Entertainment

'The Last Dance' Is Missing One Crucial Thing About Michael Jordan's Greatness

We were deprived of how good at dunking MJ really was during his career.

michael jordan bulls dunk
Craig Hacker/Sporting News via Getty Images

The Last Dance is one of the great docuseries of this year charting Michael Jordan's career with the Chicago Bulls through the team's '97-'98 run to their sixth NBA title in eight seasons. After premiering on ESPN earlier this year, fueling new memes and conspiracies on social media every Sunday night, the 10-episode miniseries is now available to stream on Netflix, offering late-comers and obsessives a trip down basketball's memory lane. But in revisiting the years in which one of the sport's most dominating teams reigned the court, I couldn't help but feel something was missing: a shit-ton of super-sick dunks.

Sick dunks are some of the best, most electrifying parts of watching basketball at the professional level. Obviously, Michael "Air" Jordan, a guy with a famous bronze dunking statue made in his honor, was one of the most accomplished dunkers of all time. His bounding 48 inch vertical leap has yet to be bested in the NBA. (LeBron James, for comparison, reaches 44 inches.) His dunking skills are highlighted in the documentary, with plenty of gameplay clips showing off his commanding presence on the court. But director Jason Hehir omits some of the very dunks and floating-through-air imagery that earned Jordan his own enduring shoe brand, which, of course, featured his signature move as the logo. Basically, I needed more dunks. 

Most notably absent in MJ's canon of dunks are his contributions to the NBA's annual Slam Dunk Contest -- and most egregiously, his tense 1988 battle against Eastern Conference rival Dominique Wilkins, who played small forward for the Atlanta Hawks. That year's contest was controversial for a whole bunch of reasons -- which you can learn about in extensive detail from this SB Nation video -- but here's the only background you really need to know: The rookie Jordan lost to Wilkins, a rival going back to his freshman year at UNC, in the '85 Slam Dunk Contest (the NBA's second-ever). If there's anything we learned about MJ's fierce resolve from The Last Dance, it's that the intensely focused athlete took loss as a provocation that demanded vengeance.

For staggered health reasons, Wilkins and Jordan didn't meet again in the dunk contest until '88, the same year the Bulls started getting way better with the infusion of guys like Scottie Pippin, and the three-year wait for their next showdown made that year's game of who can do the coolest dunk a must-watch event. Jordan wins it in his last effort, a court-long running approach and leg-pumping leap to the basket from the foul line. (It wasn't the first time he pulled off this move, but whatever.) 

Just watch the matchup's highlight reel:

It is incredibly fun to see Jordan parade his stunt shots without the distraction of play, but to truly understand just how powerful and impressive MJ's dunks were, we have to turn to in-game highlights for the real context. Tongue out, Jordan plowed through and above opponents and broke through defenders to get to the basket with a singular purpose: make the sickest dunk.

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Leanne Butkovic is an entertainment editor at Thrillist, on Twitter @leanbutk