Commentary: Trump’s ‘Last Dance’ will end differently than Jordan’s

By Jack Hoban

I recently watched the Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” and came away thinking that nobody loved winning more than Jordan did: He won an NCAA championship at North Carolina, six NBA championships and finals’ MVPs with the Chicago Bulls, five NBA league MVPs, 10 NBA scoring titles and two Olympic gold medals. A coach once lectured Jordan that “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” Jordan’s response was, “No, but there is one in win.”

When Donald Trump tells us he loves winning, we should believe him, also. Although Trump loves winning, he’s been a loser most of his life: a half-dozen bankruptcies, failed business ventures, 4,000 lawsuits from people he shafted and two failed marriages. Don’t forget his impeachment in the House of Representatives. His one big win was the 2016 election, which many people think he stole. The difference between Trump and Jordan is that Trump will do anything to win, while Jordan won playing by the rules.

Two examples show how Jordan sacrificed personal glory for the good of his team, the Chicago Bulls. I had forgotten that Jordan was with the Bulls for six seasons before he won his first NBA title. Early in his career, the Bulls couldn’t beat their archrival, the Detroit Pistons, who were more physical than the Bulls and used to manhandle Jordan during their playoffs. Jordan’s response was to lead the Bulls in an off season weight program to improve their physicality. Soon, they could match the Pistons elbow for elbow. This got them over the hump and on their way to their first title.

Next, when coach Phil Jackson asked Jordan to sacrifice his scoring to involve more of his teammates in the offense, he did so unselfishly to increase his team’s chances of winning. Jordan could have refused to lift weights or pass the ball more and still had a Hall of Fame career. But he wanted his teammates to experience the thrill of victory with him.

Donald Trump told his supporters that they would be tired of winning by the time he finished a second term. I believe Trump loves winning elections as much as Jordan loves winning titles. The difference is that Trump will do anything to win. That includes breaking the law. There’s a big difference between sacrificing to win and winning at all costs.

If you look at the three main events of the Trump presidency — the Robert Mueller investigation, the impeachment trial and the COVID-19 pandemic — they all involve Trump’s attempt to win elections by hook or by crook.

The Mueller investigation uncovered the illegal help that Trump sought and accepted from Russia to help him win the 2016 election. When caught colluding with the Russians, he lied and claimed that no one in his campaign met with any Russians at any time. In fact, there were over 150 contacts between Russians and members of the Trump campaign. Although he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, he won key electoral delegates by slim margins — some 70,000 votes in three states. In these states, the Russians were instrumental in spreading lies, misinformation and fake news, which sowed mistrust and confusion with voters.

The day after Mueller told Congress he could not clear Trump of any wrongdoing when it came to Russian interference, Trump made his infamous call to the Ukrainian president, pressuring him to “do me a favor, though,” and dig up dirt on Joe Biden to influence the 2020 election. The investigation led to Trump’s impeachment in the House. But Senate Republicans failed to hold Trump accountable and remove this criminal from office.

Then, when the pandemic hit, Trump downplayed the threat and failed to act. Medical experts have estimated that over 100,000 Americans may have died unnecessarily because of his negligence, incompetence and cruelty. The reason for his delay was simple: A pandemic would hurt the strong U.S. economy, which was his best chance for reelection.

A good example of a Trump-like cheater in sports is the New England Patriots, who have been led by owner Bob Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, all Trump supporters. The Patriots, a football dynasty over the past two decades, have won six Super Bowls, while appearing in nine. But they sullied their reputation by being caught cheating on numerous occasions:

• They were caught illegally videotaping opponents’ hand signals during the first half of games and deciphering them during halftime to be used against them in the second half.

• They were caught illegally deflating footballs, which made them easier to throw and, more importantly, easier to hold on to. The Patriots led the league for several years in the fewest fumbles. Fumbles often determine the outcome of games.

• The Patriots used illegal substitutions, free-agent tampering and illegal injury-reporting to game the system. When their final story is written, their dishonesty will take away from their accomplishments.

No one ever mistook Donald Trump for an honest man. His history of criminal activity and lying to win are well-documented. Aside from his dramatic upset in the 2016 election, Trump’s ignorance, incompetence and criminality have resulted in a boatload of personal failures. He brought his knack for creating disasters with him to the White House, and we are all suffering from his behavior as we speak. The questions are: “Do you believe that ‘winning at all costs’ should be the new American norm? And when it comes to winning, does the end justify the means?”

Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice didn’t think so when he wrote, “When the great scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” For the past 3½ years, we’ve watched how Donald Trump plays the game. Anyone with a sense of fairness and decency should be sick to their stomach at this man who lies, cheats and bullies to win.

Americans have always loved winners. But they love people who win the right way. Parents instruct their Little Leaguers to be good sports. Play fair. Be modest in victory and gracious in defeat. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Take responsibility for them. Don’t brag about yourself. Shake hands after the game. Respect your opponents and play by the rules.

When I was young, we used to say that “winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” That’s no longer true in Donald Trump’s America. But we can make it true again come Election Day.

There’s a moving scene in “The Last Dance,” where Michael Jordan has just won his fourth NBA championship, his first since the death of his father, James, who taught him how to win the right way. Jordan enters the locker room and collapses to the floor. He sobs uncontrollably as teammates and coaches try to console him.

Donald Trump’s dad, Fred, also schooled young Donald on winning and losing. But the message to his son was as sick as the man we call president: “Win at all costs, and the end justifies the means.”

If we all vote for Joe Biden in November, we can put Trump in a similar position on election night — curled up and sobbing uncontrollably. Not because his father is not there to share in his greatest victory, but because no one is there to console him on the night of his greatest defeat.

Let’s send Trump the clear message that Americans still believe that winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.

Jack Hoban is a resident of Wilmington.