nearly a year after it originally aired, i finally watched the last dance, the documentary series about michael jordan and the bulls teams of the 1990s. when it first came out last year i did not have the emotional capacity to focus on it, and i’m so glad i waited to watch it. comprised of 10 50-minute episodes, the series chronicles michael jordan’s rise to nba stardom and his lasting impact on the league and the world and how it all culminated in the ’97-’98 title run, his sixth championship and second three-peat.
those bulls championship runs were such a big part of my childhood. growing up with an athlete older brother who idolized michael jordan, i had no choice but to get swept up in the air jordan craze. we watched as many of the games as we could, and once the playoffs started they consumed our household.
and yet, even with all that i remember from those days, there is so much i didn’t know. i was just under 8 when they won their first championship and was about to turn 15 when they won their last. there was a lot happening behind the scenes that i was never aware of, and watching this series was both a fun journey down memory lane and an incredible look at everything that fed into those runs.
so much has been written about michael and those teams and even the series, and i am in no way professing to have anything new to say. but as i was texting with my brother while watching, it hit me that i needed to write it all down somewhere. these aren’t in any order because i made this decision while watching the eighth episode, so be warned this will all be jumbled and also there might be some spoilers [even though all of this happened 23+ years ago, so it’s all relative].
first and foremost, i have an old man crush on phil jackson, and i’m not ashamed to admit it.
that tall frame. that deep, gravelly voice. he’s an overgrown hippie, and i love it.
now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to other things.
michael jordan can hold a grudge like no one i’ve ever seen.
it is amazing to me how he still remembers every slight he perceived throughout his career, and how he used that to fuel his energy and his drive in every game. when jerry krause, the bulls’ general manager, was obsessed with toni kukoc, jordan and pippen went into the ’92 olympics determined to show him up; in their first game against croatia, they dominated kukoc just to prove a point. karl malone won the league mvp award in the ’96-’97 season, and jordan took that dismissal into the finals and made sure the world knew he was still the best to play the game. george karl walked past him one time and didn’t say hi, so he went and scored a million points [hyperbole] against his team the next night. whenever some dumb young player thought they could take jordan or mouthed off to him, he went next level and put them in their place [nick anderson, bryon russell, etc etc]. some rando told him “45 ain’t 23” after he returned during the ’94-’95 season so he switched back to 23 and then scored 45 points on that dude in the next game. i thought my mother could hold a grudge, but mike puts her to shame.
he made nike a household name.
before jordan signed his first deal with nike, the brand was mostly known for their track and field shoes. that’s how they got their start, and that was their niche for a long time. and then along came this young kid with oodles of talent, and they made him an amazing deal he couldn’t refuse. because of him – and those air jordans my brother obsessively collected – nike became the brand we know it as today. you can’t understate his impact on growing their name recognition around the world.
yes, i audibly giggled when reggie miller showed up.
i have been a reggie miller fan for as long as i can remember [he was drafted when i was 4, so probably since then], and when he showed up i very audibly giggled. i will forever have a crush on that man, and as i told freddy the other day i would 100 percent still marry him if the occasion arose.
i’m still bummed there wasn’t a penny interview.
the series kind of glossed over the playoff matchups with the magic, focusing more on nick anderson than the team as a whole, so we didn’t get to hear an interview with penny hardaway. it wouldn’t have necessarily added anything to the show, it’s simply that i would have enjoyed it.
it wasn’t the flu; it was food poisoning.
all these years “the flu game” has been touted as one of jordan’s greatest performances: playing through the flu and winning the game for his team. but we actually learned that it wasn’t the flu at all: it was food poisoning! he’d ordered a late night pizza in salt lake and got sick from it. was it intentional? that we’ll never know.
hands down the best flex: describing barack obama as “former chicago resident”.
i really don’t think i need to say anything more.
here’s a thing: scottie pippen was horribly underpaid and undervalued.
here’s another thing: the bulls don’t win any of those rings without scottie. yes, i said it.
i kind of knew he was undervalued, but i didn’t realize how much he was undervalued. he was the second best player on the best team in the nba, and he wasn’t even one of the 100 highest paid guys in the league. what. krause knew scottie wanted the long-term security so he could support his disabled father and brother back in arkansas, and he locked him in to a multi-year deal for next to nothing. as i told my brother, scottie signed the opposite of the bobby bonilla contract. game 6 of those ’98 finals scottie was essentially playing with a broken back, and he gutted his way through the pain for his team. when you see the footage now his discomfort is palpable, but he did what he needed to do.
another thing about scottie: he is such a small town arkansas boy, and i am here for it.
he is so country, and it is amazing. there’s one scene in the final episode where he leans forward with the biggest grin on his face and says ‘get the hell out the way’ and i straight up cackled. love that man.
michael had an entire court built for him while he filmed space jam, and then he made all the other players come out to set during the offseason to scrimmage with him.
i had to rewind that part and rewatch 3 times because my brain couldn’t process all of it. he convinced these dudes to cut short vacations and family time to scrimmage with him to help him get back in basketball shape so he could then dominate against them. and they all showed up. willingly! who but michael jordan could command something like that? the answer: no one.
i never realized they won the ’96 finals on fathers’ day.
it was jordan’s first finals appearance after his father was killed, and they won the series on fathers’ day. when they showed the footage of him breaking down in the locker room at the end of all the ceremonies i started crying myself.
i’m still getting over learning everyone’s real ages.
because all of these guys were playing when i was a little kid, my concept of their ages is all skewed. i thought magic was ages older than jordan, but they’re actually only a few years apart [magic is only 61, which is still blowing my mind]. i always saw rodman as the kid brother to jordan and pippen, but he’s actually older than mike! the wikipedia rabbit holes i fell into while watching the series were deep.
i am in awe of how they got so many people to participate.
i mean, the lineup of people they interviewed for this is pretty spectacular. former coaches and teammates and opposing players and nemeses from all levels of his career. newscasters and journalists from different types of media. family and friends. david stern and adam silver. even carmen electra showed up at a few points [lol]. oh! and bill clinton! and of course the aforementioned president obama. we didn’t get to hear jerry krause’s side of the stories because he died a while back, but otherwise the only other big omissions i clocked were luc longley and karl malone; otherwise this thing had everyone. including a special cameo [technically 3 special cameos] in the final episode that i really loved.
also on the list of people who aged well: pat riley.
i think i have a crush on him, too? he’s in there for such a short time that i wasn’t able to fully explore these newfound feelings, but i’ll give it a more thorough think on the eventual rewatch. because we all know it’s happening.
i know it was the 90s, but dang those jazz uniforms were ugly.
i don’t know who designed that logo and those colors and then decided to throw them all together, but i would like to have some words with them. i hated having to look at them all those years ago, and time has not made them look any better.
that being said: i disliked stockton and malone at the time because they played against mike, but they are both classy dudes.
stockton went to gonzaga, a school i have disliked forever for no good reason [i fully admit that], plus he wore those short shorts. malone won the mvp [i can also hold a grudge] and probably should have won a title or two. but they were both standup players and are still classy guys, and i respect both of them. after the ’98 series ended, malone went on the bulls team bus and congratulated every single player on their victory — what a juxtaposition to that pistons team that walked off the court during the eastern conference finals before the game even ended.
jerry krause is painted as the villain, but reinsdorf deserves to take some blame, too.
because krause isn’t around to defend himself a lot of blame is put on him for breaking up the team, for sowing division between players and coaches and executives over contracts, and for generally getting in his own way. i’m not defending him, because at the end of the day i think he especially did scottie pippen dirty, but it must be said that as the owner jerry reinsdorf had power to stop krause at any point and he didn’t. as my brother very rightly pointed out, reinsdorf let krause be the scapegoat whenever anything didn’t go over well in the press, but reinsdorf took credit whenever anything was well-received. i think it could be interesting to see how narratives shift once reinsdorf isn’t around to tell his one-sided story. a gross oversimplification: white men and their egos.
isiah thomas will forever be a punk.
he was a punk when he played [see above about walking off the court before a game ended], and he’s still a punk. the man continues to blame jordan for his not getting picked for the ’92 dream team. not only was he toward the end of his career at the time, but he had roughed up all of the others who were on the team, not just jordan. i fully believe that if isiah had been chosen, many of the others would have refused to play.
gary payton is still a punk, too.
when he was talking about the ’96 finals he made some dumb comment about how if he had put in more effort earlier the sonics would have won that series and i rolled my eyes so hard. keep in mind that was the year the bulls won a then-nba record 72 games [out of a possible 82] and swept nearly all of their playoff opponents. there’s no way they weren’t winning that title, even if gary payton scored 50 points every game. it’s been 26 years and he’s still in denial. good luck to you, gary.
things we all know: the press sucks.
jordan was incredibly careful with his public image, and the press did everything they could to tarnish his reputation any chance they got. his affinity for gambling was blown out of proportion. he spent one night at a casino with his father to blow off some steam and it was all over the front pages the next day. but the absolute lowest was when the press tried to find a way to link james’ death to mike’s gambling and blame him for his father’s senseless, random murder. i’m not saying mike was without flaws, but that was inexcusable.
i told you i had a lot of thoughts. and i’m sure i will have more once i eventually rewatch. but i think this is enough to leave you with for today.
have you watched the last dance? i’d love to hear your thoughts!