Over the past month, the world has been captivated by the ESPN Documentary about Michael Jordan and the final Chicago Bulls Championship in 1998 called, “The Last Dance.” This story has shown the building of one of the greatest sports dynasties in history along with its fall. It is centered around Michael Jordan and his rise. This is because he is arguably the greatest player in NBA history. While that argument is not what will be discussed today, what will be discussed is how it has helped to influence the minds of two great individuals in the Overwatch League and how sports, particularly basketball, have helped shape their careers.
In steps David “dpei” Pei, the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Gladiators and Albert “yeHHH” Yeh, the General Manager of the Florida Mayhem. Both of these major OWL individuals have been impacted by the NBA and have been watching “The Last Dance” episodes as they come out. While each of them has different positions within the Overwatch League, they have learned how to do certain aspects of their jobs because of watching the NBA. Both of them sat down to discuss this and their thoughts pertaining to “The Last Dance.”
[Note: These interviews were done separately and have had parts paraphrased based on certain answers]
Early Basketball Memories
Growing up during the ’90s meant that they were in the era where basketball was king. This was because of the Michael Jordan Bulls. For children like dpei and yeHHH, who were cognizant of the NBA a little after this, they mostly were seeing the after-effects of this Golden Era for the NBA. What they saw was different for both of them based on where they were growing up.
For dpei, the Phoenix Suns were in their prime. With Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire leading the team, they were putting up insane numbers. “We had the Phoenix Suns when they were in their heyday as the run and gun Suns” said dpei. He was growing up in an area that was fanatical about their team. It was something that he and his friends could bond over while growing up. “Me and all my friends, we had something really common that we’d all talk about. I think that’s really what’s great about sports and esports. Having that common community, especially when its locality base is important.” For him and his friends, growing up and not liking the Suns was not something that was very common.
He feels that the influence of his surrounding environment helped him to naturally become a fan. Pei believes that is what the Overwatch League is trying to start and that over time, this will not only help the Overwatch League but esports as a whole. With the Suns representing his hometown area, it allowed him to grow up as a fan. This is a long term commitment, not something that happens overnight. The hope is that esports can follow suit.
In many ways, yeHHH feels the same way. He grew up with more of a connection to “The Last Dance” than dpei though. Yeh is from the DC area and one of his earliest memories was when Michael Jordan was back in the NBA but, this time he was finishing his career with the Washington Wizards. His mother had box seat tickets one night and yeHHH was very excited as it was his chance to see Jordan play. Yet, when he arrived, Jordan was either injured or resting and he wouldn’t get to see him play. “Unfortunately Jordan was not there that night. It was my earliest memory of basketball. And that’s kind of how I got started.” Even still, yeHHH became even more interested and started to really pay attention to the team as he grew up.
Both dpei and yeHHH started their interest in competition and sports with basketball memories. One, of the team that was lighting up the world and the other, of the legendary player. Both of these things influenced them and their path into esports.
Learning From the Greats
One of the best parts about documentaries is just how deep they go into the subject. While many know about Phil Jackson, Jerry Krause is often not a top-five name mentioned when discussing the ’90s Bulls teams. Yet, both had major impacts on the team in very different ways. “The Last Dance“, while looking at this from Jordan’s perspective, shows just how interesting both the characters of Jackson and Krause are to the story. One legendary and one infamous.
Phil Jackson’s Influence
Phil Jackson is not only one of, if not the greatest NBA coaches of all time but he is generally considered to be one of the greatest all-time coaches in any sport. His ability to manage the personalities and get the best out of his team has allowed him to have 13 championships in the NBA. Something that dpei has admired as a head coach himself. “Phil Jackson is an all-time great right? He literally has a book called 11 rings and now he has 13. The guy is actually just excellent.”
What dpei finds interesting about him is that he is a very zen almost hippie-like person yet when he is coaching in the middle of the game there is this passion that comes out of him. Pei feels as though Jackson brought about a lot of the new-age coaching philosophy, which is something that he uses. A calming demeanor while using certain moments to be more vocal in order to have his players buy-in to the ideas of the coach and team as a whole.
“I think when you’re able to explain things calmly, you’re able to tackle issues in a more zen way, a logical way. People really respect that and you can create a buy-in more easily.”- dpei
Learning and watching the best of the best allows for people to grow. Pei believes this thoroughly and has already started to use what he has seen from Phil Jackson to help and create this idea of zen mixed with enough personality to help his players to buy-in to what the team is about.
Jerry Krause’s Influence
While Phil Jackson can be watched in order to help someone grow through what he did successfully, Jerry Krause, the Bulls General Manager at the time, gives off opposite vibes. He is known for breaking up the team. In the documentary, it is claimed that he told Phil Jackson that even if the team never lost a game, that he would not be bringing the legendary coach back the next season. Krause wanted to show that he could build another great team even though much of the credit for the team he already had could be attributed to him. This, in a way, shows General Managers what not to do as much as what one should do. For yeHHH, he felt similarly.
“He went on a power trip. He wanted to prove that he was smarter than everyone and wanted to take all the credit, not that he didn’t deserve a lot of credit. But just trying to take it all and trying to lessen the role that the others played in the process is crazy to me.”- yehhh
Unlike Krause, yeHHH believes it is more important to set everything up for success and make the changes necessary if that is not happening. His goal is to put the players into be in a position to succeed and then let them do their thing. “It’s the team that ultimately earn that success. I put them in a position to succeed, but, they have to go out and do the work. They are the ones putting their careers on the line.” Yeh believes more in the fact that the players are the ones doing the winning, thus they are the ones who deserve the respect and the credit.
Michael Jordan of the OWL
With Michael Jordan being the iconic figure in the NBA, the question was posed if either of them believed that anyone was currently or could become the Michael Jordan of the OWL? “The Last Dance” is of course about Michael. It is from his perspective and why shouldn’t it be? He was the superstar of the time and while good and bad, he got most of the attention. While the Overwatch League is still very young compared to the NBA. The NBA had been around for almost 50 years when Michael arrived on the scene. But, it is still always worth looking for the potential generational type players. Both dpei and yeHHH have similar thoughts on this even though they are come from different perspectives.
Is There One?
When asked dpei instantly jumped to League of Legends superstar Faker. Mentioning that similar to Jordan, he was a transcendental player and one of esports only ones. This is because, for those who may not know, Jordan changed the way the game was played. Even the way it was viewed. Jordan now, and likely forever, will have every great player compared to him. Pei feels that this is something that takes time, “I think it takes time to have those people, for those once-in-a-generation players to come up.” But, he feels that as the Overwatch League continues to grow and more storylines are created, that this type of person could eventually come about. “I guess my answer is there is not one yet, but I am really interested to see if there will be.”
For yeHHH, he felt that there were players who have that potential but, they are currently missing certain aspects. “I don’t see the total package being there. Someone who is the most talented player and also the face of the league.” He did say that there were players who had certain aspects of being the best and could potentially get there. The name yeHHH mentioned was Jae-hyeok “Carpe“ Lee of the Fusion. This was not something he came to easily. Yeh believes that Carpe has the talent without a doubt but, not necessarily the personality to be the face of the OWL. Personality-wise, Matthew “super“ DeLisi was the easy choice for him. Another player that he believes is worth watching for the future is Jae-gon “LeeJaeGon“ Lee of the Shanghai Dragons. This is mainly due to the fact that LeeJaeGon is changing the perspective of how the team plays around a support instead of the support playing around the team. Each one of these players has one of the major things Jordan did. Talent, personality and a transcendental playstyle.
The interesting thing about the responses from both yeHHH and dpei was that they both want for someone to be that Jordan-like players for OWL. While they do not feel like anyone is there yet, they believe that there will come a time when that player arrives.
His Expedition Into Baseball and the Parallels to Overwatch and VALORANT
This topic continued into the last part of the discussion, VALORANT and Overwatch. During Michael Jordan’s career he went from being the best basketball player in the world to suddenly changing to be a baseball player. He and his dad had always shared a love for baseball but, basketball was Michael’s best sport. Thus, when his father passed away and the team was broken up, Michael felt like his heart was leading him to go play baseball.
While he was not a superstar in baseball statistically, a lot was made about his being there. While on the Chicago White Sox minor league team, Michael was an average to below-average player but still received plenty of media attention. In Overwatch, some players are leaving for Riot Games’ new FPS VALORANT. Players like Jay “Sinatraa” Won and Corey “Corey” Nigra, both who were fan favorites and top players in their own right in Overwatch, have made the shift. Sinatraa was an especially hard blow for many fans and yeHHH felt that his leaving was the closest thing the OWL has seen to Jordan leaving basketball. “I don’t think it’s fair to Sinatraa to compare him with Jordan. But I think it’s the closest relevant comparison.” A top player who left after a championship and MVP season, Sinatraa’s exiting can definitely create a comparison to Jordan’s leaving from the NBA.
Both dpei and yeHHH feel as though the players making the shift have their hearts or skillsets in a different game than Overwatch. “I think players who love Overwatch will stay and play Overwatch, and those are really the people who will put the most time and have the biggest communities in it. They will want to be a part of the Overwatch League and Overwatch.” stated dpei. Yeh specifically believes for players like Sinatraa and Corey, that because they came from CSGO backgrounds, they more easily gravitated towards VALORANT. This, in his mind, had as much to do with them leaving as anything else.
They also felt that players who leave believe that they can be elite in whatever the new game is as much or more so than Overwatch. Pei stated, “I think players who leave need to be elite at something and if they want to succeed in VALORANT, they need to have the mindset to succeed.” The thing is, that many times this is not the case. Jordan was not elite in baseball and ended up coming back to basketball. When asked, yeHHH believed that it is possible that any of the top players who leave for VALORANT could ultimately come back to Overwatch. This would mean that their passion for Overwatch would have to end up outweighing their passion for VALORANT. As with all new things, their newness does wear off with time.
Esports and Sports
After discussing “The Last Dance” with dpei and yeHHH, it is clear that sports, specifically the NBA, have had a major influence on them and their careers. They have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do in order to be successful in their positions. The argument between the two, sports and esports, being different or not being able to be intertwined seems to continue to be one that holds little weight. Sports can influence esports and as the world is seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, esports can now influence sports. The conversations brought a lot of insight to the topic at hand and “The Last Dance.” Make sure to give it a watch to just see how a dynasty is made. Whether one is a fan of sports, esports or both, seeing people succeed can inspire and help everyone to grow.
A big thanks to dpei and yeHHH for giving us their thoughts on this conversation. Make sure to give them a follow (linked in their names) and keep an eye out for both of their teams as the season goes on. Catch all of the action on the Overwatch League’s YouTube channel.
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