NBA

The Last Chance? Stories left untold by Michael Jordan

I have to say, as a child of the 80’s and 90’s I loved He-Man, Gi-Joe and all things Michael Jordan.  The Last Dance has come and gone and I loved every minute of it.  I’ve said this on our Podcast as well (which I urge to you to like, review, follow and subscribe to), being able to watch this with my Wife who is a good deal younger than I am has allowed me to share some of the memories from my youth that she otherwise wouldn’t have understood. It was a cool experience and helped us have a good time during the most uncertain time in our lives.

The show was great entertainment. It was not, however, what I would call a documentary as it has often been billed. Michael Jordan was given final say on everything we saw in this series.  To his credit, according to director Jason Hehir nothing that his Airness asked to have removed from the series.  However, given that it is an authorized biography of the ‘97-’98 season there may have been questions that went unasked and interviews that were not conducted knowing that MJ would not have consented to.

Here is a list of items that I felt were either poorly represented or completely left out of the Last Dance:

Carmen Electra: There can never be too much Carmen Electra. That is all.

Scottie Pippen: Calling Scottie Pippen Robin to MJ’s Batman is as diminutive as saying that Tonic is Robin to Gin.  Firstly, Scottie Pippen is largely regarded as one of the top 50 players of all-time.  However, the story that was bizarrely missing (while referenced) was during the 1997 finals where, shortly after Jordan made a bad decision and fouled Karl Malone late in the game.  Karl Malone was walking over to the free throw line and Scottie Pippen peered over and said “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays”.  Karl Malone, who was nicknamed the mailman then proceeded to brick two free throws and the Bulls went on to win a game that would have otherwise given the Jazz a 2-0 series lead heading into Chicago.  Pippen was a guy who rarely trash talked but he clearly got in Malone’s head in a key moment that helped swing the series toward the Bulls favor.

Scottie Pippen was oddly treated as sensitive and soft throughout this series.  He sat out most of a regular season due to an injury that he didn’t get treated so as to not “fuck up his summer”.  This is more commonplace than people know in the NBA. A lot of players opt for surgeries in season as the teams will likely make the playoffs anyway. Sitting out the regular season probably gave the Bulls a fresher 33 than they would have otherwise had. He was also seen as emotional about his contract and sitting out during the famous Kukoc shot.  These are things where a lot of people would like to pretend they wouldn’t have an ego about but in reality those reactions were absolutely proportional. 

Scottie Pippen has since come out and said that he’s disappointed with how he was portrayed in The Last Dance.  I hope that this means we will get to hear more of Scottie’s actual thoughts moving forward than the company line he’s been sporting for years.  Those in the know will tell you what Scottie says when the cameras are off is very different than Pippen in the limelight.

Willow Bay seems to hate Dennis Rodman: At one point during the final episode, former NBA Inside Stuff analyst Willow Bay says, “Dennis’ distractions began to outweigh his contributions”. I had to pause the TV and rewind because I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounds during that season (averaged a full 2.6 more rebounds than runner-up Jayson Williams of the then New Jersey Nets).  He was still a lockdown defender who was tasked with shutting down that season’s MVP Karl Malone.  Rodman was never a gifted scorer but what he brought to the game was hugely important for how the game was played at that time.

The Bulls were a super team: I love hearing sports fans complain about how the Heat or the Warriors recent teams ruined the NBA by building super teams.  I’ve even heard ex-Celtics players like Kevin Garnett and Sam Perkins complain about this.  It appears as though people’s memories are shorter than ever. The 80s Celtics that we saw in the early episodes of the Netflix/ESPN collaboration had Hall of Famer Bill Walton COMING OFF THE BENCH! The NBA has always had super teams.  It is a collaborative game where starters play nearly every minute in the playoffs.  Having Pippen and Jordan on the same team was always OP. Later on the team added Rodman and Toni Kukoc who is never thought of as being as talented as he was.  The Bulls also had shooters in Jon Paxson and eventually Steve Kerr who allowed Jordan’s drive and kick style to really punish teams that flooded the paint.

Jordan’s talent was far more important than his will to win: Pro athletes are competitive.  You cannot reach that level of excellence without being innate competitive.  I’ve heard Jalen Rose talk about the series between the Pacers and the Bulls that was covered in The Last Dance.  He said he was certain that they would beat the Bulls.  I’ve since heard former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy talk about how Udonis Haslem is as competitive as MJ (if you know anything about UD you’d agree).  The difference is simply that Michael Jordan was more talented than whoever was on the court around him.  The mythologizing is cute but it never comes to pass if Jordan wasn’t as physically gifted as he was.

Where was Jordan’s family?: It seems clear to me that in the initial cuts of the series Jordan’s family was to be excluded completely.  I know that Jason Hehir (his Hehirness if you will…) was cutting the later episodes as they were already airing the early offerings of this series.  The interview footage with Jordan’s kids seemed to have been shoehorned into the last episode as Twitter began to ask the same rhetorical question I posited ahead of this paragraph.  Moreover, Jordan’s first wife Juanita was not included in this 10 part series.  In ten hours we did not get his ex-wife’s thoughts on Jordan during that time, how she felt about his gambling becoming public or any other topic covered in The Last Dance.  The omission seems glaring.

Where was Lebron?: This is one that is probably easily answered by imaging how uncomfortable the interview would have been.  To Lebron’s credit, he didn’t call himself “The Chosen One”, Sports Illustrated did. The decision wasn’t his idea, it was ESPN’s (he actually used the opportunity to raise a lot of money).  Still, due to their on the court prowess, the two will inexorably be linked. I would have liked to see how LBJ would have handled being interviewed about Michael Jordan in this context and see if it made Jordan laugh at his tablet (I love this technique and you can bet Hot Sauce Sports will be stealing it). I know for a fact that 106 people were asked to be interviewed for The Last Dance and NONE refused.  This means, Jason Hehir did not ask to interview Lebron for his film.  For those who say that Lebron would not have been an irrelevant interview I’d like to remind them that Kobe was interviewed (I won’t deny that I cried) and he spoke only of how that season impacted him and had little to do with the season in question.

The “republicans wear sneakers too” debate lacked nuance: It was cool to hear MJ respond to the rumor and very forthright of him to actually admit that it was true.  However, one thing that was not approached is how the media put Jordan in a strange position where if he didn’t back a politician.  The situation is more complex than what was portrayed.  Firstly, this wasn’t an official statement, it was a statement leaked to the press.  It definitely was a bad look but for those who aren’t Michael to be upset that he didn’t champion that cause means that they are comfortable taking a stand for someone and acting with that person’s private interests and businesses.  Additionally, the pressure to support minority causes is always placed on the shoulders on minority athletes. If equal rights is truly a matter of equality why don’t we ask our white sports heroes to champion those causes as well?

Jerry Reinsdorf should have been blamed for the Bulls dynasty being dismantled: I fully understand that Jerry Krause was a hateable guy. He was brash, confrontational and arrogant.  He also looked the part of the villain so completely that, Jordan seems to have had Warner Brothers animate Mr.Swackhammer (chief villain in Space Jam) in Krause’s image.  However, while everyone felt completely comfortable roasting a dude who wasn’t alive to defend himself I kept thinking: couldn’t Resindorf just step in and sign the players he needed to keep?  He stepped in and got Phil Jackson “one last dance”.  Jerry Krause looked the part of the Villain so completely that I am certain he was hired specifically to be the hated face of Bulls management.  The fact of the matter remains that if the boss wanted to keep everyone in town he would have.

Being Michael Jordan seems incredibly lonely: From the time of his Hall of Fame acceptance speech I knew that MJ was quite petty.  I didn’t realize the reasons he held all those grudges were as flimsy as the reasons people got tapes in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.  It seems odd that someone that was as spectacular as Michael Jordan felt the need to alienate so many people.  One of the most recent examples is how MJ is no longer friendly with Charles Barkley because of criticisms Barkley has had (as a media pundit) of Michael Jordan’s handling of the Hornet’s roster as a team owner.  

The feeling I got from having watched the series was that there weren’t many people who Mike could call friends.  He has been fiercely loyal to some who worked closest with him.  He did seem to have fueds of varying degrees of many contemporaries and former teammates.  Horace Grant has taken to twitter in order to challenge Jordan to a fight since the conclusion of the Last Dance.  Most of the people he considered close are often referred to in the past tense. We watched the red-eyed basketball hero tell stories and over the course of passing hours they seemed as harrowing and cavernous as the enormous living room in which he sat perched.  A sense of solitude now a stark contrast from when a world proclaimed: “I want to be like Mike!”  

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