“The greatest team of all time” is one of the phrases that has become synonymous with the 1998 Chicago Bulls. Though highly publicized the reason for this team’s sudden break up has been compiled of rumors and speculation until now. The Last Dance is an all access pass to the behind the scenes drama that was the 98’ Bulls in the form of a ESPN docu series. Michael Jordan has been immortalized for his heroics and unfaltering determination but this series touches what the public didn’t see. Overall The Last Dance is a time capsule of a moment that was so important to the sports world in the way it would shape the NBA for the next generation of players. Not only is this nostalgia filled doc highlighting some of my favorite basketball moments ever it is also filling me in on something that I had no idea of. Here are 4 things that surprised me about The Last Dance.
Bull’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf was warned before he brought baseball scout Jerry Krause in as General Manager that he is not to be trusted and had personality issues. Prior to his hiring Michael Jordan had already been drafted and the team had already seen success making Krause an outsider once he joined the team. Krause was the GM during each of the Bull’s titles in the 90’s. He should be given credit for trading to grab Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen as well as being the first person to give Phil Jackson a head coaching position but his ego is known to be the main catalyst for breaking the team up. Though he hired Phil in 1989 he was not satisfied with the respect he was given by Phil and prior to the 1998 season told the media “No matter what Phil will not be back for the next year.” (Hence the name The Last Dance). He also publically shopped Scottie Pippen around for trades and that lost him the trust of much of the players. There was an obvious lack of respect because he was berated with insults during his tenure which created tension and bitterness that ultimately broke this championship caliber team up. I do feel sympathetic about the way Krause is discussed in the documentary but at the end of the day he brought it upon himself.
The Tribulation of Scottie Pippen
Throughout all of Micheal Jordan’s successes he was always looked as an underdog because of the infamous “he was cut by his junior varsity team” story but this documentary properly highlighted how high Jordan’s pedigree was going into college at University of North Carolina and when he was drafted by the Bulls. What surprised me was how tragic Scottie Pippen’s childhood was growing up in rural Arkansas being one of 12 children. Not only was poverty part of his story but so was the fact that his brother lost his ability to walk due to an accident and his father was also put into a wheel chair due to a stroke. Such dire circumstances may have propelled his drive and will to succeed but it also may be the reason he took such an awful long term deal with the Bulls to insure that he could take care of his large family. This deal is much of the reason he holds out trying to seek better compensation in the 98’ season creating much of the tension during these first four episodes.
Rodman the Freak
Dennis Rodman is known for his personal struggles and on the court outbursts but his skill made him a cornerstone to many championship teams. His infamously died hair, tattoos, and piercings made him an oddity in the 90’s making him an icon for counterculture throughout his career. From the outside looking in Rodman seems like he was more of a distraction to a focused Michael Jordan led Bull’s team but I was surprised to realize it was actually quite the opposite. His teammates did nothing but show praise to his athleticism and work ethic even though his partying was thing of legend. Episode 3 of The Last Dance follows much of Rodman’s struggles from him bringing a gun to the Piston’s facility, which ultimately got him traded to the week long bender Michael Jordan had to rescue him from in Las Vegas. Dennis Rodman is one of the most ferocious defenders the game has ever seen and possibly the best rebounder ever yet his eccentric personality is what is most remember for his time in the NBA. It surprised me that the extreme personality off the court was not a show, that was him in practice, and that was him during game time when it mattered. Rodman is a freak of nature.
Jordan the Human
Every argument for the greatest basketball player begins and ends with Michael Jordan. His heroics have been immortalized through moments that transcend sport and culture creating the image of an untouchable herculean demigod. His brand has made him more money and fame post NBA career than he could have ever imagined. The most surprising thing about Jordan in The Last Dance is how the behind the scenes lens humanizes Jordan. The fourth episode’s focus is on the head coach Phil Jackson and how his leadership was pivotal from turning this winning team into a championship team. Jackson specifically talks about telling Jordan that he needed to trust his teammates and that everything didn’t have to rely on him. Seeing Michael Jordan be humbled was the most unexpected moment in the last dance, his bravado and ruthlessness is what made his drive unparalleled. When Jordan wins his first title after buying into Jackson’s philosophy the image of him holding the trophy in tears makes him just like me and you, it gives this heartless competitor a soul showing us his vulnerability.
The first four episodes of The Last Dance have been fantastic giving sports fans everywhere something to talk about fulfilling our need of competition and the giving a new perspective to possibly one of the greatest eras of sports. The next six episodes are expected to be monumental.