Last week saw the conclusion of The Last Dance documentary, AKA the closest things sports fans have had to regular appointment viewing in quite some time.
For me, it was a really cool experience. Like many others, my formative years as a young sports fan came with Jordan as the world’s most recognizable athlete. I devoured everything I could find about those early 90s Bulls teams, while the late 90s ones laid to rest some of my favorite teams (hey, I was a contrarian teen and Jordan had to be stopped!). Some of the stories covered in the documentary I knew about, several others I had no recollection of. All of it was a lot of fun to take in, and a needed shot of nostalgia. A few thoughts …
*Michael Jordan is a master of basketball, master of marketing and indeed a master of timing. If ever there were a time to release this documentary, this was it, for obvious reasons. Sure, that part happened by accident, but heck let’s throw it in there with his other accomplishments. We needed this doc – he provided it!
*If you gave me a weekly series called “Jordan Tales of Revenge” I’d watch the heck out of that. Forget all this other stuff about championships, money, winning, historical significance … I want more content concerning MJ taking that Bullets rookie and sonning him on the back of an exchange completely invented in Jordan’s mind. Or talking about B.J. Armstrong, a former teammate, and bluntly noting “I’m supposed to destroy and dominate this guy. And so I did” after a little excess celebrating by Armstrong after a Hornets win.
*I still get chills when I see that simple, to the point press release: “I’m back.” That’s how you do it.
*The most powerful moments in the series were the those showing Jordan’s emotion over the loss of his father, including the one of MJ sobbing after closing out the Seattle Sonics in the NBA Finals on Father’s Day – the first championship Jordan won upon his return to basketball, and the first without his dad.
A somewhat distant second, but still impactful, was Jordan breaking down into tears and needing to request a break when speaking about his demanding style of leadership. I wasn’t sure if those tears were because he knew that he sacrificed the love of several of those teammates in favor of respect, fear and their performance, or if it was because he was remembering just how much winning meant to him and felt to him in those days. Probably a combination of it.
*Horace Grant trying to nope out of being outed as the source for the Jordan Rules book … nah. I have that book. It was my favorite book growing up. There was literally a epilogue section at the end of the book thanking Grant for his contributions and how the book wouldn’t have been possible without him. Jordan didn’t have to play detective here.
*The most surprising part of the documentary, for me, actually revolved around Pippen as opposed to Jordan. His claim that he’d probably sit out of that final play in the ’94 Knicks series if he had the same situation to do over today was really jarring, especially seeing as it came after hearing all of his teammates say, “Man, that’s not the real Pip.” Pippen basically followed up with, “Nah, that’s TOTALLY Pip.”
I understand there’s a lot of underlying things bubbling under the surface there – resentment over Toni Kukoc’s pay and hype, the expectation of Pippen stepping into Jordan’s shoes that season – but it’s still bizarre that he doesn’t see it as a mistake, even today. That’s especially so given that in all on the floor areas, Pippen seems like the ultimate teammate, a guy who shared the ball and facilitated the Bulls offense to perfection. Even Jordan, someone who was *always* known for taking those last shots, said that was a no-no.
*Speaking of Kukoc, his recollection of his obliviousness back then to all of the subplots revolving around him made me laugh quite a few times. Here’s this young guy making his name in Europe, all he’s doing is playing basketball to the best of his ability, and his future Bulls teammates across the world are SEETHING with resentment over the hype their general manager is putting upon him. On the aforementioned scenario with Kukoc taking the final shot against the Knicks, instead of Pippen, Kukoc just shrugging his shoulders with “What’s the problem? I hit a bunch of buzzer-beaters that year!” followed by a montage of those shots was pretty hilarious.
*Jerry Krause was really good at his job. That’s not sarcasm, by the way. Krause was painted as the bad guy throughout the entirety of this documentary (and it wasn’t helped by the unavoidable barrier that he had unfortunately passed away and thus couldn’t do interviews to defend himself), but removing the emotion over him breaking up the ’98 team reveals he made some gutsy, gutsy moves to put a winner around Jordan.
Trading for the draft rights to Scottie Pippen, who played at Central Arkansas and wasn’t even a scholarship athlete as a collegiate freshman (and this was the No. 5 pick overall – not a blind stab later on); signing Dennis Rodman when his personality red flags were considerable; firing Doug Collins in favor of Phil Jackson after Collins led the Bulls to their first Eastern Conference Finals. These were not obvious moves, but Krause saw the board clearly and put the team in position to succeed.
Krause didn’t seem to help himself with the media by being combative and defensive as much as he was – though can we blame him when ambush grenades like ‘Are you surprised this team has succeeded despite all the backstabbing between you and coach?’ are lobbed at him? — but the man established himself as one of the great executives, even if history is less kind than that toward him.