One of my only real complaints about the first three weeks of The Last Dance is that I’ve felt it’s held back on the behind the scenes footage — namely from practices during that 1997-98 season — that we had been promised in the build up to the documentary’s airing. We were told about the thousands of hours of unbelievable amount of footage they had from this season, but with so much focus on telling the history of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, not a lot of that made the cut in the first six episodes.
Happily, we get more of those videos this week as episodes seven and eight explore Michael Jordan the teammate in more detail, including a section dedicated to Jordan picking on poor Scott Burrell, who has been a punching bag for Michael at various times previously this season. Jordan’s various teammates interviewed for the documentary were all asked about Jordan’s infamous competitive nature in practices, and offered their memories of those days in the gym.
“Every time we would play good and we were winning games, everything was OK, but everyone was always on alert around Michael after a bad game like that,” Toni Kukoc recalled. “He would say, ‘You motherf*ckers didn’t do a thing today. Come ready for practice.’”
“His theory was, if you can’t handle pressure from me, you’re not going to be able to handle the pressure of the NBA playoffs,” Steve Kerr said. “So he talked trash in practice, he went after guys. He challenged guys.”
They then show footage of him going after Scott Burrell, whooping and whistling at him, letting Burrell know it was about to be a long day.
“‘Woo,’ I remember, yeah,” Burrell said with a laugh. “He wants to win and you gotta earn everything in Chicago. There was nothing easy, nothing given to you and you gotta go out and earn it. And you earn it in practice.”
As Jordan remembers it, he targeted Burrell because he knew his work ethic didn’t match up with his talent, and he insisted on bringing out more in him. His methods in doing so were, well, very much unique to Jordan, as he says he would try to get Burrell to fight him “in a good sense” — which made me laugh a lot — but couldn’t because Burrell was too nice of a guy.
“Scottie Burrell was a talented guy. What Scottie was lacking was a commitment of determination, seriousness,” Jordan said. “So he became my guy to kinda push — keep pushing, keep pushing. I tried to get him to fight me a few times — in a good sense — like I’m tired of you picking on me, that type of mentality. I could never get him. He’s such a nice guy. But I know we’re going to need him at some point and time, and he’s going to remember this and he’s going to go out there and he’s fight.”
To his credit, Burrell handled Jordan’s prodding well and always talked right back to Mike and didn’t back down. Burrell doesn’t seem to harbor any ill will towards Mike and seems to understand where Jordan was coming from in his methodology of going after him in practice.
“You’re playing with a guy that has the highest standards of any basketball player ever,” Burrell said. “You want to live up to that challenge. It’s tough, tough love. You’ve got to go out there and do your job.”
Still, some of the stuff they showed from Jordan was vicious.