The primary focus of the seventh episode of The Last Dance is Michael Jordan’s stunning retirement from basketball in 1993, his stint as a member of the White Sox organization, and return to the Bulls 18 months later. The documentary explores what went into that decision, from apparent consideration of retiring during the summer of 1992 to his father’s murder in July of 1993 that only further pushed him away from basketball and towards baseball.
When Jordan first told Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf he wanted to quit, Reinsdorf says he didn’t try to talk him out of it but said he couldn’t make that decision until he sat down with Phil Jackson. For Jordan, he felt he had done everything he wanted to in basketball and was mentally and physically exhausted.
“We were coming off of three championships,” Jordan said. “I fulfilled my responsibility to the city, to the Bulls, to my teammates.”
Jackson and Jordan met, just the two of them, in Reinsdorf’s office in the Bulls practice facility, and Jordan explained where he was at.
“I told Phil, look, I’m about here,” Jordan said while raising his hand to the top of his head. “I’m done. I have no more challenges. I have no motivation. I was done.”
Phil recalls not making too big of a push for his superstar to come back, but did note that by leaving the game in his prime was taking something significant away from society.
“This was a young man that had gone through some heart rending things,” Jackson said. “You’re denying a gift to society, but I understand, you know, I understand.”
One of the things that’s really shined in this documentary has been how incredibly understanding Jackson was as the coach of the Bulls, understanding his players in a way few do, or are willing to do. He got Dennis Rodman and understood his unique needs in a way few coaches could — Chuck Daly did this as well — and even though he was seeing the best player in the world retire in his prime and leaving his team, he understood why and understood that, if nothing else, Jordan needed some time away from the game.
Jordan, of course, would eventually return — and he even addressed that as a real possibility in his retirement press conference — but Phil Jackson handled a difficult conversation about as well as he could given the circumstances.