In Jordan is found intelligence, determination, talent, and an overwhelming competitive streak. At the so-called end of History, when the world was thought to be converging, flattening, homogenizing, he personified inequality, difference, greatness, and the desire for recognition. Which he achieved.
But there is more than one way to thirst for recognition. Jordan is not the only human type on display in The Last Dance. The filmmakers do a wonderful job of communicating the pathos and ambivalence of Scottie Pippen and the equanimity and discernment of Phil Jackson. The latest episodes have focused on the character of Dennis Rodman. This skilled athlete, with his complicated and troubled personality, represents another facet of the 1990s: its obsession with gloss and celebrity.
The hijinks that scandalized America 30 years ago—the chameleon-like hair and outlandish fashions, the piercings, the crossdressing, the flings with Madonna and marriage to Carmen Electra—are commonplace in 2020. That is because Rodman was a pioneer. His shocking displays of a fluid individuality pushed the boundaries of acceptable public behavior until there was no boundary at all. Where Jordan was elitist, Rodman was nihilist. And if Jordan is the consummate athlete of his era, Rodman, in his eccentricity, materialism, transgression, and media savvy, defines that era itself.