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Sports Column | Todd Hefferman: Real leadership comes only one way

Sports Column | Todd Hefferman: Real leadership comes only one way

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After watching the 10-part "The Last Dance" documentary on Michael Jordan and the late 1990s Chicago Bulls, I came away with three takeaways.

No. 1 — I knew Jordan was competitive, but trashtalking with his security detail in the locker room about a game of throwing something closer to a wall was a glimpse at just how competitive he was. I knew about the gambling on golf and the card games on the private planes, but not that.

No. 2 — How much the series skimped over coach Phil Jackson's second life with the Los Angeles Lakers. The man won five more championships with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, and might have won more if he could have found a way for them to stay together longer. Jackson led the Bulls to six titles, and then won five more in the 2000s, taking three straight between 2000-02 and going back-to-back again in 2009 and 2010.

No. 3 — The end of Episode 8. The last three were riveting, but at the end of Episode 8, Jordan talked about why he is the way he is in the most emotional scene of the series. "Winning has a price," he said. "And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn't want to be pulled."

Out of 10 hours, over five different weekends, those 8-10 seconds stayed with me the most, because leadership is not something that takes different forms. It's like anything else difficult in life. You either do it or you don't.

I've always considered leaders by example a bit selfish and "The Last Dance" did nothing to sway me away from that stance. Those that can lead, do, and those that can't pull people along, will suffer the consequences of others. What good is it to be the leading scorer of a team that finishes under .500? Historic numbers are great. Breaking records is great. Breaking records in the postseason? That's something people remember for decades after the players are gone.

"Our teams are getting more ‘I’ than ‘we’ and play more for the name on the back (of the jersey) than the front," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told the MLive Media Group in a 2014 interview. "I struggle with this. To me, lead by example is OK, but it’s kind of a selfish way of looking at things. If you’re not leading by bringing others with you, then leading by example you’re relying on those other players to see what you’re doing. But sometimes if you’re coming in late at night and shooting, they don’t see."

Real leaders do what is necessary to get the job done, when it's winning time. Leaders by example sit by and hope for the best. Which one are you going to be?

TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU Athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.

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