Last night, episodes one and two of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls debuted. Since we have no actual sports to talk about, we’ll be recapping the series each week in a KSR Roundtable.
I turned 13 in the summer of 1997, so my adolescence, aka prime basketball-watching years, was smack dab in the middle of the Kentucky and Bulls dynasties. In turn, I may have been aware of some of the stuff featured in this documentary (the front office drama, Michael Jordan being an asshole, etc.), but didn’t care about it because the basketball was so awesome. Here’s what stood out to me:
My first instinct is still to boo Billy Packer
Billy Packer is one of many former announcers/reporters who appeared in the first episode to talk about Jordan’s career, and all these years later, I couldn’t help but boo him; in fact, when I type his name, I automatically type “Billy Paccker” because that’s how my dad referred to him due to his ACC bias. Man, we hated him.
Pat Riley still looks like the coolest person on Earth
The former Rupp’s Runt made an appearance to talk about Jordan’s rookie season, which took place during Riley’s tenure as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“As a rookie, he wasn’t a rookie,” Riley said. “He proved right out of the gate there was no other like him.”
As a 75-year-old man, Riley isn’t a 75-year-old man. No one looks that cool wearing beige. There is no other like him.
Michael Jordan Asshole Alert: 23 minutes in
While in Paris for a preseason exhibition, Jordan refuses to sign an autograph for the person helping mic him up for a TV appearance:
I kind of get it, but come on, man.
Admit it, you laughed at Jordan’s digs at Jerry Krause
Jerry Krause’s quest to rebuild a team that was currently winning championships is baffling, and even though players and coworkers insisted Krause was the nicest person in the world, I couldn’t help but laugh at Jordan’s constant digs at his general manager.
“Phil, keep it,” Jordan said of the trophy the Bulls won in Paris. “Don’t let Jerry get it.”
“Jerry, you want to do some layups with us?” (“Yup.”) “They’ve gotta lower the rim.”
And by far the most savage of them all…
— A2D Radio (@a2dradio_com) April 20, 2020
Again, Jordan is an asshole, but…
Did you spot Dennis Rodman’s Christmas card in Phil’s office?
Episode three focuses on Dennis Rodman. Sunday can’t get here quick enough.
The Cocaine Circus.
I knew the Chicago Bulls were trash when Michael Jordan joined the organization in the summer of ’84, but I didn’t know the Chicago Bulls were “cocaine carousel” and “out-sold by minor league soccer” bad. His reaction to the question about the carousel was very telling:
MJ's laugh at the "Bulls Traveling Cocaine Circus" pic.twitter.com/RddFdN7I1J
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 20, 2020
Did anyone else go straight to the Bulls’ 84-85 roster and try to guess who dabbled in the coke side of the hotel room and who dabbled in the weed side of the hotel room? I certainly did. Those guys probably hated the no-nonsense, strictly-business Jordan.
The piling on Jerry Krause feels a little dirty without him here to defend himself.
I’m not aligning myself with the Jerry Krause side of history, but it does seem like the first two episodes were a little harsh on the former Bulls general manager who passed away in 2017. Like everyone else, I side with the players all the way because Krause broke up one of the best dynasties we’ll ever see… HOWEVER, if Pippen signed a seven-year deal before the market changed, is that Jerry’s fault? He had a job to build the best team and he got a great rate on a superstar. Signing Scottie Pippen for seven years at $18 million sounds like a job well done. Now if it were me I would’ve taken care of Pippen on down the road before it got messy, but Pippen’s salary was a Pippen problem, and that’s not to say Pippen was wrong for jumping on the money to take care of his people.
Is Michael Jordan older than his mom?
How good does Deloris Jordan look for 78 years old?
— Darren M. Haynes (@DarrenMHaynes) April 20, 2020
JORDAN-LeBRON COMPARISON TIME!
I’m not here to compare their talents. I’m here to compare the talent of their teammates. Piggybacking off Drew, Jerry Krause might have handled the end of the Bulls’ dynasty poorly, but he did a damn good job giving Jordan the pieces he needed to build a championship-caliber team. He made the difficult but necessary move to trade Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright, then leaped up in the draft to take Scottie Pippen.
Now, let’s take a look at some of LeBron James’ supporting actors during his first stint in Cleveland: Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
That team won 66 games in 2009! How?!?! No wonder LeBron took his talents to South Beach.
There are some big names interviewed for The Last Dance. In the first two episodes we are averaging one former president apiece. The best part? Neither of them were labeled as such. In the interview’s chyrons Barack Obama is described as “Former Chicago resident,” while Bill Clinton has the title, “Former Arkansas Governor.”
Director Jason Herir did not do this to throw shade because of their political affiliation. As he explained to Richard Deitsch, those chyrons were very purposeful. When looking for interview subjects to talk about the most famous team in the world, he could’ve accepted requests from just about anyone. He needed his subjects to add something to the story. Obama provided perspective from the early days of the Bulls, while Clinton saw Pippen play at Central Arkansas when he was just an NAIA player.
At least now we know some of the graphics used in documentaries aren’t from old newspapers, rather created by a designer in the editing process.
— McNeil (@Reflog_18) April 20, 2020
The (New) Greatest Rivalry in Sports
It used to be Bird vs. Magic. Then it was Bulls-Pistons. Now the best rivalry in basketball is at the broadcasting table between Bill Walton and his play-by-play partner, Dave Pasch.
Loved #TheLastDance. So many great moments. Best of all, when MJ destroyed Walton and fouled him out.
— Dave Pasch (@DavePasch) April 20, 2020
Their shtick appears to be all in good fun, although you have to wonder if Pasch sighed when he heard Walton provide knowledgeable commentary on the game in France, before he completely lost his mind.
Scottie Pippen’s life story was depressing as hell
I had heard about Pippen’s life and a few of the adversities his family had been through, but to see it all laid out alongside his basketball career was a tough to see.
Pippen, who was one of 12 children growing up in a small town in Arkansas, dealt with not one, but two family members dependent on the use of wheelchairs. In the ninth grade, his father suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed and unable to speak.
This isn’t related to the documentary or Pippen’s childhood struggles, but he also lost his brother, Jimmy, after a hard-fought battle with cancer back in November.
Pippen’s infamous seven-year, $18-million contract he signed with the Bulls in 1991 was directly correlated to his desire to provide for his family, and after seeing how it all came to fruition, it makes complete sense.
… but how did Pippen and his agent not find a way to renegotiate?
From Pippen’s perspective, I get it. When you grow up in a household facing adversity after adversity, your first instinct is to help as best you can. When the former Bulls superstar found a long-term answer for financial stability, he felt he had to do what was best for his loved ones.
On the flip side, just about everyone within the Bulls organization thought Pippen was making a mistake signing the seven-year deal. Phil Jackson said the contract was “embarrassing,” while owner Jerry Reinsdorf wasn’t far off in his analysis of the negotiation.
“I do recall it was a longer contract than I thought was smart with him,” Reinsdorf said in the documentary. “I said to Scottie the same thing I said to Michael: ‘If I were you I wouldn’t be signing this deal. You could be selling yourself short. It’s too long of a deal.’”
The 6-foot-8 forward would become arguably the second-best player in the league, but was still the sixth-highest paid player on the team and 122nd in the league. In today’s world, a player can voice his displeasure with the organization and easily turn that into a contract extension, renegotiation, or trade that would lead to the desired salary elsewhere. For Pippen, he was never able to overcome Reinsdorf’s strict “no renegotiation” policy, playing all seven years on his abysmal contract.
Pippen ultimately signed a five-year, $67 million contract as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Houston Rockets before being traded once again to the Portland Trailblazers. He would end up making roughly $108 million in career earnings. He’s not hurting for money in the slightest, as his wife posted on Twitter after the documentary went public.
— Larsa Pippen (@larsapippen) April 20, 2020
Still crazy that the two sides couldn’t come together earlier and come up with a well-deserved raise before things went south.
ESPN’s uncensored broadcast was a nice touch
As ESPN warned fans on social media leading up to the official release of “The Last Dance,” there were a few f-bombs thrown around by Jordan and Pippen on the live broadcast, a nice addition to the documentary.
While it wasn’t much in the debut episodes – I only caught a handful of curse words thrown by Jordan and Pippen – it was still interesting to see those involved with the program let loose a little bit. The latest previews for next week’s show indicate things might spice up a little bit, especially with Dennis Rodman and the telling of his story, but the entertainment value should only improve with an unfiltered cast.
For the little ones wanting to watch or those simply looking for a clean product, they provided just that on ESPN2, and will continue to do so in coming weeks. But after the first night of episodes, it’s evident the uncensored broadcast was a great decision on ESPN’s part.
Let’s run it back next Sunday.