But if Carey had the swagger, the Jordan-like influence over results and teammates, he had no wish to cast himself as the protagonist of the AFL’s smaller, parochial Dance.
“I don’t think so. I think there’s been enough said about my life,” said Carey, who did not see himself as footy’s Jordan.
“Been enough said and done, a lot of good, a lot of bad and let sleeping dogs lie for me.
“So no I wouldn’t.”
In lieu of actual sport this year, The Last Dance has become the prime entertainment for global sports fans, and most AFL footballers. Carey and Michael Voss are among those who’ve pondered how the profile of Jordan and his Chicago Bulls outfit does – and does not – apply to their game.
Carey, Voss and Matthews know well that Australian rules is not a global sport, that the game fields only 18 players not basketball’s five – and thus offers the superstar a less dominant role.
But each of them still found Netflix production relevant to the AFL, on some counts.
“In terms of status within the requisite sport … Carey and Jordan’s a good comparison,” said Matthews.
“Jordan was so far [and away] and the alpha male.”
The Last Dance covers the entirety of Jordan’s career at the Bulls and, above all, is a profile of a supremely talented, driven and demanding sportsman, who tells his story while seated in an arm chair, flanked by a glass of scotch and a cigar, and with profane candour of a kind rarely heard.
Voss had gleaned three learnings from the documentary series that had relevance to the AFL he had observed. The first was what Jordan’s transformation from “champion player to championship player” – how Jordan, a nonpareil player, had been persuaded by his Zen-master coach Phil Jackson to accept a reduced share of team output to enable Chicago to win six NBA titles.
Voss was interested in how Jackson had managed to reduce Jordan’s share, persuading him to help improve the performance of his supporting cast – “That concept of being able to take the ball out of Jordan’s hands.”
The relationship between an alpha male superstar and his team is forever potent. In The Last Dance, we see Jordan learn to navigate the team and the team learn to accommodate his unique status.
If he did not place himself as the equivalent of Jordan, Carey acknowledged one parallel – that he had been granted special treatment by his club. “You know you’re being treated differently,” he said, further admitting this was not necessarily beneficial to him in life. “I wish I’d been pulled up or handled things different.”
The series reflects the Bulls in that Jordan is not the entire story. Like the team itself, The Last Dance would not be as successful without fleshing it out with tales of Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Jackson, and the general manager Jerry Krause, whom Jordan has cast in an unsympathetic light.
One entertaining episode centres on Rodman, the eccentric who had squired Madonna around and was permitted a mid-season bender in Las Vegas that ended with Jordan arriving to drag him out of bed to the alarm of his companion, Baywatch star Carmen Electra.
McKernan jested to his former skipper that Carey had elements of both Jordan and Rodman.
“So rather than Vegas, I used to say to Denis [Pagan], ‘Can I go home to Wagga Wagga … over Christmas,'” said Carey, recalling how his coach put an end to the partying trips to Sydney Carey led teammates on.
Voss also saw football lessons in the astonishing moment when Pippen, during a play-off game in Jordan’s baseball sabbatical, sat himself down and wouldn’t take the court because Jackson put the ball in Toni Kukoc’s hands for the buzzer-beating shot.
This story, in Voss’ view, encapsulated the perils of placing one’s “ego over team”. Pippen had sacrificed money for the team, Voss observed, “yet in the most crucial moment, he made a (poor) decision under emotion duress”.
For Voss, the third takeout was “how hard he [Jordan] was driving his teammates” – the standards that Jordan demanded of those who surrounded him and which his colleagues resented. “Today, I doubt that extent would survive,” said Voss.
The series poses the question of how a team accommodates someone whose performance – and influence – is so rarified, when they have traits that are anti-social or create disquiet. In Carey’s case, it was a case of being too social.
Jordan, as Carey observed, had not joined in “festivities” – eschewing the drinking and partying. “He separated himself from that, whereas I joined in both.”
The Last Dance also is about celebrity, showing how Jordan became a captive of his fame. Implicitly, the series contains a contradiction for team sports – the individual must fit into a team, but the marketing component of sport prioritised the individual star, as the Air Jordan Nike phenomenon demonstrated.
“Every coach’s philosophy is we don’t want to be dependent on one thing,” said Matthews.
The AFL and clubs do not have an unseen trove of archival material to make something akin to this documentary, but it is natural to wonder if the clubs – and the AFL – will seek to enhance the profile and worth of superstars, for commercial reasons.
Carey, if unwilling to play the part, nominated Dustin Martin, Lance Franklin and Gary Ablett jnr as the players who would make the AFL’s best Netflix-style doco. “They’re the three that stand out.” It’s unlikely, however, that any of that camera-adverse trio would be willing to tango.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.