'Henry tried every day to be the best' - Vela says Jordan's Last Dance documentary conjured memories of Arsenal icon

Vela Jordan Henry split
Getty/Goal composite
The LAFC star says he was inspired while watching the 10-part series on the Chicago Bulls

Like virtually every sports fan across America and the world, Carlos Vela developed a Sunday routine over the last five weeks. 

For the first time since Game of Thrones went off the air in summer 2019, the U.S. was united by a true television phenomenon: The Last Dance. The documentary, a 10-part event broadcast over five weeks, followed Michael Jordan's rise to his place as the most revered basketball player of all time while focusing on his final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98.

With American sports suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Last Dance became a phenomenon. The series of episodes offered deep dives into one of the greatest athletes and one of the greatest teams of all time, filling everyone's Sunday with larger-than-life stories about Jordan and his six NBA titles.

Vela, a massive basketball fan, was instantly hooked.

"Of course. Every Sunday I was there," Vela told Goal. "My wife wasn't happy. But I said, 'these two hours, these are for me'."

The Los Angeles FC star has long been a fan of the NBA. In the past, Vela has stated that he actually prefers basketball to soccer and, in his free time, he chooses to spend his moments away from his own sport by following the NBA.

Vela recently uploaded a video of him, in full Los Angeles Lakers gear, dunking on his own hoop while the Mexico international also expressed excitement at starring alongside James Harden in a new ad for sports drink BODYARMOR.

Over the last five weeks, Vela, like the rest of the country, was offered an insight into Jordan's mindset as a leader, for better or worse. The series detailed the famous grudges and perceived slights that fueled his career. It discussed Jordan's gambling, or as he calls it "competition", problems. 

Most poignantly, the series revealed Jordan's leadership style, which often pushed teammates to their limit physically and mentally. At the end of the seventh episode, an emotional Jordan reflected on criticisms of how far he pushed those that played alongside him before tearfully calling for a break in the interview. 

"When people see this they are going say, 'Well he wasn't really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant'. Well, that's you. Because you never won anything," Jordan said.

"I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win to be a part of that as well. Look, I don't have to do this. I am only doing it because it is who I am. That's how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don't want to play that way, don't play that way."

Throughout his career, Vela has played with a number of big players. And, having watched Jordan's leadership style and his ability to push teammates further than they thought they could be pushed, the Mexican star says he was reminded of former Arsenal star Thierry Henry.

Henry and Vela never took the field together at Arsenal, as Vela was loaned out throughout his early years with the club due to a work permit issue. But Vela says Henry's leadership still stood out, giving him a Jordan-like presence. 

"Thierry Henry was a really hard guy," he said. "He tried every day to be the best and he pushed the young guys to work more, to be professional, to try to bring everything to every training.

"He would say, 'if you train hard, you can play hard'. Thierry Henry was an inspiration to me and you can see the career he had. I'm proud to have said I can play with him. He's a good leader."

Vela's personality, meanwhile, is a bit more laid back, but he's still found plenty of success since making the move to MLS ahead of LAFC's expansion season.

The winger smashed MLS records last season by scoring 34 goals in 31 matches, helping guide LAFC to a Supporters' Shield and an MLS record for points in a season.

But, as he looks to add an MLS Cup to his resume, Vela says he learned a lot from watching Jordan's rise to NBA immortality.

"I wasn't surprised. You are not there to see it day by day, but when you see what Michael Jordan did, you feel something special, something different than the rest," he said.

"I feel like I have a lot of things to learn from Michael Jordan to try and be the best. I take it as motivation. Maybe I have to be more hard, do more things to help my teammates to be better so we can win more championships."