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#pounditTuesday, September 29, 2020

‘The Last Dance’ recap, takeaways after the first two episodes of documentary

Michael Jordan

ESPN’s long-awaited “The Last Dance” debuted on Sunday night with the airing of two parts of the 10-part documentary series. The first two episodes received a great reaction on social media, especially among athletes.

Each episode is an hour long and two will air back-to-back over five Sundays.

Here are some takeaways from the first two episodes.

EPISODE 1

The Last Dance established

The real purpose of this episode was to set the stage for the 1997-1998 season, which Phil Jackson dubbed “The Last Dance”, because he knew it would be the last chance that group of players would have to compete for a championship as teammates. The Bulls were coming off a championship, but owner Jerry Reinsdorf said they were thinking about rebuilding rather than pursuing a sixth championship. They kept the team together though and made one last push — one last dance for this group of players.

Friction between Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson

Krause was depicted as the guy who ruined the Bulls and broke apart the dynasty. The late former Bulls GM, who died in 2017 at the age of 77, was portrayed as having an ego fight over a lack of credit he received for the team’s five championships. So what did Krause do? He alienated Phil Jackson by making it clear this would be Jackson’s last season coaching the Bulls. Krause was spending time with Tim Floyd, who eventually replaced Jackson. And Krause even supposedly invited all the Bulls players and Floyd to his child’s wedding, but not Jackson. Jackson said there was no chance of a reconciliation between the two parties. Unfortunately Krause is not alive to be able to share his side.

Bulls were a partying mess before Michael

MJ was drafted by the Bulls in 1984 and led them to the playoffs in his first season. He did so despite the team’s partying ways. In one video clip, Jordan laughs about the “traveling cocaine circus” description of those Bulls. At the time, Jordan said he didn’t drink or participate in that kind of partying.

A few other observations of note from this episode:

– One thing that stood out immediately was the popularity of the Chicago Bulls. When they took international trips, they were viewed as complete rock stars, with Jordan leading the way in terms of attention.

– Seeing college courts without a 3-point line is crazy, but that’s how the game was when Jordan played at North Carolina

– It was odd seeing the 1984 draft on USA Networks. That was just before Turner got the rights to the NBA

Here is MJ’s first home in Chicago during his rookie season

EPISODE 2

Scottie Pippen’s contract situation a central focus

Scottie Pippen was unbelievably underpaid during his Bulls career, and this episode brought that to the forefront. Pippen, wanting financial security, signed a 7-year, $18 million deal in 1991. Even team owner Jerry Reinsdorf advised against it, but Pippen wanted to be able to help out his family and did not want to take any risks. Reinsdorf refused to renegotiate deals, which led to negative feelings later on. Pippen did not get surgery on his foot in the summer of 1997 because he wanted to rehab on company time rather than his time. In his words, he didn’t want to “f— up his summer.”

Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson were huge Pippen backers

Pippen’s legacy takes a hit in some senses because he was always overshadowed by Michael Jordan. But hearing MJ tell it, he has Pippen’s back 100 percent of the way. Jordan was quoted in the episode talking about how necessary Pippen was and how there wouldn’t be a Michael Jordan without Pippen. Phil Jackson, who has always been viewed as a players’ coach, also supported Pippen amid the foot surgery matter. Jackson understood Pippen’s personal frustration with the front office and did not hold that against the star forward.

Distrust between MJ and front office began over foot injury

Michael Jordan suffered a broken foot in his second season, and the team’s front office/ownership wanted to take things carefully and force MJ to heal because they were told there was a 10 percent chance he could re-injure his foot, which would end his career. MJ was determined to play and didn’t like the cautious approach. They agreed to a minutes restriction, but that boiled over after Jordan was pulled with 31 seconds left in a close game due to hitting the restriction. That’s when MJ says mistrust developed between him and the front office.

Other notes:

– The story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team remains overblown. The story, which was retold here, is that Jordan didn’t make the varsity team as a sophomore. He still played for the junior varsity team, and not making varsity fueled Jordan to get better.

– MJ’s competitiveness, which was legendary, developed at home in his youth. Jordan said he was driven to be better than his siblings.

– Larry Bird said of MJ’s 63-point game in 1986 that it was “God disguised as Michael Jordan”

Overall, the first two episodes were great to watch, especially for fans who were desperate for new content. We can’t wait for the future episodes.

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