The just-concluded ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance” is more than a riveting sports documentary. It also serves as a sartorial time capsule, with behind-the-scenes footage that charts the style evolution (and in some cases devolution) of Michael Jordan and those around him as it jumps back and forth through time over the course of 10 episodes.
The takeaway — from the fashion perspective anyway — is that while His Airness may be the greatest basketball player of all time and is likely to remain equally unrivaled in the signature shoe arena, he also wore some, how do we put it, interesting clothes during his career with the Chicago Bulls. (To be completely fair, he wasn’t alone in his crimes against fashion, which the arc of the series makes clear — aided and abetted by Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson among others.)
Here are five defining fashion moments from “The Last Dance”:
Michael Jordan with Jack Nicholson at the start of a Lakers game against the Houston Rockets in 1999. Jordan’s suit game improved over the course of the ‘90s, according to Times fashion critic Adam Tschorn.
(Los Angeles Times)
What did Michael Jordan dress like before he was the Michael Jordan of legend? That answer comes less than two minutes into the first episode with a glimpse of Jordan at the 1984 NBA draft, where he’s dressed in a dark, notch-lapel pinstripe suit that looks perfectly tailored to fit him. (It’s hard to tell for sure since none of the photos are full-length.) He’s wearing a spread-collar dress shirt and a patterned necktie with what appears to be the smallest of tie-tacks holding it in place. The epitome of a sharp-dressed man.
Busy in Barcelona
Episode 5, which might be the most fashion-centric of the series — it has a heavy emphasis on the Air Jordan footwear brand — also showcases a seriously bold-and-busy shorts-and-pants combination that Jordan has in heavy rotation throughout. The best thing about the cacophony of black, orange, red, yellow and blue geometric squiggles isn’t that he’s wearing them but that the Jordan name can be seen competing for attention on the left breast of the shirt. (The pattern, which became known as the Air Jordan 7 sweater design, was also featured in the brand’s footwear.)
The United States’ Michael Jordan, center, poses Aug. 8, 1992, with his gold medal during the Barcelona Olympics with a flag dropped over his shoulder to hide a rival sponsor’s logo on his jacket.
A branding burn
A tracksuit-clad Michael Jordan standing on the winners’ podium with his teammates at the 1992 Olympics with a U.S. flag draped over his shoulder might not seem like a memorable moment in the annals of fashion — until you’ve learned the backstory (also in Episode Five) that it was a way of obscuring the Reebok logo, which that team-sponsoring brand had paid handsomely to have on full display. The Nike-sponsored Jordan would have none of it, and the behind-the-scenes moment in which he discusses denying Reebok its branding moment is as delicious as it is eye-opening.
There’s one late-’90s suit (or perhaps several similar ones) that show Jordan’s transformation from the anything-goes, baggy-as-a-feed-sack early ‘90s look to sharp-dressed businessman circa 1998. He wears a version of it in Episode 1 when appearing on a French TV show during the Chicago Bulls’ 1997 trip to Paris (a four-button corduroy number), though it appears most often in post-game locker-room footage where the French cuffs and left breast monogram are on full display, as are high-waisted, pleat-front trousers and a patterned necktie. It’s Jordan’s off-court armor, and when he wears it he’s all business.
Michael Jordan’s nondescript crewneck T-shirts in “The Last Dance” are a fashion statement in themselves.
(ESPN Films / Netflix / Mandalay Sports Media / NBA Entertainment)
The legend at rest
If Jordan’s draft-day pinstripes are one bookend to his sartorial adventures in the public eye, the range of willfully anti-fashion looks he wears in the talking-head interviews sprinkled throughout “The Last Dance” serve as the other. His crewneck T-shirts and long-sleeve tees paired with baggy shorts and the occasional pair of jeans conjure a normcore-meets-athleisure vibe that in most cases wouldn’t merit mention. Here, however, is Michael Jordan — the man, the myth, the legend — dressed like the guy getting ready to scoop dead leaves out of your pool. Like everything else he’s done in his life, it’s purposeful and symbolic. Jordan isn’t shrouded in the Bulls No. 23 jersey or the sharp suit of a business man but the threads of a man comfortable in his own skin and his place in history. He doesn’t need to dress up for anyone.
Jordan wasn’t the only one whose style (or lack thereof) was on full display in “The Last Dance.” Episode 3 seems to capture the moment Dennis Rodman transformed from nondescript and non-tattooed basketball player into an over-the-top star with jellybean-colored hair and a penchant for floppy red velvet hats and leopard-print tops (not to mention an endless supply of police and security guard uniforms).
The 10-episode arc also showcases the curious travels of coach Phil Jackson’s facial hair, which goes from ‘70s-era porn ‘stache (in his own days as a player) to full beard to soul patch with stops at every permutation in between. Someday a treatise on the correlation among Jackson’s facial fur, the triangle offense and the number of NBA championship wins will be written and it will all make sense. Until then we’ll simply point out that Jordan himself, in the interstitial interviews, appears to have the barest of Jackson-like soul patches sprouting between his chin and lower lip.