ESPN’s documentary ‘The Last Dance’ wrapped up on Sunday and the sports world will probably be mulling over it for the next few weeks.
Featuring the early stages of Michael Jordan’s career and the epic 1997-1998 championship season, ‘The Last Dance’ was released early due to the the effect of Covid-19 on what has become a world without live sports since March.
Today, I give my thoughts on the documentary and my round of applause to ESPN for a job well done.
Entertaining and informative
I was born in the summer of 1992 so as the bulk of this was happening in real-time, I wasn’t old enough to really remember any of it. So for me, ‘The Last Dance’ was great because not only did it give this sports fan something live to watch the last few weeks, it was almost like “news” to me.
I knew some of the basic details and story lines but others I was unaware of. I didn’t know that both Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr’s fathers were murdered. I didn’t realize how big of a role guys like Kerr, John Paxon, and Horace Grant had on the Bulls dynasty. It was cool to see and hear those guys tell their part of the story throughout the documentary.
I also enjoyed hearing from other NBA greats such as the late Kobe Bryant, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Isaih Thomas, John Salley and coaches Phil Jackson and Pat Riley.
MJ’s Live Ipad Reactions
There were two things that really stood out about the production of the film itself. While I understood what they were attempting to do by telling the big picture and the build up to the 1998 championship, the jumping back and forth between time periods was a bit confusing to follow at times. Especially for someone like me that was hearing stories I had never heard before that were more well known with the older crowed and well versed NBA fan community.
However, the incorporation of having MJ watch interviews and comments from other player and NBA figures during the documentary on that Ipad was brilliant. Pure brilliance. It also opened the door for some new MJ memes and hilarious posts on social media.
One of my favorite moments was watching him react to Gary Payton’s interview where he said his aggressive style of play took its toll on Jordan and had he done it sooner, perhaps the results may have been different in the 1996 NBA Finals series between the Bulls and Supersonics.
Payton didn’t take the scene too lightly and said he almost picked up the phone to talk with Jordan when he saw his reaction to his comments on ‘The Last Dance’.
I may have been young and unable to remember much about the Bulls but I did know and remember two things prior to watching the documentary: First, MJ was phenomenal. Secondly, Dennis Rodman was crazy but he must have been crazy good on the court for the Bulls to put up with his off-the-court shenanigans.
From the crazy hair styles, “needing” a random mid-season vacation trip to Las Vegas, skipping a mandatory team meeting to take up wrestling, to flings with Madonna and Carmen Electra….Rodman lived a wild life off the court and kept his teammates on their toes.
Just check out an excerpt from that article with the Tribue here:
About a month after helping the Bulls win their fifth NBA championship in seven years, Rodman decided to foray into the world of professional wrestling, making his debut July 13, 1997. He joined megastar Hulk Hogan for a tag-team match in a pay-per-view event labeled “Bash at the Beach” in Daytona Beach, Fla. The duo lost to Lex Luger and The Giant.
Rodman stuck with the sport, and it got him into some trouble the next spring. With the Bulls clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 1998 NBA Finals, Rodman skipped a mandatory team film session and a media session as mandated by the NBA. He instead flew to Detroit, appearing as “Rodzilla” with Hogan on a live wrestling show, drawing a $10,000 fine from the Bulls for missing the meeting and a $10,000 fine from the league for skipping the media session. He was paid a reported $250,000 for the wrestling appearance, so he came out $230,000 ahead.
The Flu/Food Poisoning Game
I’ve always remembered hearing about Jordan’s infamous “Flu Game” growing up. Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan goes off for 38 points in 44 minutes as the Bulls hold off the Jazz, 90-88, for a 3-2 series lead.
Nobody could recap that game better than the late and iconic Stuart Scott:
However, we learned in the documentary that perhaps it wasn’t just the flu Jordan had to endure. He was sick, make no doubt about it and was sweating during the game like he was wearing a three piece suit standing on the side of Atlanta’s I-85 in the summer. (If you know, you know)
But the story portrayed in the doc told a different story of Jordan’s illness that historical night. On the eve of the game, Jordan became hungry late at night and the only place they could find still serving food was a pizza joint in Salt Lake City–where the Bulls were resting up prior to the following evening’s game 5 showdown with the Jazz.
Jordan’s friend, George Koehler, placed an order for a pizza and to everyone’s surprise, five guys show up to the hotel to deliver the pizza. Five.
Hello, red flag.
MJ’s trainer, Tim Grover, was also around that night and spoke about the incident during the documentary:
“They’re all trying to look in, and everybody knew it was Michael. So I take the pizza, I pay them, and I put this pizza down and I say ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he said.
Jordan, alone, eats the pizza and wakes up a few hours later sick and throwing up everywhere.
A Salt Lake City pizzeria put a hit out on Jordan before game 5 of the 1997 finals? Apparently so. But we know the story and how it played out. Perhaps instead of sabotaging Michael Jordan and keeping him out of the game, they instead just royally pissed him off and he went on to produce one of the most memorable performances in NBA history.
Talk about a plan that backfired.
Prior to the release of the documentary, Jordan stated he felt people would watch it and think he was a “horrible person”. After watching, I couldn’t disagree more. If anything, ‘The Last Dance’ gave me more insight and a greater appreciation for Jordan and what he accomplished. Was he perfect? Not at all…but show me someone who is.
Now while I think he acted a little irrationally at times–attempting to keep food from Horace Grant after he had a bad game and decking Steve Kerr in the face during practice–I don’t view him as horrible person. I see a guy that was a legend on the court but was far from perfect as a human being. He wasn’t always the most fun guy to be around and perhaps he’s bad at accepting criticism, takes things too personal and is just a flat out liar . All of those claims are fair to argue.
BUT…….I came away respecting him and his unprecedented run with Bulls even more than ever before. Jordan changed the game of basketball forever. He was an elite player and a different breed who played at another level and he demanded his teammates step up to play at that same mark.
For a guy that has remained out of the limelight–avoiding interviews and refraining from publicly discussing not only his personal past but current events, politics or controversial topics–to go through with this documentary and be so candid made for great television to watch.
I’m thankful to ESPN and Jordan for putting together this 10-part series and giving the younger, very-casual basketball fan like myself such an intriguing and entertaining sports documentary.
If you haven’t watched it yet, you really should. It’s worth the time.