan’s career from start to finish.
Netflix has dropped one of the greatest sports documentaries of all-time. Just like its central character, the documentary is one for the ages
In reflecting upon this series, I’ve been struck by how relatable it has been to faith. While there is no mention of God himself, there is allusion to the worship and wonder of God through what occurs on the wooden court. It would be a stretch to suggest there is a theology of ‘The Last Dance’, but it definitely contains traces of the God who creates things of glory and wonder—things like Jordan himself in the 1980s and 1990s.
Something within sport evokes emotional and physical reactions. The incredible dunk, the mesmerising play, the long range bomb, or the final shot before the buzzer sounds. For any fan, sport can bring hope and a sense of possibility as we urge the players on, support our team and follow superstars in any league.
Any basketball fan who saw Jordan in those decades knows how he focussed those reactions. He was the true superstar of the NBA. He brought hope and joy to a legion of fans, team mates, and even opposition fans. He did things on the court us mere mortals couldn’t even dream up. Jordan was the best the game has ever seen, and had an image off the court to match.
Jordan was the preeminent sports celebrity. Of course, there have been plenty of sports stars prior to Jordan. Yet, the timing of his rise to stardom; the growing globalisation of the world and its economy, and an outgoing personality that attracted fans the world over coalesced in marketing power; the marketing machine; the shoe deals; the breakfast cereals; the movies; the drink sponsorships all propelled him into unparalleled celebrity—and his extreme celebrity, along with his awe-inspiring play led to worship of him as a person.
Jordan’s extreme celebrity, along with his awe-inspiring play led to worship of him as a person.
Worship (and True Worship)
‘The Last Dance’ shows how much worship Jordan received, and still receives simply for being who he is. Everywhere he went he was worshiped. Everywhere he went, he had fans idolise him as a player. For them, his prowess made him into a god. And as fans do, they showed this worship through seeking to imitate him. The shot … the dunk … the buzzer beaters … the defensive play: Jordan was the model for others to follow. And so players and fans in their backyards would try to ‘be like Mike,’ as an expression of their devotion.
Yet, at one point Jordan remarks, ‘If I had to do it all over again there is no way I’d want to be considered a role model. It’s like a game that’s stacked against me. There’s no way I can win.’ The pressure to live up to the status he was given weighed heavily on him.
How different that is from the true God—who deserves our worship, not only for what he has done for us, but for who he is: the God (almost unbelievably!) redeems us from our own imperfections; heals our brokenness; saves us from our sinfulness—all through Jesus Christ. Not only so, but God gives us an ongoing relationship that leads us to know him better; worship him more greatly, more intensely, more holistically. God, being who he is, deserves our adoration and love. His goodness, his kindness, his love, his patience, his grace, his mercy, his justice, his faithfulness, his truthfulness, his holiness, all lead to true worship.
In the words of Psalm 95:6-7:
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
As believers we may appreciate the game Jordan played, but we know there is no one worthy of our worship except God alone. ‘The Last Dance’ highlights the search for worship in our culture or, more positively, might lead us to a greater worship of God.
Michael Jordan’s athletic prowess was a wonder to behold. Everything from his ability to hit the pressure shot, to his amazing dunks, to his defence, to his driven attitude toward winning. He was the complete package. And his displays on the court came with a wonder that is hard to define.
But Jordan, was not—is not—the God of this universe. He is a fallen human, like all of us. He is no better than any of us when we stand beside our Maker. Sin still stains, no matter how good we may be in other areas of life. But what he does provide is a glimpse of wonder and beauty.
Wonder and beauty really need to be experienced to be understood. The sunset from the Grand Canyon, the sweet smell of a rose, the taste of that Massaman curry. None of these—though we might like to try—can be adequately described in words. The experience, the emotional reaction, the taste and view of what these things are cannot be portrayed to others.
Through Christ we taste the wonder of God. The experience for us believers is one of sweetness and goodness. It is an experience that is often hard to describe, as much as we may know our dictionaries. The Bible encourages us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), and with this comes wonder and beauty in a God who is at the same time above us and in us, seeking to work for his glory through us.
‘The Last Dance’ is a terrific sports documentary in its own right. And there are highlights and grabs in it that can make our hearts turn to the God of the universe: Michael Jordan displayed great acts of wonder on the basketball court. But, like all the wonder of creation, it is a veiled and indirect wonder. The true wonder of the Lord culminates in Christ—even in his death on the cross.
May we see the wonder of the Lord in our life, may we see his wonder in his world, and may we worship him as the rightful God of our hearts.