Growing up as a kid and pre-teen in the Chicago area in the 90’s during the heyday of the Chicago Bulls dynasty lead by the greatest of all-time, Michael Jordan. There wasn’t any better of a feeling getting to see and experience it all. From Jordan’s play to his great dynamic with Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. To that classic 90’s Bulls intro theme from Ray Clay that still no one can top till this day and gave you straight chills whenever you hear it. ESPN Films with their new, The Last Dance, 10-part mini-doc that aired it’s first two episodes Sunday night on ESPN. Gave us something a lot of us grew up on, can reminisce and feel good about in a time we all can watch together with family and/or friends (though not all physically) to discuss and have something positive, motivating, inspiring and uplifting to talk about. At a time we all really need it, even for those who watched it alone or only with one other person. It made you almost feel like you were getting ready to watch an NBA Finals game. Once again showing the power sports has on everyday life and especially when we have had such a negative news cycle for the past month and a half or so. This let’s us know there’s still light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how many hardships you have to go through to do so.
Mainly focusing on the headlines going into that last and final sixth Bulls championship of the 90’s with the 1997-1998 season. The documentary is based on not only Jordan and the Bulls for that final season, but all the important back stories that shaped it. From all the tension and drama there was, showing that despite how easy some have said Jordan and those teams had in winning those six championships in eight years, it really wasn’t. Right from the start, we’re hit with the fact after the Bulls have won their fifth championship in seven years that general manager Jerry Krause is eager to break up the team to rebuild. Something so unheard of in today’s game and especially when you still have two of the greatest players of all-time in Jordan and Scottie Pippen still in their prime. Not to mention arguably the greatest coach of all-time as well in Phil Jackson and the team still has yet to lose its crown. Yet you (Krause) create a circus by saying that this is Phil’s final season.
That narrative of painting Krause as a bad guy, shows many outside of Chicago why as great as a talent evaluator and genius he can be with some of the players he was able to draft and acquire over the years for the team through trades and free agency. He was also just as much an idiot for breaking up the dynasty just as fast as he did and the approach he took in doing so. Which is why till he died a few years ago, many of us Bulls fans and Chicago area natives still had such a resentment and bad taste in how he and much of the teams front office has handled the team in the 20-plus years since the end of the dynasty. It’s also why as you can see from all the uncut raw footage that was shown and captured from that season, Jordan and Pippen so openly mocked him too. Even if it wasn’t really the right way to handle things.
One thing that the first two episodes let you know too. Is just how big, Jordan and those Bulls teams really were too. Saying how they were like The Beatles when they played an exhibition game in Paris before the 97-98 season. It also shows the drive that Jordan had from a young age on his path to becoming the greatest of all-time. Him remembering the specifics from a regular season game in 1986, showing that drive and competitiveness to always win. Jordan saying himself, “Everytime I step on that basketball court, my focus is to win the game. It drives me insane when I can’t.” Further proof of it.
Some of the access and quotes director Jason Hehir was able to get from Michael and other players, as well as coaches now to put certain things in perspective are what made these first two episodes so great too. Whether it be footage of Jordan’s late father, James Sr. saying, “If you want to bring out the best in Michael, tell him he can’t do something.” Or current North Carolina head coach, Roy Williams, who was an assistant when Michael played there saying, “Michael Jordan’s the only player that could ever turn it on and off, and he never freakin’ turned it off.” Speaking once again to how competitive he always was at everything he did. Or one of the best quotes of all-time when Larry Bird said, “That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there. That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.” When commenting on Jordan’s still NBA Playoffs single game points record of 63 in ’86 vs. Boston. That today ironically marks 34 years to the day of that performance too.
Speaking of that still record performance. Having LL Cool J’s classic, I’m Bad, playing along to the highlights of it. Shows how well placed the music, for them to have something as classic and from one great playing to highlights of another great was. In showing youngsters who may not have previously seen Jordan play like a lot of us older heads that may also not be as quip to someone as classic like L that we are.
Pippen’s story and how he went from starting as an equipment manager at the University of Central Arkansas to being one of the greatest of all-time. As well as the always legendary story of Jordan being cut from his high school varsity team or how the injury in his second year nearly derailed his career. Shows as we previously mentioned no matter how many hardships you may go through, don’t ever let others stop your dream being turned and manifested into destiny. Pippen as mentioned in the doc and several times over the years was a really key part in the Bulls winning those six titles. Jordan himself even admitting, “I would never be able to find another tandem, another support system, another partner in the game of basketball like Scottie Pippen. He helped so much in the way that I approached the game, the way I played the game. Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen. Well, everybody says I won all those championships. But I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen. That’s why I consider him my greatest teammate of all-time.”
Unfortunately for Pippen, as great as he was. He wasn’t payed like it though. Being the sixth highest paid player on that Bulls 97-98 team and 122nd-highest-paid-player in the whole league. Then to sit out with his injury and his frustrations with nearly being traded made him grow frustration with Krause. After he would tell Pippen to his face how much he loved and wanted to keep him. Only to hear otherwise about him possibly being traded by the team. Pippen saying, “I’m done here. You know what I’m saying? You’ve already written my script out that this is it. So I had to do what was best for me.” The perfect cliffhanger to end these first two episodes and have you craving even more going into next Sunday night’s third and fourth episodes.