This past Sunday night the much-anticipated start of ‘The Last Dance’ began on ESPN with parts one and two, and it definitely lived up to the hype. People around the world have missed professional sports being played due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The NBA is severely missed, as it was supposed to be nearing the start of the playoffs right now. This documentary has given people the chance to see how great the Chicago Bulls were during the 1990s and how trying their last championship run was.
It has also given people the chance to take a look at Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who is featured in the second episode, as it goes in depth about Jordan and Pippen’s lives, their careers, and what made them so great.
Part one starts off with the events that led to the drama going into the 1997-98 season, which would wind up being the last season of the dynasty. The beginning of this documentary takes a look at Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause, who was responsible for assembling this dynasty, but was also the guy that broke it up.
Marc Stein said it best on Twitter:
Viewers were reminded that Krause was not a very liked guy by most of the Bulls personnel like Jordan and Pippen, and how he told head coach Phil Jackson that even if he went 82-0 and won his third title in a row, he still would not be back as the coach the following year.
This was something that really alienated the players especially Michael Jordan, who was mad because he didn’t want to play for any other coach besides Phil Jackson. When asked, Jordan said, “I would never let someone who isn’t putting on a uniform and playing each and every day dictate what we do on the basketball court.”
These comments from Jordan stemmed from something that Krause said which was that “organizations win titles, not players.” Despite the fact that Krause, later on, said he was misquoted, Jordan and other players took it personally.
One part that was interesting was hearing Bulls Owner Jerry Reinsdorf tell the story of how Krause got the general manager job. Reinsdorf talked about how Krause was an MLB scout for the Chicago White Sox that Reinsdorf also owned.
He went on to say that Krause told him that he would like to be the General Manager of the Bulls, so Reinsdorf asked around the league and most people told him not to hire Krause because he had a way of alienating people.
That didn’t stop Reinsdorf from hiring him in 1985, as he wanted someone who would build a team in Reinsdorf’s vision. The problem that Krause always had was he felt he wasn’t getting enough credit for building these championship teams.
We also learned that the name of this documentary ‘The Last Dance’ came from Jackson in 1997 at the team’s first meeting of the year before the start of the season. Steve Kerr, who was a member of that team, said “Phil always looked for a theme for every season,” adding that “in typical Phil fashion he had a name for it.”
Shortly after that, Jackson passed out handbooks to the team with the title “The Last Dance.” There wasn’t much explaining that Jackson needed to do for his veteran team, as backup center Bill Wennington said, “enjoy what’s happening because this is it” when explaining what the message to the team was.
Viewers were also able to learn a lot about Jordan during his college career playing at the University of North Carolina. Much like his NBA career, Jordan was incredible in college, as he hit the game-winning jump shot in the 1982 National Championship game against Georgetown in his freshman year.
He would go on to take the world by storm his next two years at UNC. Following his junior year, Jordan was seriously considering staying for his final year, but it was his coach, the late great Dean Smith, who convinced him to go to the NBA. He went on to be the third pick in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.
In this episode, we learn a lot about Scottie Pippen, who was Jordan’s sidekick for many years together playing for the Chicago Bulls and how much he meant to Jordan. Jordan has held Pippen in high regard saying, “Everybody said I won all these championships, but I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen and that’s why I considered him my best teammate of all time.”
Coming out of high school, Pippen was not recruited by any college basketball programs, as he would take a very interesting path to start playing collegiate basketball. When Pippen first got to Central Arkansas, he was the equipment manager for the team, as he was just a skinny 155-pound kid who was 6’1” at the time.
Fortunately for Pippen, he started to see some players on the team lose scholarships from failing academically. After he worked hard in the weight room and gym, he was able to land a scholarship after begging the coach to give him a shot.
He also grew five inches from his freshman to sophomore year which allowed his skills to blossom and made him a more complete player. That led him to become the 5th overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics and would be traded to the Bulls shortly after.
A lot has changed with the NBA since the 1997-98 season. One of the biggest changes that immediately stands out is how much money players make in their contracts now compared to what players were making back then. Pippen was a prime example of that because he was someone who was extremely underpaid throughout his career.
After the 1991 NBA Finals win, Krause offered Pippen a 7-year deal for $18 million dollars. Despite the fact that Reinsdorf didn’t think it was a smart deal for Pippen, he signed it anyway because he didn’t want to gamble on himself at all and wanted to make sure his family was taken care of.
It didn’t take very long for Pippen to outplay his contract, and by the time the 1997-98 season started, Pippen was the 122nd highest-paid player in the NBA. This was not something that Pippen was particularly satisfied with.
After the Bulls won their fifth championship and second straight in 1997, Pippen needed to have ankle surgery. Instead of getting the surgery as soon as possible, Pippen opted not to because he wanted to enjoy his summer and not have to do his rehab during that time. He instead opted to do his rehab during the season, which resulted in him missing nearly half of the season.
A big part of the reason why Pippen did this was to spite management because he was not happy with his current contract situation. His relationship with Jerry Krause was rapidly deteriorating, as he had been trying to trade Pippen after they won their 5th title.
This was not something that sat particularly well with Pippen. Things got really bad when one day Pippen berated and ridiculed Krause on a bus in front of the entire team. Jordan was upset with Pippen saying, “I felt like Scottie was being selfish.”
Pippen’s absence definitely took a toll on the team, and it especially took a toll on Jordan. It was very tough for Jordan to have to essentially carry the team on his own, as it made him extremely frustrated and tired. Some examples of this were the clips shown of Jordan constantly yelling at his teammates during practices for not having the same amount of drive that he possessed.
He was never afraid to call out his teammates if they made mistakes, and he also wasn’t the least bit concerned about potentially hurting their feelings.
The documentary then jumps to the 1985-86 season, which was Jordan’s second season of his career. This would be the only season in his career where he suffered a major injury that would keep him out for the majority of the season.
Early in that season, Jordan broke his left foot, which resulted in him missing 64 games. Eager to get back on the court, Jordan convinced the Bulls to let him go back to UNC to rehab his injury.
While he was there, Jordan was playing pickup games before he was cleared by the team doctors. When Jordan came back, the team found out what he had been doing while he was gone and they were not pleased, but they let him come back and play on a strict minute restriction.
He was only allowed to play 14 minutes a game, but made the most of it and managed to get the Bulls into the playoffs.
By the time the playoffs hit, Jordan’s minutes restriction was gone, and he was right back to being his old self. In his own words Jordan said, “it was like unleashing a wild dog.” In the first round of the playoffs, the Bulls would face the Boston Celtics, who were loaded at the time, and were considered to be the best team in the Eastern Conference.
In Game 1, Jordan immediately made his presence felt by scoring 49 points in an eventual Bulls loss. The day before Game 2, Jordan would play golf with Celtics player Danny Ainge, and the two of them were talking trash to each other just like they were on the court.
Ultimately, Ainge beat Jordan on the course that day and won some money off of him. This fueled Jordan as he told Ainge that the next game he should be ready for him because he would be coming in hot. Specifically saying to Ainge “Tell your boy DJ [Dennis Johnson] I’ve got something for him tomorrow.”
Jordan wasn’t kidding, as he was unstoppable in Game 2 scoring 63 points, but unfortunately, the Bulls would fall to the Celtics in a hard-fought double-overtime game.
Boston Celtics legend and Hall of Famer, Larry Bird said in an interview, “That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there. That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.” This was the moment that the rest of the NBA knew that Jordan was about to take over the league; all he needed was some help around him to start winning some hardware.