For ‘The Last Dance,’ good fortune and great theater

© Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY, USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Art Spander

It’s all about timing, of course. Which sometimes is a matter of wise planning or, with “The Last Dance,” good fortune.

There's no question that a television documentary about Michael Jordan, with heroes, villains and an overabundance of what euphemistically is called “mature language,” would have been a hit whenever.

But with virtually nothing else out there other than virtual sports because of the virus lockdown, the program, smartly moved up a couple weeks by ESPN, became a Sunday night obsession.

Great theater, damn fine basketball and good memories. I practically had forgotten about Mars Blackmon. Gotta be the shoes.

We were immersed in that stuff, and in Jordan’s stuffs, dunks if you prefer. Not so James Corden, the actor, singer, comedian and late-night host, who was a kid in England when MJ and the Bulls were dominant.

Great Britain never has taken to basketball. France, Italy, Croatia, Lithuania and other European countries love the game. The United Kingdom barely knows it’s around; Corden said he saw snippets of NBA games and wondered, “Why don’t they just play for the last two minutes?”

Corden, interviewed by Scott Van Pelt on Wednesday night's “SportsCenter,” said he heard Jordan stories when doing shows in Las Vegas. Now after spending five years in America employed by CBS, Corden has a better understanding.

As we have learned these past weeks, “The Last Dance,” partially produced by Jordan, is a bold, bawdy, engaging study of the man and pro basketball.

Dennis Rodman is the guy we never knew or never wanted to know, Scottie Pippen the underpaid working stiff without whom the pieces don’t fit. And the protagonist, Jordan — with apologies to Muhammad Ali — is the greatest, at least at what he did.

How should athletes be rated? Or really, should athletes be compared?

Was Joe Louis better than Muhammad Ali? Could Don Budge, the first man to win the tennis Grand Slam — all four majors the same year — have beaten Roger Federer?

Tiger Woods was overwhelming the field in the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa. Aron Overholser, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach Open and years earlier beat Tiger in a major college event, yelled at me, “Tiger Woods would send Bobby Jones to the woodshed.”

Not so fast. Jones played clubs with wooden shafts, on courses not nearly as well manicured as current ones. He never turned pro, He also is the only person to win golf’s Grand Slam, in 1930 taking each of what then were the majors, the U.S. and British Opens and U.S. and British Amateurs.

Is Michael Jordan the best basketball player ever? Well, if “best” means leading a team to a championship, then Bill Russell earns the vote. Russell and the Boston Celtics won 11 in 13 years. Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six.

Then again, Elgin Baylor, who never won a championship in his years with the Lakers, because they were doomed to face Russell and the Celtics, was spectacular. So too was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a key to six titles for the Lakers.

And where does LeBron James stand in this category, where for other than argument’s sake there should be no category? What about Rick Barry? Oscar Robertson? Magic Johnson?

Basketball has been labeled the ultimate team game. Teams, however, are composed of individuals, some of whom are more talented, some of whom are more driven.

If in the program Jordan comes across as a bad-mouthing bully, well, he says that was the only way to make the Bulls a winner — and he doesn’t want to be among the losers.

Not that anyone does, but few have the ability to make the difference.

Jordan shows up at the Ryder Cup, the biennial golf matches between the U.S. and Europe, no matter where they are held. He’s been seen riding around in a cart alongside the American captains.

The thinking was he could serve as an inspiration to guys such as Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. That didn’t always work, but you can’t blame anyone for believing that even Michael Jordan’s presence was eventful.

It certainly has been in “The Last Dance.”