This sports documentary gives a glimpse at the toughness and determination of one of the greatest basketball players ever — Michael Jordan.
By Vicente Vitela, Sports Editor
The Michael Jordan Documentary “The Last Dance“ gave us an inside look into Jordan’s professional career while showing us a competitive side of him that most people don’t get to see, while hearing former NBA players' perspective on the so-called greatest ever.
The episodes flashback between the duration of the 1998 season with its key moments and the timeline of Jordan’s career leading up to the season. Episodes one and two set the stage for the ‘98 season with Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause announcing that Head Coach Phil Jackson will not be re-hired at season's end, thus prompting Jordan to state that if Jackson is not his coach, he is not playing. The first episode shows how bold of a move it was for Krause to want to break up a team that had won him five of the last seven NBA championships. Jackson would host a team meeting after these announcements and told the team the theme for this season would be called “The last Dance,” considering this would be the last time these players and coaches would be on the same team.
"That wasn't Michael Jordan out there, that was God disguised as Michael Jordan,” said Larry Bird when talking about Jordan as a player.
Episode two revisits the story of Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team and contemplating quitting the sport in general. Jordan would work every day until he made the team the following year. His high school career would earn him a scholarship to play for the University of North Carolina, where he won a national championship in 1982 as a freshman. At season's end, despite his desire to return for his senior year at UNC, his coach encouraged him to enter the draft as there was nothing left for him to prove at the collegiate level. During this episode, they talk about how Jordan fell to the Bulls in the draft, which at the time was a center driven league and the number one pick Hakeem Olajuwan was proof of that. Jordan was perceived to be just a great role player who could never carry a team.
Episode two also introduced viewers to Scottie Pippen who became the Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Pippen who came from poverty and entered college a 6’1” nobody, came out as a 6’8” first-round draft pick. In drafting Pippen, Krause, a few years later, signed him to a seven-year $18 million deal which would sour their relationship down the line. Pippen was deemed by many as the most underpaid player in professional sports and after Krause refused to renegotiate his contract, Pippen would choose to get surgery on a foot injury close to the start of the season, thus forcing him to miss the start of the season. Jordan called his decision selfish. The media would try to downplay the importance of Pippen to the team, to which Jordan would respond by sticking up for his teammate, and friend.
"Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen. When everybody says, well, I won all these championships — but I didn't win without Scottie Pippen. And that's why I consider him my best teammate of all-time,” said Jordan.
Episode three introduced viewers to Dennis Rodman, the wild man of the NBA with his unique look and hairstyle, but most importantly, his no-nonsense style of play. His defense-first mindset and ability to crash the boards and pass the ball was a perfect fit into Jackson's triangle offense that revolved around Michael. This episode flashes back to the 1989 season where the underdog Bulls faced the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs and took the series to a deciding game five. With the clock winding down, Michael would receive the inbound pass and take a few steps to his left before pulling up for a jump shot that would find the bottom of the net sending the Bulls to the next round.
Viewers got introduced to the “Bad Boys” of basketball with the Detroit Pistons, who similar to the Oakland Raiders at the time, played a hard-nose, bully-ball type of basketball. During this series, the audience became familiar with the “Jordan Rules,” a set of rules implemented by the Pistons that if Jordan was going to score, don’t let him score without paying for it. They physically manhandled Jordan and ended the Bulls playoff run.
Toward the end of episode three and the beginning of episode four, we see Jordan question Rodman's ability as a basketball player during the ‘98 season. Michael tells Rodman that he needs to step up with Pippen out, and put his big boy pants on, essentially pushing Dennis to play at his highest level. After the return of Pippen, Rodman, feeling like he is falling off the wagon, comes to Jackson and Jordan and asks for two days in Vegas. Jordan, understanding that as a competitor we need time to unwind, gives the OK. The episode goes into detail about Rodman's wild nights in Vegas in which he exceeded his two-day limit and forced Jordan to fly to Vegas and drag Rodman back to the court. Jordan understood what he was doing when letting Rodman take his journey, as the very next day in practice we saw Dennis make the entire team chase him for four laps bringing peak Rodman back to Chicago.
Viewers then flashback to 1990, where Jackson becomes head coach but the Bulls would lose a second-straight playoff series to Detroit. After this loss, Jordan is done losing to the Pistons. He challenges the team to toughen up and goes after Detroit in 1991, beating the Pistons in a clean four-game sweep to make a statement. The Pistons walked off the court, failing to shake hands with the Bulls. MJ would call out Thomas in the post-game interview, calling him an asshole.
“You can show me anything you want,” MJ said. “There’s no way you’re not going to convince me that Thomas wasn’t an asshole.”
The Bulls would exercise their demons and make the NBA Finals for the first time. It would be Magic Johnson and the Lakers vs Jordan and the Bulls and in game one, Magic would go off, and take game one in Chicago. In game two, and the rest of the series, Jordan would go bananas, scoring more than 30 points a night. In game five, however, it was Jordan’s passing ability, and his willingness to trust his teammates that would help lead them to a series-clinching game five, bringing the Bulls their first NBA title.
In episode five, we see Jordan’s ability to recognize a star in the making as we see Jordan in his last all-star game go head-to-head with Kobe Bryant, who would eventually take the torch from Jordan. The rise of Jordan as a shoe icon and his rise as a mainstream sports star puts into perspective how great of a brand ambassador he was. Flashing back to the end of the ‘92 season where the Bulls would demolish Clyde Drexler's Trailblazers on their way to back-to-back NBA titles. With the 92 Olympics right around the corner, the NBA would send the best of their athletes to compete, forming an elite collection of players called “the Dream Team.”
With this many elite players on one team, fans wondered who would emerge as team captain. During a team practice Johnson got under Jordan’s skin constantly and MJ responded by going after Magic and showed him whose team it was.The Dream Team’s only real competition was Croatia, led by Tony Kukoc who had been recently drafted by the Bulls. Kukoc was viewed by Bulls GM Jerry Krause as somebody who could come in and replace Pippen. Krause thought that the money Scottie thought he deserved would be better served going to Kukoc. Jordan and Pippen dealt with Kukoc in their first meeting and made Kukoc look pedestrian, holding him to two points, and showing he was no Pippen.
Episode six takes us to the 1993 conference finals where the Bulls immediately fall 2-0 to the Knicks. With the pressure on Jordan to win increasingly high, the audience saw Jordan head to Atlantic City to gamble a little to blow off some steam, which sent the media into a frenzy. MJ would respond by beating the Knicks in six games and proving that he belongs in the same conversation as Bird and Magic as the greatest ever. We would then forward to a point in the 1998 season where the team had a day off and Michael would spend it on the golf course gambling with some friends and teammates over shots. We bring it back to the ‘93 finals against the Suns who had that season's MVP Charles Barkley, an award MJ thought he deserved. Despite the accolades, the Suns were no match for Jordan’s Bulls who would win in six games, giving MJ his third straight title.
Episode seven takes us to the first round of the 1998 playoffs where the Bulls faced the Nets, who barely made it in as an eight seed and were expected to be swept. But the Nets would give the Bulls a scare as they pulled out a win. We rewind back to when Jordan's father dies tragically and how he uses that to fuel him during practice. We return to ‘98 where Jordan is perceived as being tough during practice due to his desire to win at all costs. MJ would pick on Scotty Burrell and a few other teammates during practice that season to motivate and light a fire under them.
We revert back to MJ announcing his retirement from basketball and eventually deciding to go play baseball and sign a contract with the Chicago White Sox. Jordan wanted to be the best at whatever he did and after a 13-game hitting streak ended, he went into a slump, and this would not sit well with MJ. Jordan would then take batting practice before everyone arrived, and after the game and would take in extra rounds of pre-game batting practice to improve his game rapidly. By season’s end, Jordan would end up with a .202 batting average, and for someone who hasn't played baseball since high school, was very impressive.
Episode eight begins with the 1995 baseball season on hold due to the players’ strike and Jordan would use the time to visit some of his old teammates. However, MJ would lace up the sneakers just to see where he was at. After visiting the training facility for several days to see where he was at physically, on March 18, 1995, Jordan would send a memo simply saying “I’m Back.” Jordan would jump right into a heated playoff race as the Bulls were just a .500 team at the time and come playoff time, they ran into a brick wall that was the Orlando Magic spear headed by Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, who would eliminate the Bulls, thus infuriating Michael.
During the summer that followed, Jordan would agree to be the lead character in the movie “Space Jam” alongside “Looney Tunes” characters such as Bugs Bunny. Michael however would only agree to the role if the studio provided him with an indoor basketball court and gym so he could prepare for the upcoming season. During that time, MJ would invite several elite basketball players to play pickup games, but Micahel would use those games to scout the competition and see what their strengths and weaknesses were.
“Winning has a price. And leadership has a price,” said Jordan.
The audience heads back to the ‘98 season and Jordan is being his Jordan self and barking at his teammates trying to, in his eyes, push them to be better players. One practice Jordan decided to focus on Steve Kerr and kept shouting various comments such as “you're not good enough for this team,” and it came to the point where Kerr had enough and began barking back at Jordan. MJ would challenge Kerr to punch him — which he did — and Jordan would respond with a punch back of his own, thus a fight would ensue that did not last long. Later Kerr and Jordan both would mend the fence, thus improving their relationship both off and on the court as Jordan began to trust Kerr and fed him the ball more in key situations.
We visit the 1996 season where Michael was out for revenge after being defeated by the Magic in the playoffs the previous season. In 1998, the Bulls would meet the Seattle Supersonics coached by George Karl who saw Jordan at a restaurant prior to game one and blew him off completely. Jordan would dispatch of the Sonics in six games, winning game six on Father’s Day, which was very emotional for Michael as his father had seen him win every one of his championships, thus sparking the beginning of the second three peat.
Episode nine begins with the 1998 eastern conference finals with Bulls squaring off against the Pacers, who were a stacked team with players like Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson, and in their words were ready to retire Jordan. The Bulls would be up 2-0 heading back to Indianna whose fans made it a hostile environment and with Reggie Miller scoring 37 points in game three would bring the series to 2-1. Game four would be just as close as game 3 and with 4.6 seconds left the Pacers inbounded the ball to Miller who after “pushing off” Jordan, who was guarding him made a go ahead three-pointer with just 1.6 seconds left. Jordan would receive the inbound pass and throw up a hail mary shot that did not go in giving the Pacers the win and tying up the series at 2-2.
The show then flashes back to the 1997 Finals with the Bulls taking on Karl Malone and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz and we see Jordan just man handle whoever was guarding him. Jordan's ability to compete at a high level no matter what shows in this episode as we witness the flu game, and come to find out it was actually food poisoning from eating pizza given to him for free. Needing rest and fluids, MJ forged on and would lead the Bulls to a victory despite several times on the bench looking like he was about to pass out. After this game nothing could stop Jordan as he led the Bulls to their fifth NBA championship over the Utah Jazz.
“Karl Malone getting MVP was my motivation during the 97 Finals,” said Jordan.
The last and final episode takes us to the 1998 NBA finals where the Bulls would meet the Utah Jazz once again. The audience sees what type of man Jordan was as he said he never thought about failure because he knew he wasn’t going to fail, and if he did fail, he knew he'd never let that happen again. After splitting the series 1-1 in Chicago, Jordan and the Bulls would make a statement by winning game three 96-54 — which now ties for the fewest points scored during an NBA finals series. Between game three and four, we take a detour in the Jordan story to talk about Rodman ditching practice to make an appearance on WCW Monday Nitro, with MJ telling reporters that we have accepted Dennis for who he is and he comes with baggage.
After this brief fiasco, Jordan’s Bulls are up 3-2 and Pippen reaggravates a back injury and disappears for the first half. At the start of the second half, Pippen would return and Jordan would tell him to just stand out there and act as a decoy so the floor could open up for Michael. With the Bulls down by three with less than a minute to go, Jordan would steal the ball and make a jumpot while being fouled in the process and he would proceed to make the free throw tying the game. MJ with the ball would stare in the face of the Jazz defender, he would drive, and step back while sort of giving a push off similar to that of Miller's the series beforehand drain jumpshot giving the bulls the lead. This would put the nail in the coffin for the Jazz and would give the Bulls their second three-peat and sixth NBA title.
“Yes, sir. Six of them. Now y'all say whatever you want, they can’t win until we quit,” said Jordan talking to media post game six.
During the episode, Jordan was asked if the Bulls could have won a seventh title and he said absolutely.
“If egos from people up top weren’t so huge, me, Phil, Dennis, Kerr would have all re-signed on one year contracts. Pippen might've needed some convincing but if we all would’ve come back, he would too,” Jordan said.
The documentary ends with many hall of fame players talking about Jordan's competitiveness off and on the court, and they describe how there has never been someone like MJ who would not accept failure. Jordan is truly a one-of-a-kind athlete and his abilities are something to marvel at, while his competitiveness is a trait we all wish he had. Jordan will go down as arguably the greatest basketball player ever and this documentary supports that accolade.