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Takeaways from ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’

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Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls guarded by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. AFP PHOTO/Vince BUCCI (Photo by VINCE BUCCI / AFP)

ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance,’ a 10-part documentary series about the 1998 Chicago Bulls didn’t disappoint. We share what we learned and how our bets went.

‘The Last Dance’ provided an unprecedented, intimate look at a team for the ages. It had many great stories, quotes and never-before-seen footage from unforgettable people close to the Chicago Bulls and NBA personalities. It shed some light on what went down in that incredible era.

Scottie Pippen’s Horrendous Contract

Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause wasn’t cast in a great light but owner Jerry Reinsdorf is another villain behind this dynasty.

Surprisingly, Reinsdorf isn’t the only one to blame for Scottie Pippen’s horrible seven-year, $18 million contract.

The Bulls’ front office refused to renegotiate Pippen’s contract over the years but many advised him against signing such a long deal. Reinsdorf himself warned him. Pippen preferred long-term security over a bigger short-term payday

Why? First, his family came up poor. This made financial security paramount to Pippen. He also felt like the risk of an injury taking everything away was too much of a gamble.

Pippen wanted that financial security for his family. His father was in a wheelchair and bedridden for the rest of his life because of a stroke and his brother was paralyzed while wrestling in high school. Being able to provide for his family drove Pippen. The $18 million was an amount of money that nobody in his family had ever even dreamt of having.

Dennis Rodman’s Las Vegas Trip

The Bulls, especially head coach Phil Jackson, always knew how to get the most out of Dennis Rodman. Jackson allowed Rodman to be himself on and off the court and it paid dividends.

“Dennis was bizarre, but I think what made it work was Phil and Michael’s understanding that to get the most out of him on the court, you had to give him some rope,” Steve Kerr said. “And they gave him a lot of rope.”

The best example of this was during the 1997-98 season. Back then, Scottie Pippen finally returned to action after missing the first 35 games with a left foot injury and Rodman wanted to take some time to clear his head after playing a vital role keeping the team together in Pippen’s absence.

A five-time NBA champion, Rodman was one of the keys to victory for the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” teams that also had Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn on the roster. Rodman was also crucial in the second three-peat of the Bulls with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and head coach Phil Jackson.

How did Phil Jackson got Dennis Rodman to buy into his philosophy?

“Phil Jackson was a master of managing personalities,” forward Jason Caffey recently told Heavy.com’s Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson via text message. “He controlled Dennis by not attempting to control him. Read that twice!”

MJ and Kobe

“I truly hate having discussions about who would win one-on-one. You heard fans saying, ‘Hey Kobe, you’d beat Michael one-on-one’ and I feel like, yo, what you get from me is from him. I don’t get five championships here without him. ‘Cause he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.” – Kobe Bryant (‘The Last Dance’ Episode 5)

Episode 5 of ‘The Last Dance’ was dedicated to Kobe Bryant. It begins with Michael Jordan’s final NBA All-Star Game with the Bulls, which was also Kobe’s first.

Emotions were flowing through many because Kobe appeared on the screen. He recorded his interview for the documentary shortly before his tragic death in a helicopter accident on January 26th in Calabasas, California.

The episode showed viewers what transpired in the Eastern Conference locker room, with some of the best players of the 90s speaking highly about Kobe Bryant, including Michael Jordan himself.

The highlight of the episode was when Kobe Bryant recognized that everything about his game came from MJ and that there’s no Kobe without Michael Jordan.

Kobe Bryant is often said to be this generation’s Michael Jordan. Kobe admired Jordan, who became like a big brother to him and he followed his example. It helped Kobe win five NBA Championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards and one regular season MVP award.

Jordan’s Redemption in 1995-96 Season

In 1995 when Michael Jordan returned to basketball in mid-March, just a few weeks were left in the regular season. MJ had been away from the NBA for 21 months and his body was made for baseball. Also, his conditioning wasn’t adequate.

The Bulls went against a young, talented Magic team in the second round of the playoffs and they lost the series in six games. Jordan had two costly turnovers in the final minutes of Game 1. Seeing the Bulls struggle to close a game was unusual.

“Being away from the game that long and just how much the body had changed, I was very unsure that he could perform at the level that he’s accustomed to performing on a regular basis,” Tim Grover, Michael Jordan’s trainer, explained.

Michael Jordan would dedicate the entire summer to prove that he was still the best player in the league.

“I honestly think one of the best things that could’ve possibly happened, as much as everyone hates losing, is that we lost to Orlando,” Bill Wennington said. “Because Michael came back with a vengeance.”

The Jordan Dome

Jordan told Grover to help him get his body ready for the next season. MJ had no days off, he was filming Space Jam over the summer and still did weight training and pickup games at a Warner Brothers Studio facility they built for him. Known as the Jordan Dome, it helped the Bulls legend get ready to be the best version of himself.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Reggie Miller said in episode 8 of ‘The Last Dance’. “I don’t know how he filmed all day and then had the energy to play three hours. We would play until 9 or 10 at night, and he’d still have to get weightlifting in, and then his call time was at like 6 or 7 in the morning, so I don’t know how. This dude was like a vampire.”

The results? A 72-win season, a sweep of the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals and a fourth NBA Championship after beating the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals.

The True Story Behind “The Flu Game”

“I ate the pizza, all by myself. No one else eats the pizza.” – Michael Jordan (‘The Last Dance’ Episode 9)

“The Flu Game” is a big part of Michael Jordan’s legacy. That epic performance in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals embodies his indomitable will to win at all costs. MJ was barely able to stand but he still rose to the occasion and finished with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and one block. He also hit a 3-pointer with less than a minute left, securing the 90-88 win.

Many thought that his flu was a wicked hangover but ‘The Last Dance’ revealed that it was a suspicious pizza delivery. According to Tim Grover, the night before the game five guys showed up in the hallway outside Jordan’s hotel room to deliver a pizza, which turned out to be poisoned.

Recap of Our Bets

We made two bets on ‘The Last Dance.’ One was Scottie Pippen at +350 at BetOnline to be the first person to be shown other than Michael Jordan, which we cashed and ‘The Last Dance’ to win an Emmy Award at +300 at BetOnline.

I don’t say this as Bulls fan, people will talk about this documentary series for years. It is a compelling watch that should win an Emmy Award.