Originally scheduled to air in June, The Last Dance couldn’t have aired at a more convenient time for sports fans. The ten episode documentary dives into the dynasty that was the Chicago Bulls, as well as presenting the backstories and lives of former players. That only scratches the surface of what is shown in the series. As a kid in the late 90’s, I was someone who idolized Michael Jordan like countless others. While other classmates were reading books, I remember going to the library and choosing Sports Illustrated magazines to read. If MJ was on the cover, I had to get it. I also used to watch Space Jam over, and over, and over again until I could recite the entire movie. I would watch replays on ESPN of past NBA Finals series in the summer. I would try to emulate Jordan while playing ball in the backyard. Needless to say, I was excited to relive some of that magic that I had revered so much when I was younger. There is an endless number of topics I could choose to go over including the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, the “Dream Team”, and a handful of role players, but I’m going to try to focus on subjects that stood out to me. My favorite moments from The Last Dance are a reminder of why I fell in love with not only basketball, but sports in its entirety.
Michael Jordan is the Ultimate Competitor
After watching this documentary, it’s clear that Jordan is obsessed with winning. Another way of saying that is that it is obvious he hates losing. Which is part of what drove him into becoming arguably the best basketball player of all-time. It seems like he was always willing to compete no matter the situation. He played cards on the team plane, he played baseball, he was an avid golfer, and he even gambled with his security guards before games — throwing quarters. He craved competition like no other. MJ even said it himself, “I have a competition problem.” It’s been known for years that he wasn’t exactly a nice guy, particularly to his teammates. The series shows how he used to berate them during practice, at the hotel, on the plane, or in the locker room. He was unrelenting in terms of communication towards his squad. His teammates have said that it was fine because after all, it worked. Maybe MJ’s tactics and fear mongering were too harsh, though. Some people even claim that his method was completely unnecessary. It’s a topic that is still debated to this day. I can’t help but empathize with the guys that he tormented on a regular basis. It couldn’t have been easy to take so much verbal abuse, even if they were a good sport about it after all this time. I don’t buy the whole “You wouldn’t want to be Michael Jordan for a day” sentiment, but I do understand that it can be tough being that popular. It probably wasn’t healthy for MJ to be so overwhelmingly competitive either. Constantly trying to find someone to beat, trying to get people to get on your level just so you can keep the fire alive — had to be exhausting in some way. That trait coupled with his father’s death, getting mobbed at every corner, and feeling like you have an obligation to perform your absolute best every game will break a person down. Kudos to all the people around him that were there for him when needed. Whether or not Jordan was in the right, in the wrong, or somewhere in between — leadership always comes with a price. Possibly my favorite scene of this entire show was the powerful ending of the seventh episode, where Jordan gives a brief explanation as to why he was the way he was. Nearly on the verge of tears, he calls for a break.
Highlights, Highlights, and more Highlights
There were plenty of visually appealing clips from old Bulls games — highlights that merit being played forever. Watching Jordan’s ridiculous dunks, lay-ups, passes, etc. are always a treat. Not to mention, all of his most iconic moments that are engraved in our memories.
I enjoyed watching Scottie Pippen flying up and down the court as well, including some clips from college that I had not seen before. Pippen not only was a tenacious defender, he also had his share of posters too. As amazing as Mike was, Chicago never becomes a dynasty without #33.
Dennis Rodman was a player that every team would love to have. He knew what his role was and he played it to a tee. Watching him scrap for rebounds, dive for loose balls, throwing full court passes, and block shots is astounding. As Pippen stated in the documentary, Rodman fit like a glove in Chicago’s system.
Another reason why these highlights were sensational is because they were accompanied by an exceptional selection of music. Practically every clip was adjoined with songs that were prominent in the respective time frame. Spotify has the playlist if you’re interested, I’ve been listening to it quite often since it’s release: *Link below*
NBA Crowds Were Raucous Back In The Day
The crowds today can raise the decibel level but it’s evident that they don’t compare to what they used to be like. Every playoff game had every fan on their feet, yelling and cheering their guts out. They were full of passion. I’m sure there’s several reasons as to why they’ve simmered down, but it’s definitely not the same. It could be because of ticket prices — they are now higher than ever before. The most passionate fans may not be able to afford them. I would argue that technology has played a role, too. It’s convenient to stay home and watch the game on your big screen TV. Back then, you didn’t have people staring at their smartphones all the time, either. It’s unfortunate that we don’t see these hostile environments in the league too much anymore, but times are always changing — for better or worse.
Dennis Rodman Being Dennis Rodman
Any guy that joins the “NWO” during an ongoing NBA Finals is a legend in my book. He also took a vacation to Vegas in the middle of the ’98 season. He changed his hair color several times, partied hard, had an eccentric wardrobe, and almost committed suicide. Despite his problems off the court, Rodman dedicated himself to working hard on the court. He was a tenacious rebounder, as well as a pest on defense. Like Pippen, he overcame poverty and made a name for himself at a small college. It was cool to see him expound on how he would study players in order to be in the best possible position to grab rebounds. In the documentary Rodman says, “I lived in the street for two years. I could have been a drug dealer. I could have been dead. I don’t know why I never did that drug stuff, but I never did. I’d just sit there and watch them do it.” Instead of becoming what he saw happening around him, he became a Hall of Famer.
Get ready to see all of these photos on Twitter for years to come. An array of wonderful pictures that can be captioned with an infinite choice of words.
“The Flu Game” Had Nothing To Do With The Flu
There have always been conspiracy theories about whether Jordan really had the flu during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. That was finally put to rest in the ninth episode of the series. On the night before Game 5, the Bulls were staying in Park City, Utah — a town about 40 minutes east of Salt Lake City. MJ’s personal trainer Tim Grover and longtime friend George Koehler were in the hotel room with him. Around 10 p.m., Jordan got hungry, so they started to call several restaurants around the area. Nearly every place was closed, except for one pizzeria. When the pizza was delivered, there were five guys that showed up. This raised a red flag with Grover, but I guess MJ was so hungry he didn’t seem to care. Apparently, Mike ate the entire pizza himself (Finally, something I have in common with him). In the middle of the night, he started throwing up left and right — continuing for about 20 hours until tip-off. He couldn’t hold anything down and stayed in bed all day. It’s quite a bizarre story when you think about it. Was the pizza intentionally poisoned? If so, how did the pizzeria know MJ was staying at that particular hotel? Why on earth would five guys show up just to deliver one pie? Either way, it didn’t matter because Jordan ended up scoring 38 points and hitting the game winner. “The Food Poison Game” doesn’t sound as provocative as “The Flu Game”, but sometimes urban legends are meant to be debunked.
Nike Strikes Gold
In 1984, Nike was widely known as a company that sold track shoes. They weren’t generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue like they are today. Converse was actually the official shoe partner of the NBA at the time. Some of the best players in the game wore them — including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Kevin McHale, and Bernard King. As a rookie, Jordan wanted to join that A-List group as well. However, Converse did not think a rookie could become bigger than the stars they already had. When they were no longer an option, Jordan wanted to sign with Adidas. The company with the three stripes turned him down also, though. Adidas had stated that they did not want to sign any basketball players and that making a basketball shoe wasn’t a possibility for them at the time. Oops. After some convincing from his mother, Jordan met with Nike and the rest is history. They agreed to giving Jordan his own signature shoe, as well as a $250,000 contract as a rookie. The expectation was at the end of year four they hoped to sell $3 million of Air Jordans. In the first year they sold $126 million. They had struck gold. It’s been over two decades since MJ played in the NBA and he is still one of the most recognizable figures in the world. To this day, people of all walks of life still buy many different types of Jordan’s shoes. The brand is worth north of $10 billion, in addition to the billions of dollars in profits it has generated over 35 years and it’s impact on sales of other Nike-branded products. It shows no signs of slowing down as the brand is present and growing. It proved to be a multi-billion dollar gamble that paid off for Nike. It’s crazy to think that if not for Deloris Jordan, an entire culture as we know it could’ve existed in a different setting. Way to go, Mom.
Could The Bulls Have Won A Seventh Championship?
Even though the documentary was often negative towards management, including former GM Jerry Krause, they were critical to the franchise’s success as well. They made multiple smart moves including trading for Scottie Pippen, drafting Horace Grant and Toni Kukoč, as well as acquiring Dennis Rodman. Unfortunately though, they did not want to keep Head Coach Phil Jackson or Scottie Pippen around after the ’98 season. They were looking to rebuild with Jordan, having faith they could still be contenders. Of course, there was no way Jordan was sticking around without the guys that helped shape the organization. In the documentary, Michael says that they all would’ve signed a one year deal if it meant they could have a realistic shot at getting ring #7. It makes you wonder if they could’ve did it again after three-peating twice. Due to a lockout, that following season did not start until February 5, 1999 — after a new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. All 29 teams played a shortened 50-game regular season schedule and the 16 teams who qualified for the playoffs played a full post-season schedule. That would have been beneficial for Chicago, for obvious reasons. Chicago against San Antonio is an epic Finals matchup that was potentially robbed from fans to witness. Jordan says that it was maddening for him choosing to retire, knowing they had another run in them.
The Bulls Dynasty Is Among The Best In Sports History
Along with the Boston Celtics teams of the late 50’s/early 60’s, the Chicago Bulls teams of the 90’s were the best ever in the NBA. They had the best player, co-star, head coach, and management in the league for all six titles. It’s fun to debate and compare teams and players from previous eras to today’s game, but it’s an impossible task. Evolution continues in basketball, decade after decade. In ten years, it will look different again. That’s just the way it is. I love the NBA and always will, but it bums me out that it may be a while before we see a dynasty like this again, if ever. MJ and Chicago were largely responsible for advancing the NBA into the new millennium, as the late NBA Commissioner David Stern said himself. The NBA was not universally beloved worldwide until Michael Jordan came along. The determination, the drive, the chemistry, and the heart that the Bulls had is something you don’t see too much of anymore and I think that’s why those teams were admired so much. It’s not a knock on the league in today’s game — it’s just an example of how it has evolved. It doesn’t mean we can’t reminisce though, and that’s why this documentary was so refreshing. The Last Dance is an expression of why so many of us loved the 90’s and why we still love basketball now. The Chicago Bulls were the perfect representation for each of those things.