Six PR Insights from Michael Jordan and “The Last Dance”

Last Dance promotional image from ESPN

1. Live your words.

In one of the most talked-about interviews in the documentary, Jordan reckons with his leadership style and whether that meant he would never be considered a “nice guy.” (More on this later.) In the documentary, just before this famous clip, he says, “You ask all my teammates. The one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t f — -ing do.”

2. Embrace the pressure.

Jordan lived for the big moments. From knocking down the game winner as a freshman at UNC to his 6–0 NBA Finals record to his multiple game-winning shots in the pros, he achieved his global icon status because he seemed to come through again and again when it mattered most. And even when he missed would-be game-winning shots, as he did in his second-to-last game as a Bull, he always embraced the moment. .

3. Never take a game off.

Michael Jordan did not take games off. Whether he was sick with the flu (or as we now know, food poisoning), his team was subpar (this doc reminds us that his early Bulls teams lacked talent), or the team was playing a relatively less meaningful regular season game against a fourth-tier opponent, MJ played to win. Part of this came from his hot-fire competitiveness. But The Last Dance also points out another motive. He knew that, in every game, there were fans in attendance who were there primarily to see him compete in the game of basketball. Greats in all performance professions, such as Frank Sinatra and Tracy Chapman, have lived by a similar creed. Maybe those fans had never seen him before in person, and considering that the ticket prices for MJ games were always sold at a premium, maybe they wouldn’t have a chance again. He owed it to them to show up and give them something worthy of being remembered for the rest of their lives.

4. Keep it short and simple.

On the eve of Jordan’s (first) return to basketball, his agent, David Falk, was putting together a statement that could be sourced by media around the world — only Michael wasn’t having any of the verbose options being presented. (Falk was also a lawyer, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the wordiness.) Instead, he offered just two words that then became iconic: “I’m Back.

5. Stand for something (as long as it’s authentic).

Jordan’s legacy is largely positive, but one of the few things he regularly gets docked for is his “Republicans buy sneakers too” comment. This is an issue with a few layers. For one, Jordan mentions that he didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to offer his endorsement of Harvey Gantt and that the statement was made in jest. In that case, it is understandable not to make a public endorsement — we keep getting back to the value of authenticity. The issue, then, is less about his decision than the quote attributed to him.

6. Treat your teammates well — and trust them.

Let’s start with the obvious here: you absolutely cannot lead by relentless name calling, even if that behavior has been previously a part of the culture. On a human level, it’s degrading and bullying, but that’s obvious. From a PR perspective, you have to consider that there is simply far less of a wall between public and private, with the advances in technology and prevalence of social media. If you continually treat people poorly in your office, word of it is more likely to find its way onto the internet. It sounds overly simplistic, but simply being a stand-up person goes a long way in PR.

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