The Best And Worst Of ‘The Last Dance,’ Episodes 3 And 4

Sunday evening brought the latest two chapters in The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-part docuseries that gives a look into the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. The anticipation for these episodes, which spent a ton of time discussing Dennis Rodman and the Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons, was off the charts, and they certainly delivered.

Like last week, we’ve decided to adopt the Best and Worst format from With Spandex. Head over there to see how it’s done by those that’ve mastered it, and read on for the Best and Worst of the most recent episodes of The Last Dance.

BEST: Dennis Rodman, Basketball Genius

I’m always fascinated by how people talk about Dennis Rodman. He’s such a free spirit and such a gigantic, unique personality that the media — which always struggles to talk about things outside of conventional wisdom — was always going to overlook all the stuff he did on the basketball court to one extent or another and instead spend a ton of time talking about him off the court. It certainly says something about all of us, how that is the stuff we gravitate towards, and how we can sometimes lose sight of what makes someone such a good basketball player because we’re focused on stuff like “who are they dating?” and “what are they doing with their hair now?”

Episodes three and four of The Last Dance touch on this, of course, but spend a whole lot of time looking at Dennis Rodman, the greatest rebounder/defender the league has ever seen. The praise he gets from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for how he did something that every team that has championship aspirations needs — the whole “be a star in your role” thing — really does speak volumes, indicating that there is no second Bulls three-peat if not for the fact that Rodman was there locking dudes up and throwing his weight around on the glass.

Rodman talking about rebounding in particular is some of the best stuff in the doc. A huge part of rebounding is, of course, the tenacity and the desire to get the basketball, which Rodman possessed in droves. But he took things a step further, and his discussing how he studied the way basketballs came off the rim based on the players who shot the ball, the amount of spin the ball had on it, and where they shot it from is wild.

Rodman thought about rebounding the way that a composer thinks about harmonies or a director thinks about dialogue. These are crucial things that need to be mastered and refined in an attempt to become the absolute best at your craft. Not only did he manage to do this, but Rodman did this to such a level that he became a core piece to the Bulls dynasty despite formerly being a member of the Bad Boys Pistons and averaging 5.2 points per game during his time in Chicago. And beyond all of that, while the off-court stuff captured so much attention, Rodman truly did love playing the game of basketball.

Gary Payton put it the best, saying that Rodman was the Bulls’ “f*ck up person.” He was a brilliant, transcendent basketball player, and I could not be happier that the doc spent a ton of time diving into this.

BEST: MJ Highlights Set To “Partyman”

So this is more of a cumulative best through the first four episodes — my god, do the people involved in the music choices within this series deserve more money than they got. I do not care what the figure is, they deserve at least three times as much.

The first two episodes gave us a pair of all-time compilations over ridiculously cool songs: NBA youngster Michael Jordan doing bonkers stuff to “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. and Rakim, and Jordan’s record-setting playoff game against the Boston Celtics set to “I’m Bad” by LL Cool J. I’ve specifically watched the Eric B. and Rakim video like 40 times since I first saw it. It transcends coolness.

Episode three of the docuseries included two more absolutely untouchable music choices. First, we got a bunch of MJ highlights set to “Partyman” by Prince, which, come on dude, that’s just stupid. Then, we got Dennis Rodman doing Dennis Rodman stuff while “The Maestro” by Beastie Boys played. Oh, and episode four began with “Still Not a Player” by Big Pun playing underneath Carmen Electra discussing Rodman’s Vegas hiatus.

I really hope that film/TV majors learn from this, because good music choices in film can elevate it, and that has certainly happened so far. The music folks for the doc are legitimately some of the best parts of this series, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store over the next six hours of footage.

WORST: The Lack Of Tea Spilling

One of my only real critiques of this documentary, which again has been incredible and entertaining and just about everything we could’ve hoped for, has been how there are still folks, 20+ years later, holding back in telling these stories. There’s Mike not wanting to go into details about going to Vegas to get Dennis Rodman out of bed, which they circumvent by talking to Carmen Electra, who was the one in the room with Rodman. Then we get to the section on Phil Jackson getting elevated to head coach and Doug Collins getting fired, and Collins simply says he could sense “Phil could be the coach,” and says it was just a feeling and he didn’t go into it any more.

It was wholly unreasonable to expect a completely unfiltered look at all of these stories, but I really do wish we were getting a bit more from these interviews instead of picking and choosing when to hold back and when to let loose. More Jordan torching Isiah Thomas and less Doug Collins being demure about getting fired and his assistant taking over.

BEST: MJ Dunking On Writers Courtside

Prior to Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals, Sam Smith recalls Michael Jordan — right before the biggest game of his career — strolling to courtside and pointing to the three Bulls beat writers, who had picked Cavs in 3, 4, and 5 games respectively, and calling them out. “I got you, I got you, and we’re gonna get you tonight,” before scoring a late go-ahead bucket and, eventually, hitting “The Shot” to win the game. Speaking of!

WORST: Craig Ehlo

Listen, Craig Ehlo played very good defense against Michael Jordan on “The Shot,” all things considered. The issue was he was guarding an all-time great player who just did an all-time great player thing. He gets unnecessarily hated on for being the guy who was on the other end of this moment, especially considering he had just scored a bucket to put Cleveland ahead. Having said that, there is no coming back from this. Apologies to Craig Ehlo.

BEST: Doug Collins’ Playcalling

I’m a big fan of self-aware coaches, and Doug Collins recognizing his job was to get Jordan the ball and let him do his thing was why Jordan, at times, loved him. This quote is the ultimate example of that, as he deftly explains his play call was to get Michael the ball and tell everyone else to “get the f*ck out of the way.” Also, I love how much young Doug Collins had very strong DGAF vibes, from the perm to the sweat to cursing in pressers. Sadly, this would come to a swift end.

WORST: This Announcement Of Doug Collins’ Firing

Absolutely bodied this man on the news. Doug Collins was just trying to catch the weather and had to be reminded he’s now unemployed while the rest of society is gainfully employed and preparing to head into the office.

WORST: This Guy’s Hair

The most aggressive blonde perm mullet-mustache combo the world has ever seen.

BEST: Craig Sager’s Bribe

To start: I have never done this. I, also, am not Craig Sager, so I could never even consider getting away with something like this.

Anyway! Craig Sager is like the only person in this industry’s history who could ever get away with handing a basketball player money like this, and Dennis Rodman had a sense of humor about it. Also shout out Craig Sager forever. We miss him.

BEST/WORST: Rodman Smashing A Beer Before Taking Off On His Motorcycle

It is hard to express how cool the Chicago Bulls were. You had Michael Jordan, the coolest on-court player to ever live. Phil Jackson, one of the coolest coaches ever. Scottie Pippen, who lived to punk fools on the court with aggressive defense and aggressive dunks. And then there was Dennis Rodman, who had dated Madonna, Toni Braxton, and Carmen Electra, left for an in-season vacation to Vegas where he disappeared for four days, and would regularly stroll around the arena smashing Miller Lites after games because that’s how he got down. However, drinking and driving is bad — and drinking and driving a motorcycle is especially unwise — so this must also get a Worst distinction.

BEST: Phil Jackson, Understanding Human Being

The look at the relationship between Phil and Rodman was one of the most interesting portions of this week’s episodes. There was clearly respect and appreciation for what Rodman did from Jordan and Pippen, but Jackson had a connection with Rodman on a different level. The two bonded over their appreciation of Native American culture, and Jackson understood Rodman’s needs as a person, not just a player, better than anyone had since he played for Chuck Daly in Detroit.

Jackson was understanding enough of how Rodman was and what he needed that he allowed him to take a midseason vacation to Vegas, and when they had to go get him and bring him back after he went AWOL, his reaction was, “that’s just how it went that season.” That kind of acceptance was so big for Rodman, and he got it from Phil, Michael, Scottie, and everyone else because when it was time to play, he did everything they needed that no one else could do.

WORST: The Mayor Of Quebradillas

Shot that man in the leg.

WORST: MJ Trying To Pretend He’s Still Not Mad About Scottie’s Migraine

There are two things about this doc, one incredible and one that can be kinda frustrating (but still pretty good!), that I want to highlight. The kinda frustrating one: Michael Jordan knowing that this is a reflection of him, and as such, he can be a bit too image-conscious. That mask will sometimes slip a tiny bit, like when he was asked about the migraine Scottie Pippen had in Game 7 against the Pistons, which Chicago would go on to lose.

Now, Mike caught the mask slipping a bit, so he couldn’t quite lean all the way in. You can tell that he thinks that Scottie should have, I dunno, reached into his brain and pulled out the migraine or whatever, but he was still careful with how he addressed this. It’s something that has happened a few times in the doc, but this might be the best example of it. I wanna be clear: This is hilarious, but it’s not as funny as him going all-out.

As for number two? Well, you can probably guess…

BEST: MJ Actually Being Mad About Isiah Thomas

Oh god yes this is the primo stuff. Here is the thing about Michael Jeffrey Jordan: Despite the fact that he is among the most aware humans that have ever walked the earth, the man is a hilarious psychopath who could only achieve the highs that he has reached by being wired in a very specific way. I swear to god, this is a compliment — it has led to him being considered the greatest basketball player of all-time and a billionaire behind an empire that has his name and silhouette on it. You cannot achieve this by being normal.

Part of the reason this documentary was so highly-anticipated was that everyone thought Jordan would give us the kind of ridiculously bitter stuff that only he is capable of still caring about after so many years, championships, and direct deposits worth more than my car and apartment combined and multiplied. That largely has not happened through the first three chapters — he’s gotten close, but he has not quite gone all the way in. However, at no point prior was he talking about Isiah Thomas. To Michael!

The hatred that Jordan still has for the Bad Boys Pistons still exists, which makes sense, because they beat the hell out of him physically and mentally. Jordan reigned his emotions in, for the most part, while discussing them in here, but this was a glimpse into the ruthlessly bitter MJ that became an icon. It’s unsurprising it involved Thomas — they have some history! — but god, I am glad we got to see it. Best moment of the doc. It deserves a Pulitzer.

WORST: This Shirt

Maybe the best argument for Michael Jordan in the GOAT debate is that he was so good at basketball and looked so cool playing it that it didn’t matter that he wore shirts made from your grandmother’s couch, he still was an international icon of cool and launched the most legendary athlete sneaker and apparel line of all time.

BEST: “Straight Up Bitches”

It’s incredible the amount of disdain the members of those Bulls teams have for the Pistons. They hate them. Like, really, truly, hate them. Bill addressed this in the MJ-Isiah section, but it’s not just Mike. Horace Grant was asked about the walk-off incident, and delivered one of the lines of the episode.

BEST: Dancing Jerry Krause

This documentary is not kind to Jerry Krause, but seeing him this happy and dancing with Scottie Pippen was a nice moment.

BEST: Ragging On Scott Burrell

Look, bullying is bad, but this is objectively hilarious. Jordan, noted person who regularly spent late nights out drinking and gambling, just airing all of Scott Burrell’s laundry to the documentary crew while Burrell pleads that his parents and family would be watching this. That only prompts Jordan to say, “Mom, Dad, he’s an alcoholic,” to Burrell’s dismay.

WORST: Jerry Krause

Oh, Jerry. My man just could not get out of his own way. The end of Episode 4 takes us to an early February game against Utah, their top competition in the league, and prior to the game Krause decides to double down on his “Phil’s not coming back” stance by trying to put pressure on Jordan to come back with a different coach. Jordan continues to insist he won’t do that and that if Phil leaves, he leaves, which leads to further speculation that it may be Mike’s last year and creates only more internal turmoil for the Bulls to deal with.