Episodes three and four of The Last Dance highlighted our final two major characters in the story of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls: Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson.
The rise of Phil Jackson is fascinating, as he goes from a two-time NBA champion as a member of the Knicks to a coach in Puerto Rico to a coach in the CBA before Jerry Krause brings him to the Bulls to be part of Doug Collins’ coaching staff. How Jackson went from assistant to head coach in two years as a member of the Bulls staff is, essentially, as simple as him being willing to buy in to Tex Winter’s teachings of the triangle offense — which Jerry Krause believed was the best offensive system — and Collins pushing Winter to the periphery to run an isolation-centric offense where the main goal was to feed Michael Jordan.
As Scottie Pippen put it, “Doug’s approach was more catered to Michael, and Phil’s approach was more catered to the team.”
That philosophy endeared him to Jordan, but ultimately led Krause to want to make a coaching change after the 1989 season, despite the Bulls having just made a run to the conference finals. Collins, who Jordan loved because he was the focal point, was replaced by Jackson, and in episode four of The Last Dance, Jordan explained that he was not keen on the coaching change and was anti-triangle when it was first introduced to him.
“I wasn’t a Phil Jackson fan when he first came in, because he was coming in to take the ball out of my hands. Doug put the ball in my hands,” Jordan said. “Everybody has the opportunity to touch the ball, but I didn’t want Bill Cartwright to have the ball with five seconds left. That’s not an equal opportunity offense, that’s f*cking bullsh*t.”
Jordan then goes on to discuss how Winter would constantly beg him to pass the ball, leading him to bark back a classic Jordan line.
“There were so many times Tex would yell at me ‘move the ball, move the ball.’ ‘There’s no I in team,’ I said, ‘there’s an I in Win.’”
It’s a nearly identical story to one Shaq told about Kobe Bryant during his memorial service, about Bryant responding to the “there’s no I in team” line with “yeah, but there’s an m-e in that motherf*cker.”
Episode 4 explores how Phil eventually got Jordan to understand the reasoning behind the philosophy, pointing to the Pistons and the Jordan Rules as to why having the ball in his hands all the time made them predictable and easy to game plan for in a playoff series. That change in Jordan’s attitude towards being more willing to try and make his teammates better — albeit, often in the manner of berating them — is what most in the documentary point to as the difference in them winning the ’91 title.