The Last Dance an intriguing glimpse into the mind of Michael Jordan and the drama of the Chicago Bulls dynasty



The ESPN and Netflix joint production of The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary miniseries on the career of Michael Jordan with emphasis on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season, airs Sunday nights on ESPN.

The ESPN and Netflix joint production of The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary miniseries on the career of Michael Jordan with emphasis on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season, is nothing less than fascinating. The series features rare behind-the-scenes film footage from a crew that had been given complete access to the Bulls that season. To date, six episodes have been aired, with episodes eight and nine premiering Sunday, May 10. 

Here are a few highlights from the intriguing first six episodes:

In The Last Dance, the Bulls general manager at the time, Jerry Krause, is made out to be one of the biggest villains in all of sports history. Krause’s mantra was “Organizations win championships.” Meanwhile, Jordan felt that players on the court are a bit more crucial to a team’s success than the people in the front office. Krause is portrayed as being resentful of not getting the credit he felt he deserved for putting those championship Bulls teams together.

Jordan and his teammate Scottie Pippen resented Krause for his perceived insecurities. The Last Dance shows numerous instances of Jordan and Pippen bullying Krause over his height and weight. Additionally, Pippen would actively berate Krause, often using colorful language.

When a team wins 72 games in an 82 game season, which the Bulls did in the 1995-96 season, an organization should have the common sense to not blow up the entire team and coaching staff. However, Krause was agitated that his players were receiving all the credit for their five championships in the last seven years. For this reason, Krause told Bulls’ Head Coach Phil Jackson that the 1997-98 season would be his last as head coach of the team. As a result, Jordan announced that if that season was going to be Jackson’s last with the Bulls, it would also be his last. The Chicago Bulls have not been to the NBA finals since that 1997-98 season.. 

One of the main storylines in the second episode of the documentary is Pippen’s contract. Pippen signed a five-year $18 million deal with the Bulls with two years still remaining on his rookie contract. After being advised against taking the deal by his agent and even Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Pippen did anyway, not wanting to risk the financial security for his family. He was afraid that an injury could derail his entire career, and he would be left with much less money. With Pippen’s undervalued contract being the subject of much of the sports world’s focus, Pippen told himself, “My time will come.” 

However, in the final year of his deal, Pippen had a change of heart and wanted to get paid for his value to the team. Krause refused to renegotiate Pippen’s contract, leading Pippen to demand a trade. With no trade or new contract forthcoming, Pippen chose to delay his injury rehab into the next season rather than during the summer. Pippen’s resentment was partially influenced by Jordan’s $33.1 million salary for the 1997-98 season. 

Pippen eventually came back to the Bulls that season when he realized that Krause was not going to cave on the trade request or renegotiate his contract. As a result, the Bulls overcome their Pippenless sluggish start to the season to win the title. 

Eventually, Pippen’s time for a huge contract did come, but it was not with Chicago. Pippen made $67 million during his five years split between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers. 

Without Pippen to start the 1997-98 season, Jordan sorely needed a new right hand man. He looked to the Bulls’ next best player in Dennis Rodman. Rodman was known as an eccentric character who often put his own self-interest ahead of the team’s. Not only was he not much of a leader, he was a terrible follower. 

Jordan laid down the law on Rodman, demanding that he step up his commitment to the team. This was a tall task for Rodman, who then asked for a short vacation to free his mind and let loose. An in-season vacation was never heard of before, but Jackson knew he had to manage his players off the court in order to get the most out of them on the court. With this mentality, Jackson granted Rodman the vacation, much to Jordan’s dismay. Rodman was given 48 hours to go to Vegas and do whatever he wanted. 

However, as Jordan predicted, Rodman was nowhere to be found after the 48 hours. Jordan eventually personally went to Las Vegas to find Rodman. Whatever heart-to-heart Jordan and Rodman had certainly made a difference as Rodman returned to the Bulls with a renewed commitment to the team’s goal of winning one more championship. Rodman remained on his best behavior during that championship run. 

Most NBA fans know of the Jordan Rules. They were developed by then Detroit Pistons Head Coach Chuck Daly and were designed to stop Jordan at all costs. The Pistons would double and triple-team Jordan, fouling him as hard as they could to stop him from scoring. 

What most people did not know before this documentary is that the Jordan Rules were the main reason that Jordan rose to the Greatest Of All Time stature. Jordan started spending more time in the weight room to put on more muscle in order to play the more physical game the “Bad Boy” Pistons were playing. After putting on more weight and muscle, Jordan would not be pushed around, and the Bulls would go on to sweep the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals 

There had been no love lost between the Pistons and the Bulls; in fact, the teams hated each other. The intense dislike was escalated when the Pistons began heading to the locker room with ten seconds left on the clock in the final game of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals in order to avoid shaking hands with the Bulls players. The Pistons star point guard and team leader Isiah Thomas claims in the documentary that ”This is the way it was back then.” However, Jordan refers back to the previous two seasons, where the Pistons bested the Bulls in the playoffs, and how he shook hands with every Piston out of “respect to the game.” Jordan makes no secret that he still resents Thomas to this day. 

With the tragic passing of 2000s NBA icon Kobe Bryant, it is very touching to many basketball fans that he is included in the documentary, with his comments being recorded just a week before the helicopter crash that took his life. Jordan and Bryant first met during the 1998 all-star game, where Bryant was the main topic of conversation, being that he was the youngest all-star in history at the time. The Last Dance shows Jordan giving the young Bryant advice throughout that all-star game. The two became close for the remainder of Jordan’s career, as Jordan saw a bit of himself in the young Bryant. In the documentary, Bryant explains that without Jordan, he does not win five NBA championships. 

Jordan and Bryant even joked that Bryant “stole” Jordan’s moves. As he said at Bryant’s funeral, Jordan thought of Bryant as a younger brother, as he explained in his speech at Bryant’s funeral. Additionally, because Jordan inspired and influenced him, Bryant wanted to inspire the future generations, showing how much it meant to Bryant that Jordan was there. 

In the fifth episode of The Last Dance, Jordan explains that he did not want to listen to any shoe endorsement offers other than from Adidas. He wanted to don the three stripes on his shoes and apparel. Meanwhile, his parents explained that he could not just ignore the other brands’ offers. 

When Jordan spoke with Nike, he was offered a signature shoe as well as more money than Adidas was offering. His parents told him he would be stupid to turn that down. Nike was invested in Jordan as their top client and their opening in to the basketball operations of the brand. As explained in the documentary, Nike was primarily a track brand at the time, as opposed to the multi-billion dollar all-around sports apparel company it is today. This deterred Jordan but the deal was just too good. 

After signing Jordan, Nike was motivated to make the basketball brand the best in the business and Jordan was the face of their brand. Obviously, this decision worked out for both sides as Jordan’s brand is worth over one billion dollars and Nike has now signed numerous top athletes, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Bryant. 

With these instances just being a small overview of what we have come to learn from The Last Dance, basketball fans are understandingly eager for the final four installments of the series.

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