In a world where there are few live sporting events going on right now, it was nice for a change to get some regular sports programming once a week. “The Last Dance”, a documentary about the 1997-98 NBA season, the last season of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, entertained us for five Sunday’s straight, bringing us an in-depth look at one of sports’ greatest teams ever, with the focal point being on one of the greatest athletes in history.
It educated many on basketball in the 90’s and on the Bulls throughout their tenure with MJ, gave background on the biggest components of that dynasty, and among other things, it gave us many laughs and memes. It was fun for everyone, basketball fan or not, to be on the TV for two hours straight appreciating greatness in these troubling times. Case in point, let’s appreciate the best moments of “The Last Dance”:
Seriously? We talking ‘bout practice? Yes. We’re talking ‘bout practice, the most essential part of any sport. And with the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, practice was an entertaining time. From MJ berating Scott Burrell for simply existing, the Steve Kerr punch story, players working out and regular chatter, it was great to lift the curtain and watch how they conducted themselves in practice. Specifically with MJ, it was great to see how he tested his teammates. I find it amusing seeing how these all-time great teams and players conducted themselves off the floor.
On that note, I also enjoyed the camaraderie seen between the Bulls team, and Jordan with other stars. Most people like to spread the myth that players back then weren’t friends and didn’t bond off the court. And while there are examples of that (i.e. ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons and the Bulls), there are many instances where Jordan is seen bonding with other stars of the era (Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone to name a few). In general, all the behind the scenes content was exceptional.
Dennis Rodman’s Adventures
I love Dennis Rodman. Not because he “was just trying to play basketball, party, **** all the girls.” It’s because, even with his partying ways and all the possible “distractions” he could’ve caused, he separated his off-court life from his on-court play better than anyone in NBA history. He knew his role playing alongside, arguably, the greatest duo in the history of the game, and gave it his all on the court. He dove for loose balls and went games with 15+ rebounds and no points. Rodman doesn’t get enough credit for the success of those teams.
Having said that, his off-court extracurricular activities provided good entertainment on the documentary. From his vacations in Vegas in the middle of the season to being in the same ring as Hulk Hogan and the New World Order after skipping practice for the NBA Finals, to literally running from the press after this incident (which I found hilarious), the dude was comic relief whenever something about him was presented.
Kobe Bryant Section
Some of the best players in the league, the best the Eastern Conference could bring, were in their locker room preparing for the 1998 All-Star Game. Out of all the things they could talk about, they were talking about a 19-year-old appearing in his first all-star game. This kid would end up being one of the most influential people in the world, and one of the greatest players to ever step on a basketball court before tragically passing away at the age of 41. Seeing Kobe speaking and sharing a different perspective for one last time before passing was a great sight to see.
It’s really poetic how Kobe’s last words in his documentary appearance were “I’ll see you down the road”. Even though they proceeded to face off in regular season games (that season and when MJ came back to Washington), it isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that Kobe wasn’t afraid of Jordan, the guy most people were afraid of. And the fact that a 19-year-old in his second year in the league straight out off high school goes has a lot to say about his confidence. And considering the career he ended up having, that confidence was warranted.
Jordan reacting to clips on an iPad
Seeing Jordan’s reaction when seeing Isiah Thomas talking about the Pistons not shaking the Bulls’ hands after getting swept in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, or Gary Payton talking about guarding him in the 1996 Finals was hilarious. It made for many memes and, like Rodman, brought comic relief.
Rodman talking on how to get rebounds
I like to pride myself as someone who appreciates even the tiniest details of the game. So you can imagine how I was when I saw Rodman talking technique/secrets on rebounding. Here’s a video of it:
Pure. Genius. I can’t say this enough: people appreciate the negatives of Rodman before ever appreciating his basketball IQ and his positive impact on winning teams. He’s the living example of a true team player. This clip is gold, especially for hoopers of all ages.
Jordan wins his fourth championship on Father’s Day after his father’s passing
All basketball fans knew the story before it was presented in the documentary: Michael Jordan’s father James Jordan is shot and killed, Jordan retires to play baseball, returns a year and a half later, and wins his fourth title on Father’s Day in 1996. What I don’t think we appreciated was how much James Jordan meant to Michael: he was there in every step of his athletic career and when he succeeded at the NBA level. Seeing them winning, MJ lying on the court and locker room floors with the ball crying again still gives me chills. But what added a whole new depth to that moment was the sobbing. Watching the documentary was the first time I had ever heard that, and it gave me goosebumps.
Jordan’s speech at the end of Episode VII
“Winning has a prize. And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates came after me… when people see this, they gonna see ‘well, he wasn’t really a nice guy, he may have been a tyrant’. Well that’s you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win and be a part of that as well”. Add the music and videos of the Bulls, and that scene was perfect. By far and away, the best scene in the entire documentary.
Say what you want about Michael Jordan: “he was a ball hog”, “he was only a scorer”, “today he would be like DeMar DeRozan”, “he was selfish”. But one thing you can’t question about him is his leadership. Whether it may have been too harsh or not, it worked. The main goal of the game is to win and be respected, not liked. Not much is said about the fact that Jordan was putting up some of the greatest scoring numbers in history in the late 80’s, but even with that adjusted to the team-friendly triangle offense. He did what he had to do to make his team win, and at the same time brought his teammates along for the ride (while roasting them along the way). Those final three minutes inside the psychology of Michael Jordan’s leadership was something amazing, and definitely something all athletes of all ages should see and get programmed into their minds.
While the documentary was great, especially in this time with most live sports suspended, it still had some things it could have improved on. I feel like it could’ve done at better job at showing these aspects of the Bulls dynasty.
More practices/behind the scenes
The documentary came to us with the promise of showing unprecedented, never-before-seen footage from the 1997-98 Bulls season. Yet, I feel like there was more left to offer in that department. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed seeing MJ in his office, hotel and playing golf, the bond he built with his security guards, him interacting with the press, and all of that. But at the end of the day, most of the things presented were about things basketball fans already, for the most part, knew about. And although the storytelling used was phenomenal, there could’ve been more done on that end.
Plus, seeing more of MJ in practice more wouldn’t have done anyone any harm. Well, except maybe Scott Burrell.
Jerry Krause Praise
Jerry Krause was a good General Manager. Shocking, right? The documentary would have you think that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and company got together magically and the rest was history. But no, there was someone pulling the strings, and that man was Krause. He traded for Scottie, Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong, Luc Longley and Dennis Rodman. He drafted Horace Grant, Will Purdue and Toni Kukoc. He signed John Paxson, Bill Wennington, Steve Kerr and Ron Harper. He hired Phil Jackson. He was half the reason this core was as good as it ended up being (the other half being the players actually playing well).
Sure, his comment of “players and coaches alone don’t win championships; organizations do” has gotten him criticism even after passing, and some decisions and comments after the fact only fueled the fire between him and the team. Nevertheless, he assembled that squad, and aside from some comments by Jerry Reinsdorf and Scottie Pippen, he doesn’t get enough credit for that.
Ron Harper Backstory
Ron Harper was the starting point guard on five championship teams, notably the second Bulls’ three-peat. Many people know him as just another role player, and many don’t even give him his credit. But Harper was one of the league’s most prolific scorers prior to knee and leg injuries limited his time on the court. But even then, he was still a good scorer, and had a tough time adjusting to a team where he wasn’t one of the main options. His impact on both ends of the floor were extremely crucial in Chicago since his arrival in 1994, yet the only spotlight he got was when the Bulls beat the Cavaliers team he was a part of in the postseason.
Many people like to point out how basketball is a team sport, and that the game’s greatest superstars all had help that led them to being as great as they were. Because of this, I feel like the Bulls’ role players deserved way more credit in the documentary (at least Steve Kerr got his, which was great). But guys like Harper, Toni Kukoc and Luc Longley, players who sacrificed and were integral parts of those championship teams, deserved way more spotlight than what they got.
But those are just my thoughts. Let us know yours: what did you like/disliked/would’ve liked to see in “The Last Dance”?
Still rocking that stretched out t-shirt from 2003? Why not upgrade with some sweet sports apparel! Check out our store on TeePublic for the latest t-shirts, hoodies and baby gear to support all of your favorite teams this season!