Damian Lillard doesn't have to be like Michael Jordan to be a leader

Dwight Jaynes
NBC Sports Northwest

When "The Last Dance" finally wound down Sunday night, my first thought went to why Michael Jordan -- after many years of waiting -- chose to release that footage now. Or why release it at all?

And my best guess is that he saw it as a way to show those who watched him play -- and those who didn't -- just how very good he was.

Mission accomplished. This was the highlight film of all highlight films, a 10-hour sizzle reel. The difference between Jordan and LeBron, as you could see, is like ballet vs. tap dancing.

I think, too, it was a chance for Jordan to address a lot of the knocks on him over the years. The gambling -- no big deal. The years outside of basketball fiddling with baseball, just living out a childhood dream and a wish of his late father. And the tough love for his teammates? The only way those teams would ever have won. And an example of his great leadership skills that were responsible for the Bulls' success.

I will allow most of that, but not the last part. Not the leadership part. His way has never been the only way or the best way.

He was a bully. And you don't have to be a bully to be a leader. And I hope somehow that obvious message survived this documentary.

At the time of Jordan's success, it didn't, you know. Jordan's public dressing down and outright humiliation of his teammates became a thing for a while during his heyday.

I watched it filter down from the pros, to the colleges and even to high schools, as young players thought Jordan's success gave them license to treat their own teammates in the same belligerent manner.

And it was all built on the false narrative Jordan used to justify his ugly behavior -- it was the reason the Bulls won. I also watched media members then, as now, endorse it as a necessary evil.

But it wasn't.

And of course, in "The Last Dance" the producers found plenty of players, some of them probably still intimidated by him, to say that even though "he was a jerk," it was the reason Chicago won. His teammates admitted to actually fearing him, but the justification was winning.

As if those players were such a pack of losers that mentally abusing them was the only way to get the best out of them.

Woody Hayes and Bob Knight succeeded in the same manner as coaches, but I think we learned over time that style is not acceptable. And it's not sustainable in the long run.

I wonder if Jordan is running his Charlotte franchise in this manner. Whatever he's doing, it isn't working.

A good part of the leadership of that Bulls squad came from the calmness and intelligence of the head coach, Phil Jackson. But the 10-part opus was shaped to spotlight Jordan as the captain of that ship.

Which was obviously important to him.

What would be important to me, is that Jordan's form of leadership doesn't catch on again. After five weeks of glorifying that behavior on this enormously popular show, that's a possibility. In fact, it WILL happen somewhere.

But by its nature, "leading" is striking out in a prescribed direction and getting others to follow you. Not because they have to, but because they want to. Don't hold a gun to their head, put motivation in their heart.

Just watch Damian Lillard. He leads by example, of course, but also with an uncanny ability to figure out exactly what each of his teammates needs -- on the court and off. And then he attempts to supply it.

To be a great leader, you don't have to be like Mike. You can play the game like Dame.

Damian Lillard doesn't have to be like Michael Jordan to be a leader originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

What to Read Next