Today I can offer a recommended listen for Rusters of a sporting bent.
For good or ill when out for my daily exercise expedition – or should I say “one of them” because we’re now allowed as many as we choose? – I habitually listen via a bluetooth earpiece to Radio Five Live.
Yesterday’s outing involved listening to a recorded segment of Nihal Arthanayake’s afternoon show for which he had brought together John Amaechi, the Brit former NBA superstar whom I believe is now a sports pyschologist; Matthew Syed, the former table tennis Olympian now a leading sports journalist and media pundit; and Rees Parkinson, whom I believe is a BBC Radio One disc jockey.
Their purpose was to discuss issues arising from the ten-part Netflix documentary The Last Dance centred around the mid-1990s comeback of basketball legend Michael Jordan and particularly his last-ever season playing for the Chicago Bulls.
One of these was the part played by Michael Jordan’s own production company in the making of the series. Under the contractual arrangements negotiated for Jordan’s cooperation with the project, the ‘actual makers’ of the series had to concede final editorial control to his aforementioned production company – which one can assume ultimately means that nothing was included in it that Jordan or his connections might regard as potentially detrimental to his image or interests. [If you think about it, this is something that any important celebrity or individual might seek to negotiate – if they can – as part of his/her price for getting involved in a project. And, of course, Michael Jordan is one of the most important figures ever in world sport].
However, the other side of the same coin is the likelihood – at least in theory – that almost everything in the series is going to show Michael Jordan in a good light … or at least allow him to present his side of any potentially controversial incidents or themes that emerge.
In this fascinating conversation, John Amaechi soon made it apparent that he was not a committed ‘believer’ in Michael Jordan.
To expand somewhat – whilst Amaechi, who openly described himself as “a very average” player, was happy to add his personal testimony to Jordan’s greatness as an all-time basketball player (Amaechi had played against him several times and admitted that on the first occasion he was so scared of Jordan that he daren’t even look at him on the court) – he held little back in attacking Jordan’s influence upon his Chicago Bulls team mates, several of whom (particularly Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant) have strongly criticised and taken issue with the way both they and Jordan are portrayed in The Last Dance.
During this radio discussion Amaechi accused Jordan of ‘going beyond the Pale’ in terms of encouraging/persuading his fellow players to improve their performances – even to the point of bullying.
This brought him into a conflict – or difference of opinion – with Syed who maintained that sometimes athletes needed to be told harsh truths in order to improve (he felt that he often benefited from this personally).
Amaechi took a contrary line – there was never any justifiable excuse for straightforward abuse aimed at those who were junior or inferior to the person dishing it out.
It made for excellent radio.
For those who might be interested, here (hopefully) is a link to the Headliners podcast version of the discussion – BBC SOUNDS/HEADLINERS