As ESPN continues to roll out The Last Dance, GQ staffers will make their case for the ultra-cool doc’s most stylish moments.
For a certain kind of “old head,” episodes of The Last Dance, ESPN’s Michael-and-the-Bulls documentary, must be the most powerful dosage of nostalgia that exists on God’s green earth. You’ll recognize these “old heads” from past TNT broadcasts—remember those?—and inflammatory radio interviews. They’re the type who lament the things missing from basketball today: blood rivalries between stars, WWE scenes playing out anytime someone goes up for a layup, and—you better believe it—mid-range jumpers. Back in my day, they say, there were no three pointers and banana boaters. I’ve always ignored their complaints, but The Last Dance has made me more amenable to the idea that basketball really was better in the ‘80s and ‘90s. With a caveat: basketball wasn’t better back then because it was grimier. It was better because of the fashion.
Jordan gets a bad rap for his style, but one thing the film reminds us is that no one was as cool as His Airness. (You know what’s cool? Winning.) His gold hoop revolved, Saturn-like, around his earlobe, and he looked so awesome in a Bulls jersey it made you believe you’d look just as great wearing one off the court. Even the shirts made up for Finals winners were better then, too—just look at this superbly ‘90s collage of the Bulls seemingly illustrated for NBA Jam Big-Head mode. This was NBA fashion in utero—before the dress code gave the league a makeover and made big fits, stylists, and grail sneakers a part of its identity.
But while the berets are bon and the suits impressively oversized in The Last Dance, there is one outfit from the documentary that stands out from the rest: the Bulls’ white ‘80s button-up warm-ups. Almost completely white but for the red accents—collar, button, “CHICAGO” striping down the left side—the outfit makes it look like the Bulls are coming to the game from the world’s coolest country club.
In this case, the warm-up deserves even more examination because it belonged to and was worn by Jordan. The ensemble signaled the mighty MJ was about to go into battle and like all things Jordan it managed to melt together flash and utility. Even Jordan’s sheared head felt like a competitive advantage, allowing him to fly through the air like a hairless swimmer through the pool. At the same time, he would wear ropes of gold jewelry while participating in the dunk contest: a sign that winning without some measure of in-your-face swagger wasn’t winning at all. The stylish warm-up might have been a competitive advantage, too, if Jordan subscribed to the idea of look good, feel good, play good. These definitely covered the first bit.
Never has the warm-up resonated so strongly as it does now while many of us are isolating and working from home. Instead of wearing that old walkathon T-shirt and trudging through the day, make like Jordan and embrace the idea of putting on something stylish—and more importantly, battle-ready.