In parts three and four of ‘The Last Dance’, we get an in-depth look at the unfathomable Dennis Rodman, who was one of the key members of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. What stood out about Rodman was his crazy personality off the court, but it rarely affected his game on the court.
We also get to see how hard it was for the Bulls to get over the hump of beating the ‘Bad Boy’ Detroit Pistons along with how Doug Collins made the Bulls a serious contender in the Eastern Conference in his three years as head coach, as well as how special that first championship win was for Jordan winning it over Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
Growing up in the projects of Dallas was very hard for Rodman especially because his father wasn’t around and his mother worked so hard to take care of the family. At the age of 18, Rodman was kicked out of the house by his mother who was disappointed in him because she was the only one providing financially.
The moment Rodman picked up a basketball he immediately fell in love with the game and received an opportunity to play college basketball at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. During his three years there, Rodman was dominant averaging 25.7 points per game and 15.7 rebounds per game. He would go on to be picked in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft by the Pistons. Rodman said it wasn’t until his second or third year in the NBA that he found his niche: defense and rebounding .
In the late 1980s, the Pistons started to live up to their reputation as the “Bad Boys” because they played a bruising and dangerous style of basketball. This resulted in the Pistons overtaking the Boston Celtics as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
In 1986, Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause decided to hire Collins as the new head coach. Collins was an assistant coach at Arizona State and played in the NBA for eight years. He possessed high energy and enthusiasm and that was part of the reason why Krause thought he would be a good coach.
Jordan was a big fan of Collins saying that his arrival to the team was “a breath of fresh air.” One of the reasons Jordan loved him so much was because he would be featured heavily on offense. During the 1987-88 season, Jordan was the MVP of the league, the MVP of the All-Star Game, the Slam Dunk Contest champion, and the Defensive Player of the Year.
In 1989, the Bulls faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs with the Bulls coming into the series as heavy underdogs. The Bulls and the Cavs went back and forth and pushed each other to Game 5.
In the series finale, the Bulls were down 100-99 with three seconds to go. Everyone expected Jordan to get the ball, but the mistake the Cavs made was having Craig Ehlo guard Jordan because Ron Harper was a tougher matchup for him. Jordan caught the inbound pass, took two dribbles, and hit the game-winning jumper over Ehlo.
The Bulls would go on to face the Bad Boy Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. When asked about the hatred between the Bulls and the Pistons, Jordan said that it was real and it still carries to this day. He said that they “made it personal” and “beat the sh*t out of us.” The Bulls took a 2-1 lead in the series after Jordan hit a game-winning jumper in Game 3.
The Pistons came up with the “Jordan Rules” to try and limit Jordan’s production. Former Piston John Salley said it was all about making sure Jordan didn’t drive in the lane “because he’s not human.” The Pistons made sure that every time he drove in the lane, they would knock him down, and this strategy allowed Detroit to defeat the Bulls.
Fast forward to the 1997-98 season, and Scottie Pippen was sidelined for most of the season with an ankle injury, which made Rodman the guy that was called upon and needed to be more accountable. It took time for Rodman to accept his role, but he made it a point to himself that he would start to play better and be more engaged.
Once Pippen came back to the team, Rodman felt that since he had been on his best behavior during that time, he needed a vacation to Las Vegas in order to let loose. He asked Jackson and Jordan if that was okay, and Jordan was against it at first, as he was worried that they wouldn’t be able to get Rodman back even if the trip was for 48 hours as Jackson requested.
They both knew Rodman needed something like this if they wanted to get the best out of him on the court.
When he was in Vegas, Rodman was a wild man who partied, drank, and smoked. His wife at the time, Carmen Electra, said that being in a relationship with Rodman was an “occupational hazard,” for whoever he was in a relationship with. He didn’t come back on time and Jordan had to come drag him out of his hotel room in Vegas.
Tex Winter was one of the Bulls assistant coaches at the time of the hiring of Collins. Winter and Jackson connected as assistant coaches when Jackson learned the Triangle Offense from Winter. Collins, the current head coach, was not a fan of the triangle and wasn’t willing to implement it into his offense.
Krause took notice and decided to fire Collins in favor of Jackson. At first, Jordan was not a huge fan of Jackson, because he thought that the Triangle would be taking the ball out of his hands. Jackson told Jordan that it was important for him to accept the system because it would allow him to play freely, and opposing teams would have a harder time defending him.
The Bulls were back facing their arch-rival the Pistons in the Conference Finals again, and they took the series to seven games. In game seven, Pippen played through a migraine that impaired his vision eventually aiding the Pistons victory, which resulted in the Pistons defeating the Bulls again, as they advanced to the Finals.
That summer, Jordan and the rest of the team put a lot of work in the weight room to get stronger, so they could be able to withstand the physicality that the Pistons brought. This would be a crucial year for Jordan because he had a stigma growing around him that he couldn’t win a championship and all he cared about was scoring titles.
That year, Chicago met Detroit again in the Conference Finals, but this time, the Bulls would not fold, as they swept the Pistons in four games. During the last game, as the Pistons knew the game was over, center Bill Laimbeer told the team that they would not shake the Bulls hands, and that they would leave the game early with time left on the clock.
The Boston Celtics did the same thing to the Pistons during a playoff game where they walked off the court, but the Pistons didn’t take it personally because that’s how the game was back then. The Pistons leader Isiah Thomas said that in hindsight they would’ve shaken their hands, but at the time, that’s how things were done.
When Jordan saw the video of what Thomas said, he was still visibly upset years later and didn’t believe that Thomas was being truthful.
In the 1991 Finals, the Bulls would face the Los Angeles Lakers who were led by five-time champion Magic Johnson. A big moment in that series was Game 5 with the Bulls up three games to one and the game close in the fourth quarter. Jackson told Jordan to look for John Paxson in the corner because he’s wide open, and that would help free up Jordan.
After the timeout Jordan would find Paxson who kept hitting wide-open three-pointers. The Bulls would go on to win 108-101 to claim their first championship.
After the game, the Bulls celebrated in the locker room, where Jordan was overcome with emotion as he held the Championship trophy. Johnson recalled that he and Jordan talked after the game; the two embraced as they were overcome with emotion. That’s when he knew and the rest of the NBA knew that there was a new sheriff in town, and the Chicago Bulls were about to take over the NBA.