ESPN debuted the first two parts of The Last Dance, its highly-anticipated docuseries on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, on Sunday night. Episodes 1 and 2 were a joy, and instead of doing any sort of tradition recap, we decided to borrow an idea from our own Brandon Stroud and do this up in a Best and Worst format. Of course, head on over to With Spandex if you’d like to see how this format is done in the wrestling world by the folks who have mastered it.
For our purposes, these Bulls were the kind of larger-than-life personalities that usually only exist in the wrestling, while Michael Jordan is perhaps the greatest singular character in the history of sports, so taking that format and using it here is appropriate. And now, let’s get into this week’s Best and Worst.
BEST: Interview Introductions
The opening episode goes through the process of introducing the main characters we will see throughout the documentary, namely the members of the Bulls that will be most heavily featured. That list includes Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, and Steve Kerr, and they allow the first three of those to introduce themselves as if someone may be watching this, unaware of who they are. The result is Michael Jordan giving an all-time undersell of who he is.
“Hi, my name is Michael Jordan. I played for the Chicago Bulls from 1984-1998, with an 18-month vacation/hiatus.”
Scottie, meanwhile, eschews basketball completely in his, simply noting he is “Scottie Maurice Pippen, from Hamburg, Arkansas.” Then there is Rodman, who gives the most appropriate introduction of them all.
“Dennis Rodman. Wassup?”
I am glad to report the wild underselling of who interview subjects are continues throughout the documentary.
BEST/WORST: Really Leaning In On Michael Jordan’s Early Basketball Career
So I want to be clear: I could spend the rest of my life watching clips and hearing stories about the early days of Michael Jordan’s basketball career. He is the single-most interesting athlete of my lifetime. There has never been an individual who blended being a cultural phenomenon and being the absolute, undoubted, clear-cut best at their profession as well as Jordan has — this applies for sports, for entertainment, for business, for literally anything. I won’t say we’ll never experience someone like this again, because plenty of people get propped up as gods just by nature of how we consume culture in 2020, but it’s hard to imagine anyone ever melding those two things as well as Jordan did.
Still, the first two episodes of the docuseries about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls felt, at times, more like two parts in a documentary about Jordan’s life. It gets a best because, as I mentioned, I am extremely here for this sort of thing, but the worst stems from the fact that that Bulls team does kind of feel like an afterthought at times to the sheer awesomeness that was Jordan. So much time is spent on his time at North Carolina and his first few years in the league that it can take away from the look inside the 97-98 Bulls. Hell, more time is spent on his backstory in episode two — which starts as The Scottie Pippen Episode and then just kinda gets away from Scottie Pippen for a while — than anything else.
This isn’t a bad thing! It rules watching stuff about the single-coolest athlete of my lifetime (or, for that matter, your lifetime), the backstory on him is important context as we move forward about the mythology surrounding the dude, and everything we see about Jordan rules — I may write a book about about the face he made when he’s asked about playing golf with Danny Ainge before Game 2 against the Boston Celtics in 1986. I am sure these first two episodes are outliers with regards to how Jordan’s past shaped this particular Bulls team, it just relies quite heavily on that early on, is all. Having said that…
BEST: Michael Jordan And Scottie Pippen Highlights, Especially From College
Dude, watching Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen play basketball is so cool. It’s a funny thing, we’re living in a golden age of Good Basketball right now, but when Mike and Scottie were in their primes, the two were capable of unhinging their jaws and consuming people whole in a way that no one can really do today. There was a ruthlessness to their games, with the pair being the two-best athletes on the floor in every single game that they played and Jordan’s unmatched competitiveness setting a bar that Pippen tried his best to reach. The result was watching a pair of sledgehammers bash their opponents on a nightly basis.
That was particularly true in the clips where the two were in college. Jordan, of course, was an alpha dog at North Carolina, but the clips of Pippen in college are way better. He had a monstrous growth spurt, shooting up from 6’1 as a freshman to 6’7 by the time he left, and mixed that with freakish strength/athleticism. As a result, the poor NAIA students who went up against Central Arkansas got stuffed into lockers without Pippen ever looking like he was ever trying that hard.
— Jumpman History (@HistoryJumpman) April 20, 2020
I am not a marketing wizard or anything, but ESPN should really fill its airwaves over the next week or so with old Bulls/Carolina/Central Arkansas games involving these two. I already do not have anything to do, but even if I did, I would cancel all of my plans to watch every second of these games.
WORST: Jerry Krause
Michael Jordan roasting Jerry Krause💀💀 pic.twitter.com/t9KDxTMnOD
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) April 20, 2020
One of the main characters of the documentary is former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who ran the team from 1985-2003 and was the villain of the 1997-98 season because he was the leading voice in the organization looking to break up the team and enter a rebuild. Krause is the antagonist of just about everyone. He’s constantly yelled at and taunted by Jordan, who prods him about being short and overweight, and Pippen, who hated him for entertaining trade talks and then later demanded a trade himself. The only reason Phil Jackson returns for one final year was a meeting with owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who brought him back on a 1-year, $6 million deal after Krause scoffed at the notion of paying a coach that much. You can still sense some of the animosity decades later over how it all went down and that he was the driving force in breaking up the dynasty.
What’s interesting is the complicated nature of how the central figures of this documentary remember Krause, who died in 2017. Jordan, who famously was infuriated by the Charles Oakley trade in 1988, now admits that was the right move and gives credit to Krause and the front office for building the team. Still, he feels Krause’s famous “Organizations win titles, not players alone” line, which is contextualized a bit further in the doc, was disrespectful to the players. “The Last Dance” only happens because of Krause, both in making it the definitive last season of the Bulls run because he publicly made it known they would be changing things after the year, and in that the dynasty doesn’t look the same without the team he built around Jordan — from trading up for Pippen to trading for and signing other key pieces. He is the villain of this story, but much like with the heroes, everything in this is a bit complicated.
What’s not complicated is that the players seemed to genuinely hate the man and routinely dunked on him in front of everyone.
WORST: Roy Williams Getting Free Recruiting Material He Will Never Use
— tarheelupdate (@tarheelupdate) April 20, 2020
North Carolina coach Roy Williams is in this a decent amount, as he was a Tar Heel assistant during the time that the program recruited and, eventually, coached Jordan. He doesn’t really bust out any Royisms — he doesn’t say MJ was as quick as tadpole getting out of the sun or whatever — but he brings that classic aw shucks attitude that everyone loves. I also know that North Carolina was very bad last year, and that Roy isn’t exactly the best daggum recruiter on Tobacco Road. Please use all of this in recruiting and try to get more one-and-dones, Roy. Program Players™ are nice, but my goodness, it would be a bad look to not go on a recruiting tear after being in the Michael Jordan documentary.
BEST: David Stern!
— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) April 20, 2020
When he showed up on screen the first time, I reflexively said “Commish!” aloud. David Stern was hardly a perfect commissioner, but I’ll be damned if I don’t miss that guy. No one seemed to take more joy in twisting a knife than Stern did, he is, was, and always will be the Lucille Bluth of sports commissioners.
WORST: This Guy
Asking for an autograph while you mic someone up? Be a professional, sir.
BEST: The Bulls Traveling Cocaine Circus
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) April 20, 2020
One of the funniest moments of the first episode is when Michael Jordan learns the Bulls of the early 1980s were sometimes referred to as “The Bulls Traveling Cocaine Circus,” which elicits an honest to god outburst of laughter from him and a knee slap. He then launches into a story of being a rookie and being unable to find his teammates at the team hotel until he finally knocks on the right door, only to enter and find, as he says, “lines over here, weed smokers over here, and women over here.” Jordan, who at the time didn’t even drink, says he left quickly out of fear that if that room got raided he’d be as guilty as anyone. The NBA in the 1980s was a wild place.
BEST: Milwaukee Bucks 1984 Warmups
Bring them back. I need Giannis in these ASAP.
WORST: Wasted Suit Fabric
I am the worst person on earth to ever discuss anything of/related to fashion — since quarantine started, I have rotated through the same 3-5 hoodies and shorts/sweatpants, and yes, I am using quarantine as an excuse to justify what my slovenly ass would have worn anyway — but my god, the suits are stupendous in this. Every single person wears a jacket that would look baggy on the guy who played The Mountain, while every pair of pants is like a 34×17,000. Imagine what else could have been done with all this fabric if wearing the “after” suit from a weight loss commercial wasn’t a trend in the 1990s. I am glad I was six while this was in style.
BEST: Bob Costas’ Hair
Bob Costas has looked exactly the same since the first Bush was president, with the exception being that time he had pink eye. However, there is a clip in this from Costas’ time as a newsman in Chicago during Jordan’s early years with the Bulls where he looks like this.
I really want to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with this version of Bob Costas.
BEST: “Sirius” By The Alan Parsons Project
The ending of the first episode is the ring ceremony that starts the 1997-98 season and is a reminder that there has never been, and likely will never be, a better intro than what MJ the Bulls had in the 90s. “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project is synonymous with this era of Bulls basketball and it still gives me chills hearing those chords hit as the Bulls PA announcer says “6’6, from North Carolina…”
WORST: Scottie Pippen’s Timing
The second episode focuses heavily on Pippen, with a heavy focus on how he was wildly underpaid by the time the 1997-98 season — the last on his contract — arrived. Pippen had signed a 7-year, $18 million deal in 1991 that left him as the league’s 122nd highest paid player by that 97-98 season. It was a deal that even Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf advised him against.
“I do recall it was a longer contract than I thought was smart for him,” said Reinsdorf. “I said to this guy the same thing I said to Michael, if I were you I wouldn’t sign this contract. You may be selling yourself short. It’s too long of a contract that you’re locking yourself into.”
However, Pippen saw it as necessary to take longterm stability over the possibility of making far more coming from a poor family from Arkansas with 11 brothers and sisters, and his father stuck in a wheelchair since he was 12 due to a stroke.
“I felt like I couldn’t gamble on myself getting injured and not being able to provide,” Pippen said. “I needed to make sure that people in my corner were taken care of.”
It’s a situation that a number of athletes have found themselves in and it’s more than understandable why he would take that approach. Pippen’s brother, Billy, notes in the documentary that he bought their parents a house and sent them money each month, ensuring they were taken care of. However, the league saw exponential revenue growth and Pippen’s contract was quickly undervalued and had many years remaining — and Reinsdorf refuses to renegotiate contracts.
By the time he reached his contract year, he was incredibly underpaid and was dealing with a ruptured tendon in his ankle. Out of spite for the Bulls organization and Jerry Krause, he put off surgery until right before the season. As Pippen said in the documentary his mindset was, “I’m not going to f*ck my summer up rehabbing for a season.” That led to additional tension and, eventually, a trade request while he was still rehabbing due to frustrations with Krause for trying to trade him — something Reinsdorf shut down.
What’s fascinating about the Pippen situation is, without Pippen massively undervalued as the sixth highest paid player during the Bulls run, they might never have the opportunity to win six rings. On a personal level, it diminished his earning potential significantly. His timing on signing that deal was miserable, given that the league’s salary cap more than doubled from $12.5 million to $26.7 million over the life of his deal. At a team level, though it gave them flexibility within the salary cap to build a stronger roster than they may have otherwise if Pippen had been appropriately compensated.
BEST: Barack Obama: Former Chicago Resident
That is, indeed, how everyone refers to former American president Barack Obama.