Here are five takeaways from Episodes of 3 and 4 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary, which airs Sunday night.
Warning: Spoilers abound.
Dennis Rodman’s impact and eccentricities are explored
From his relentless rebounding style to his need to blow off steam with a team-sanctioned, 48-hour midseason vacation to Las Vegas, Rodman is presented in all his glory.
With Scottie Pippen’s controversial decision to delay foot surgery to the eve of the 1997-98 season, Michael Jordan knows he needs Rodman more than ever. Jordan details a revealing anecdote in which Rodman visits his hotel room — which Jordan said he never did — following an early-season ejection with a gesture that screams apology even though Rodman never says the words.
“And from that point on,” Jordan says in a present-day interview, “Dennis was straight as an arrow. And we started to win.”
Jordan’s legendary confidence is displayed in full force
From assuring Doug Collins that he won’t let him lose his first game as Bulls’ coach to talking smack to the three traveling beat writers just before the Game 5 victory in which he sinks the game-winning shot over Craig Ehlo, Jordan shows how he walks the talk.
In a present-day interview, Jordan unleashes some serious profanity when asked about how almost every reporter picked the Cavaliers to win their 1989 first-round playoff series. The victory marked the first of the Bulls’ rise to their eventual first title in 1991, which featured the difficult path through the Bad Boy-era Pistons.
“I hated them. Hate carries even to this day,” Jordan says in a present day interview of the Pistons. “They made it personal. They physically beat the s**t out of us.”
Isiah Thomas makes his case for the 1991 walk off, gladly accepting villain role
Thomas and various Pistons counterparts detail “The Jordan Rules,” their defensive principles to try to slow — or beat up — His Airness. They worked, as the Pistons stormed to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, defeating the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals both times.
But the Bulls broke through with a four-game sweep in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals, after which the Pistons walked off the floor at the Palace of Auburn Hills without shaking hands. Thomas defends the move, claiming the Pistons merely followed the lead of the Celtics when the Pistons finally ended their stranglehold on the conference.
Jordan, uh, sees it differently.
“There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a**hole,” Jordan says of Thomas in a present day interview.
Phil Jackson’s distinct teaching methods are introduced
Jackson, whose parents were both ministers, grew up embracing Native American culture by virtue of some of his childhood relationships. He brought some of these concepts, as well as those in Zen Buddhism, to the basketball court.
“I had never met a coach who was that different and genuine when it came to bringing the group together,” Steve Kerr says in a present day interview.
The practice works perhaps most effectively with Rodman, whose quirky behavior was accepted within the strong team framework established by Jackson. Their bond is detailed.
The Triangle offense gets its due
The late, legendary assistant coach Tex Winter, who was Jerry Krause’s first hire in 1985, gets a brief star turn with his offense that he watched Sam Berry run at USC in the 1940s. After enjoying free reign under Collins and leading the NBA in scoring in 1989, Jordan initially bristled at the equal opportunity offense.
“I didn’t want Bill Cartwright to have the ball with five seconds left,” Jordan says in a present day interview. “That’s not an equal opportunity offense. That’s f**king bulls**t.”
But Jordan’s growth as a leader is detailed in these episodes, and part of that process is his acceptance of the offense and increased trust in his teammates.