Why The Last Dance Should be Compulsory in Sport Management Classrooms

The Last Dance Official Trailer via ESPN

This guest post comes our way from Dr. Austin Duckworth. Austin is an expert in matters of global sports governance and security issues, amongst other things. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow with Aarhus University in Denmark. You can find him on Twitter @austinduck1.

I distinctly remember my first Sport Marketing class when I was starting my Ph.D. coursework. Matt Bowers, our instructor, showed us a YouTube clip of Lebron James advertising some Beats by Dre headphones for working out. Matt taught us the idea of storytelling in marketing and had us identify how that ad told each of us in the classroom a story (Matt, if you’re reading this and I got the idea behind the lesson wrong: I’m sorry). So to go away from my naïve self of 2015, fast-forward to the last six weeks or so when I have been craving any sort of interaction with my favorite pastime, watching sports. Thankfully, ESPN’s coverage of the Bulls 1997-1998 season has helped scratch the itch somewhat. When I was watching though, I couldn’t help but think that, language included, the first four episodes of this alone would be an incredible tool in a sport management classroom. Yes, studies and research and so on are important to help convey information to students, but this series subtly hits on so many different points of sport management that teachers could use in their classrooms, both in person and remote.

1. Poor Scottie Pippen. From the first few episodes the first and most obvious connection is Sport Law/Legal Issues in Sport. **First, a disclaimer, this is not criticizing Pippen for signing the contract as I don’t think you can second-guess someone who grew up in his conditions for accepting life-changing money. But that also does not mean the moment can’t be teachable.  That contract Pippen signed, remember he was 122nd on the NBA money list, is historically bad. (for the opposite example, see Bobby Bonilla – paid until 2035). Now some of Pippen’s misfortune has been taken care of with max salaries and a slew of other concepts. However, teachers of Sport Law, there are lessons here. Show this to your students for a class on contracts, and emphasize that whole leveraging concept. Athletes with dreams of turning pro could use the lessons learned from Pippen’s bad contract.

2. Every good story has a villain and it seems clear that the villain here in this story is Jerry Krause. And I think this antihero could help Sport Business students benefit from learning what to do and what not to do when running a sport organization. Analyzing whether telling Phil Jackson that he wouldn’t be the coach the next season regardless of what happened in 1997-1998 is, at best, a curious decision from a business standpoint. While Pippen’s aforementioned contract was horrible from the player’s position, it was a boon for the Chicago Bulls, or as the phrase goes, “good business.”

3. Did you honestly think that Dennis Rodman would somehow not be part of the lesson? Multiple parts of his story arch, plus most anything related to the Detroit Pistons, would fit perfectly in a course on Sport Ethics. Have your students find which team had the most number of fans by the city’s population during any of their Finals runs and have them apply Utilitarianism to see which team should have won. Greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, that’s how sport works, right?

4. Phil Jackson should be utilized as a perfect example in any course on Sport Leadership. There’s not much more to be said. Just roll the tape.

Granted, we are only four episodes in, and I cannot imagine that the backstory of Nike and the company’s relationship with MJ won’t be covered in some depth in the next six episodes. If this storyline appears, say hello to Sports Marketing. Perhaps after the final six air, I will come back with an update on how to use The Last Dance in a Sport Management classroom.

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