Another week, another two episodes in ESPN’s 10-part docuseries on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance. Episodes 5 and 6 touched on a whole bunch of stuff: The Dream Team, Jordan’s love of gambling, “Republicans buy sneakers too,” the 1992 and 1993 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant, and much, much more.
As always, head on over to With Spandex if you’d like to check out where we got the idea for the format on these recaps. And once you’re done doing that, scroll on down and dive into our recap for the latest editions of The Last Dance.
This doesn’t get a specific designation because, to be honest, I’m still not totally sure what I’m feeling after seeing the opening with Jordan and Kobe. Seeing Jordan talk about “that little Laker boy” in the East locker room was both funny and eye-opening, because while he was poking fun at Kobe’s propensity to keep shooting even while missing a lot, you could see how much Jordan respected the young All-Star enough to be willing to impart some of his wisdom upon him. Jordan made it a point to note that Kobe doesn’t wait for the game, he takes it. He took delight in putting a young Kobe in his place, but also saw the potential in him.
"That little Laker boy's gonna take everybody one-on-one."
— ESPN (@espn) May 4, 2020
Then there was the strange feeling of seeing Kobe’s interview. We’re still so close to that tragic helicopter crash that seeing Kobe talking in an interview we haven’t seen before can only be described as weird. There’s some joy seeing Kobe talk about his connection with Jordan, and him noting Mike was like his “big brother” only seemed more real and meaningful after Jordan referred to him as his “little brother” at Kobe’s memorial service. There’s also the sadness of knowing he’s gone and that his insight into the game and perspective on stories, such as the 1998 All-Star Game, are gone with him. It was a bit surreal to see Kobe in a new interview, pulling at the full range of emotions along the way, but I was glad to see how they handled it and how they brought him into this documentary.
BEST: Mrs. Jordan For Giving Us Air Jordans
Michael Jordan had no interest in signing a sneaker deal with Nike. He, instead, wanted to come to terms on a deal with adidas, which did not come through because the three stripes didn’t offer him the sort of deal his people wanted.
As such, Jordan’s parents insisted on him making a trip to Nike’s campus. Jordan agreed to a deal with Nike. To say the least, it ended up being a good one, as evidenced by what I have in my sneaker closet and I assume you have in yours, too. Thank you, Mrs. Jordan. Now if you can only convince your son to have Nike drop all of the shoes I like on SNKRS, and then convince him again to make sure I win every raffle, I would appreciate that.
The woman who changed sneaker history forever by forcing her son to take a meeting with Nike pic.twitter.com/KmXDupnhoG
— Aaron Dodson (@aardodson) May 4, 2020
WORST: Michael Jordan, Brought To You By Michael Jordan™
One thing that episode five really leaned into was Michael Jordan as a brand. It was something that did need to happen at some point — the dude put his silhouette on a company and became a billionaire off of it — but it just felt like all the Nike stuff in this episode was done to prop up the brand and not tell a super interesting story about Jordan and Nike. It gets into the cultural significance of the shoes by getting Nas and Justin Timberlake to go “man, those sneakers were cool” and showing some of the stuff Spike Lee did to promote them, but this did kind of feel like a missed opportunity to really tell an in-depth story.
BEST: Mike Willingly Hurting His Feet To Dunk On The Knicks One Last Time
— ESPN (@espn) May 4, 2020
Mike wore the sneakers I want more than any other pair of sneakers — Jordan 1 Chicago — for his final game at Madison Square Garden. It led to his feet bleeding, because they were not the right size, and he said he could not get them off fast enough after the game. Of course, with shoes that were not big enough and caused his socks to be soaked with blood, Jordan went for 42 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals in a win, because sure, why not?
WORST: Being A Player Michael Jordan Heard Jerry Krause Say He Liked
Man, Mike hated Jerry Krause. Like, a lot. Poor Toni Kukoc and Dan Majerle just simply existed as basketball players and happened to have caught the eye of Krause, and that was enough for Jordan to want to destroy them. The Kukoc story is well known, as Jordan and Scottie Pippen were upset at the courting of Kukoc by Krause leading up to those Olympics and decided to prove he wasn’t that good. I was glad to see this documentary include that Kukoc bounced back for a good game in the gold medal game, because that is often forgotten.
Then, in the 1993 NBA Finals, Jordan decided he needed to “attack” Majerle because he knew Krause liked him and wanted to prove he wasn’t close to the same level as him. Remember, this wasn’t because Thunder Dan was talking reckless on Mike’s name or anything. No, he just was liked by the GM of the Chicago Bulls and that was enough to end up at the top of Jordan’s sh*t list.
It wasn’t just if Krause liked you, but god forbid the media possibly compare a player to Jordan either, as he took “offense” to people putting Clyde Drexler on the same level as him going into the 1992 Finals. This led Jordan to, once again, try and prove in the Finals that “it wasn’t close” and dominate in a way that would separate them. In a shocking turn of events, Michael Jordan was a psychotic competitor. Who would’ve known?
BEST: Dunking On Krause
Speaking of hating Jerry Krause, after winning their second straight NBA Finals, Krause tried to have a moment with Mike during the locker room celebration and asked Jordan, “Can I get a cigar?”
Even in the thralls of celebration, Jordan had time to sh*t on Krause, replying, “You can’t smoke it, it’ll stunt your growth.” He never missed a chance to make a short joke when Krause was around, and even had jokes when the man wasn’t even around. While pitching quarters for $20 with security guards — which, an aside, is an incredible degenerate move — while the guards tried to finesse the terms of the bet, he hit them with a “OK Jerry Krause, negotiate with someone else.”
Find you someone that motivates you as much as Jordan was motivated to ruin Jerry Krause at every turn.
BEST: Ahmad Rashad’s Inside Stuff Shirt
1992 was the pinnacle of graphic t-shirt fashion. Look at the glory of the tie-dye Inside Stuff shirt Ahmad Rashad had on when he dared ask Michael Jordan who would take the last shot on the Dream Team if it ever came to that.
On an unrelated note, we need a 10-hour documentary on Ahmad Rashad next. That man has lived an unbelievably fascinating life and probably has more Jordan stories than anyone else. Also: We need every extremely 1992 article of clothing from this scene re-release for the good of society.
BEST: Magic Johnson And Every Dream Team Thing
For one, Magic is the greatest storyteller in the history of basketball. Magic has stories about every single thing, and the bravado he brings when he tells those stories is unparalleled. His recalling of the shrug game was a masterclass in how to take something every single person already knew about and still making it beyond compelling. How no one has convinced him to do a podcast yet is beyond me.
Magic was also, understandably, very prominently involved in the Dream Team stuff. The thing with the Dream Team is that it is literally never enough — it was such a fascinating mix of talented athletes (with an exception!) and gigantic personalities, and they were able to harness all of that into beating the brakes off of everyone they faced. NBA TV did an outstanding doc on the team, this spent a decent amount of time through the Jordan lens, and you could easily do a docuseries on every single person involved on that team and it would rock. The practice footage stuff is so good, as is the fact that everyone involved is able to look back on it and identify it as such a major event in the grand scheme of the entire squad.
Add in that the team’s cultural significance, to this day, still resonates and it legitimately might be the greatest, most fascinating squad in team sports history. That aforementioned Magic Johnson podcast idea should, first and foremost, be flooded with Dream Team stories.
WORST: Jesse Helms
The infamous “Republicans wear sneakers too” quote came after Jordan got some bad press for not appearing in a PSA for Harvey Gantt, the black mayor of Charlotte, against Helms, a longtime Republican Senator from North Carolina and an all-time bog monster. The quote came in jest, Jordan got a bunch of bad publicity from it, you know the story by now. The thing here is that Jesse Helms sucked and he does not deserve to be remembered as anything other than a piece of garbage. Thanks!
BEST: “Rosa Parks” Montage
The music selections in the documentary for various montage sequences has been arguably the best part, and I think it might’ve hit a pinnacle when they played Outkast’s “Rosa Parks” while showing Jordan’s Bulls heading to Atlanta to play in front of 62,000 people in the Georgia Dome — which, it remains hilarious the Hawks played some games in a football arena in 1998 because they tore down the Omni and hadn’t built the building formerly known as Philips Arena yet.
I am, admittedly, biased in this assessment as an Atlanta native, but you can never go wrong with Outkast and that sequence ruled.
BEST: Jerry Seinfeld
So what’s the deal with the Triangle? Why not the square? Or the Pentagon? They’re all shapes, Michael!
BEST: Security Guard Shrug Game
Ken Burns if you want to Do Good Journalism about any member of the Bulls please do a documentary on this man and his hair.
BEST: Pat Riley’s Entire Vibe
I have no idea where Pat Riley is but if the answer is “somewhere at his home,” I need to know more about where Pat Riley lives. Look at this!
His entire aesthetic is “The Sopranos, but for non-Italians.” Why does Pat Riley have bamboo stalks on his patio? Is this how he dresses when he is not wearing things that have the Heat emblem on there? Has Jimmy Butler ever visited him at wherever this is, sipping on a glass of wine while telling stories about Mark Wahlberg? Can I come over? Let me come hang out Pat Riley, I make a very good banana bread.
WORST: Burying Horace Grant
The documentary is not exactly kind to Horace Grant, who shows up in this episode twice. In a discussion of “The Jordan Rules,” Jordan is still convinced Horace was the main source for Sam Smith’s tell-all book that showed that Mike wasn’t exactly beloved in the Bulls locker room. Horace insists that’s not the case, and B.J. Armstrong notes Horace couldn’t have been the lone source, at the very least, and points to the coaching staff, ownership, and others (without naming names) as likely other sources. Jordan’s distrust for Grant, along with Jerry Reinsdorf not wanting to pay a bunch of money for him, is why Grant shows up later in the episode as a member of the Orlando Magic. The unfortunate thing is that Horace was a huge part of those first three-peat championship teams, not some bit player in a small role, and the documentary doesn’t exactly present him as such.
WORST: The Knicks
The Knicks mixed the Bad Boys Pistons aesthetic with the “we are from New York City” aesthetic, and as such, they were a pretty tough basketball team! Some members of my extended family from New Jersey, I am convinced, would die for John Starks. There was something about those Knicks — it is probably because the current team isn’t good and that team was — that just resonated with people from the area. They were dogs, and they were able to back up their loud bark with one nasty bite.
Of course, they ran into a pretty frequent problem: They had to beat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. That never happened, but they did come close, going up 2-0 in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. If Charles Smith makes a layup in Game 5 of that series, perhaps New York wins. Instead, he did not, and the Knicks came up short.
DIS MICHAEL JAWDIN DOESN’T CARE ABOUT WINNING. DERE AH HAWSES AT SARATOGA DAT CARE MAW. JAWDIN’S A BUM. A BUM, I TELL YA. HE SHOULD PLAW FAW DA METS. DA FREAKIN METS. backaftadis
(Mike Francesa is among our most important Americans. He gets a worst for the remarks he made about Jordan — which were fine, but come on, Sports Pope — but he is, generally, a best.)
BEST: Mike Drives The Bus
For the love of god, do not get between Michael Jordan and a tee time. The press kept trying to talk to Scottie Pippen despite the fact that Mike just wanted to hit the links, and when Scottie wasn’t immediately getting on the bus to go to the golf course, Jordan just got behind the wheel of the bus and started honking on the horn. He charged his teammates fare (I think this was a joke, but also, it’s Michael Jordan). We need more clips of Jordan being a goofy teammate. They’re tremendous. Also tremendous…
BEST: Jordan Golfing Footage
More. I need more footage of Michael Jordan golfing because it’s all incredible. The stuff from the first episode of him playing with Ainge is great. This episode has an extended cut of him golfing with Ron Harper and others, barking out bets and hitting into the group in front of him but saying it’s OK because “I yelled fore.” I need ESPN to post every second of Jordan golf footage they have immediately, because I cannot get enough.
BEST/WORST: Sunglasses Mike
Nothing says “innocent man without a gambling problem” more than wearing your sunglasses inside for a sit down interview about your gambling problem. At the same time, no one has ever looked cooler than Michael Jordan in sunglasses. Like, if I looked that cool I’d never take them off. It is a best for the look and a worst for the timing on unleashing this look on the world. Even Ahmad Rashad was like, c’mon man, take your sunglasses off, and Ahmad may have lived at Mike’s house at one point or another given that he was riding to games with him.
WORST: Charles Barkley Not Getting A Title And Thus Not Being Respected Enough
Charles Barkley is the most underrated superstar in basketball history. A generation of basketball fans know him as the guy on TNT who makes jokes and picks fights with assorted people in the game and prods Shaq into screaming “I HAVE MORE RINGS THAN YOU” over strange things. It’s unfortunate, because Barkley was an absolutely wonderful basketball player, something that was put on display at the end of episode six.
Even though he won the league MVP award over him, Barkley was not as good as Michael Jordan. The dude was, however, capable of throwing haymakers whenever Jordan threw one of his own — Barkley was legitimately one of the few players who mixed the talent and athleticism necessary to battle Jordan, and the crazy thing is it almost worked. While Chicago beat Phoenix, 4-2, those four losses came by a combined 18 points. They were legitimately a few bounces away from being the only team that knocked Jordan off in the Finals, with Barkley’s 27.3 points, 13 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game leading the charge.
Of course, Barkley retired without winning a championship, and he’s arguably the greatest to never get a ring. I’m glad that this episode looked at Barkley through the lens of him being an outstanding basketball player and not as a goofball who says funny stuff and likes to gamble. His ability as a basketball player deserves more praise. Also: If ESPN wants another 10-part docuseries after this, please, please, please be about Barkley.