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Assessing Michael Jordan’s Dance Moves Ahead of ‘The Last Dance’

In honor of ESPN’s new 10-part documentary, let’s go down a weird rabbit hole and examine the footage that exists of the Bulls legend actually dancing

Eric Foster

Certain truths about Michael Jordan will always hold. He ruled the ’90s. He made the Chicago Bulls an institution. He turned “23” from a number into a symbol. He can’t dance. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) He is one of the two greatest players to ever pick up a basketball, an opinion shared by everyone, everywhere, with the exception of the stray devil’s advocate, sipping a Coors Light at the end of the bar and arguing that, actually, Jordan was overrated, knowing in his heart that there are better beers and better opinions. You’ll never find an MJ truther in a foxhole.

Some Jordan questions we’ll never have the answers to. We ask them anyway. How many banners would the Bulls have if Jordan had never left to play baseball? Seven? Nine? How would he fare in today’s NBA? Was he better than LeBron? Seventeen years after he ended his playing career for good, we’re no closer to consensus. Reheating the debates is a form of legacy preservation. He’s never been able to let his game go. How can we?

On Sunday, ESPN will premiere The Last Dance, a 10-part docuseries on Jordan’s career. It’s the latest of many documentaries hoping to tell the definitive story of a man we can’t seem to define. Maybe The Last Dance will have more stories, more voices, more dirt, more unseen footage than the others. The running time is 10 hours; I hope to God they do. What’s missing from Jordan’s story—the unanswered question that I want the answer to—is how the existence of social media would’ve changed the public perception of him had it been around. I love the NBA for its gossip, its messiness, the drama that bleeds locker rooms dry, the personalities, the silliness, the spectacle. Jordan is your favorite shit talker’s favorite shit talker, yet he never had Twitter in his prime to slight his opponents via hashtag. He’ll never know the feeling that Joel Embiid has each time he posts a disrespectful picture of him posterizing another center, the victory after the victory. And he’ll never have a TikTok, or learn any new synchronized dances, which is a shame for us all. For arguably the greatest athlete ever, his aforementioned lack of rhythm is startling and amusing, though fortunately for him, barely any footage exists. Despite the titular dance, it’s unlikely that The Last Dance will cover all the times that Jordan was caught on camera actually dancing, and that’s a shame. But that’s also why I’m here. Legacy preservation. Here are six videos and six dances that should’ve been MJ’s last:

Dancing with Full Force to “Anything’s Possible” (1990)

Clearer footage of this music video exists, but I chose this one because it was edited to open with the words, “This is why I thank god every day that Michael Jordan was a basketball player and not a dancer.” At first, Jordan sticks to the Hitch word of law: elbows 6 inches from the waist, 90-degree angles, left to right, snap. “You live here,” Will Smith once told Kevin James. “This is home.” Suddenly Jordan is possessed by newfound confidence. He leaves home, he gets lost, and he never finds the way back.

The shoulder-shrugging demon is eventually exorcized by embarrassment and leaves Jordan just in time. A dance circle forms. Despite the peer pressure, he refuses to enter.

Dancing with Michael Jackson in “Jam” (1991)

Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.” That was between 161-180 A.D., nearly 2,000 years ago, so there’s been plenty of time to absorb the advice. Yet Jordan agreed to do another music video just one year later, this time with Michael Jackson. There’s a ton of footage here: the finished music video, a clip of Jordan explaining that he initially wasn’t sure about doing the video—“This guy’s gonna try to get me out there to dance,” he was thinking at the time, “and that’s gonna be really embarrassing”—or the behind-the-scenes look (above) that Jackson later released.

“His feet are like boats,” Jackson said. Note that the demon returns and brings a friend at 3:18:

Dancing with Bulls teammates to “How Ya Like Me Now” (1998)

This video was shown during halftime of a Bulls game against the Knicks. I’m astonished it exists considering how demeaning it is to Kool Moe Dee, though, bless their hearts, the Bulls video staff did everything they could to mitigate the damage. At one point, Jordan’s legs are edited out of the video. The background green screen literally supersedes his lower body, covering it up and leaving only the torso and up visible. The veneer backfires; now we’re forced to focus on the shoulders once again. It becomes clear that the incessant, oft-offbeat snapping was a crutch of Jordan’s long before the “Anything’s Possible” video. Commenter Scott Davidson wrote, “A garbage can being emptied has more rhythm than Mike.”

Incredibly, Jordan isn’t the worst dancer in this video. Scottie Pippen begins thrashing his arms at 1:43 like his wrists have been snapped off. Some types of starfish detach their limbs voluntarily if they sense they’re in danger; I don’t know what this was, but it wasn’t self-preservation.

Dancing with the Charlotte Hornets in the club (2018)

Here MJ is dancing the Wobble in his customary Old Mike leather jacket with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. A couple of blessings:

  1. Bless the confidence of Dwayne Bacon, who had the gall to capture his boss doing a line dance in the club and to post it online. Bacon had been in the league for only a year and a half.
  2. Bless the deodorant Jordan uses to be able to wear a heavy leather jacket in the club.
  3. Bless that his cigar isn’t lit. It’s just hanging out of his mouth. Unlit. My editor reminded me that in Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (already far more Will Smith references in this piece than I originally planned) he raps, “Ciga-cigar right from Cuba-Cuba / I just bite it / It’s for the look / I don’t light it.” That was 1997. Some things have changed (it’s now against the law in North Carolina to smoke in most enclosed areas); some haven’t.

Dancing on the golf course to Drake’s “Back to Back”

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Not terrible compared to the others if you don’t look at his feet, perhaps because the viewer is simultaneously being reminded of Jordan’s dominance. The video also presents another Jordanism, large and outdated pants/shorts, which are arguably worse than his dancing.

(Allegedly) Dancing to “Say Ahh” (2012)

More devastating than wondering how many titles Jordan would’ve won or how many more points he would have scored had he not prematurely retired twice is the unseen footage of him having a dance-off with Scottie Pippen to Trey Songz’s “Say Aah” never surfacing. The occasion was Pippen’s 47th birthday; the location was “Chicago hot spot” Sunda; the guests included World Wide Wes, Antoine Walker, and Ahmad Rashad. This was 2012. There’s simply no chance that the dance-off wasn’t caught on an iPhone. If The Last Dance plans on being a true tell-all, it’ll dig this up.