Bulls

‘Last Dance’: Michael Jordan wanted to return for run at seventh title

‘Last Dance’: Michael Jordan wanted to return for run at seventh title

“The Last Dance” ended with scenes of triumph. And a plot twist.

“That night,” Phil Jackson said of the aftermath of the Bulls’ sixth championship at the close of Episode 10, “Jerry Reinsdorf called me up and asked me to come back.”

Reinsdorf corroborated.

“After the sixth championship, I offered him (Jackson) the opportunity to come back. He earned the opportunity to come back, regardless of what was said before,” the Bulls owner said in a present-day interview.

It’s a gripping zag, given, well, the title of the series. “The Last Dance.” From the very outset of the documentary, the premise was established and cemented that no circumstances could have spurred this Bulls team to staying together after the summer of 1998. Title or no.

Jerry Krause is portrayed as the primary purveyor of that sentiment. After all, he had his next coach in Tim Floyd waiting in the wings. He is the one who reportedly delivered the quote that if Jackson went 82-0, he still wouldn’t bring him back. Throughout the Bulls’ dynastic run, Krause repeatedly drew the ire of the team’s two best players in Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. That manifested in malicious chides at practice, outbursts on the team bus, targeted performances at opposing players (see: Toni Kukoc, Dan Majerle) and more.

In an excerpt from his unpublished memoir, Krause explained his side of the dynasty splintering — a case of “natural attrition” in his words, a brutal blend of aging stars, soon-to-be overpriced role players and stringent salary cap. Watching how arduous the Bulls’ sixth title was to achieve lends credence to that perspective.  

That set the stage for the final iPad pass of the series, and perhaps the most tense one. Minutes before the documentary’s conclusion, director Jason Hehir brandished a screen in front of Jordan’s face, promising it to project Reinsdorf’s reasoning behind the breakup.

“I can’t wait to hear this. We’ve never had any dialogue about why,” Jordan said. “I made my own assumptions.”

Here’s Reinsdorf’s response, in full. It echoes key points of Krause’s reasoning, including the idea that Jackson had explicitly conveyed he didn’t want to coach a rebuilding team.

“After the sixth championship things were beyond our control. It would’ve been suicidal at that point in their careers to bring back Pippen, Steve Kerr, Rodman, Ron Harper… Their market value individually was going to be too high. They weren’t gonna be worth the money they were going to get in the market. 

“So when we realized we were going to have to go into a rebuild, I went to Phil and offered him the opportunity to come back the next year. But he said, ‘I don’t want to go through a rebuild. I don’t want to coach a bad team.’ That was the end. It just came to an end on its own. If Michael had been healthy and wanted to come back, I don’t doubt that Krause could’ve rebuilt another championship team in a couple of years but it wasn’t going to happen instantly.”

Jackson’s famous seven-year theorem had already expired by the time the Bulls won their sixth title. By then, he’d coached nine seasons in Chicago. In the documentary he said he thought it was time to “take a break.” Plus: “I said, 'I don’t think it’s fair to Jerry (Krause),'” Jackson said, “and I know it’d be difficult for him to accept that.”

Still, Jordan met Reinsdorf’s explanation with healthy and apparent skepticism. It was written across his face in the form of an incredulous eyebrow raise as Reinsdorf spoke. He put it into words once the video stopped.

“In ’98, Krause already said at the beginning of the season Phil could go 82-0 and he was never going to be the coach. So when Phil said it was the last dance, it was the last dance,” Jordan said. “We knew they weren’t going to keep the team together. They could’ve nixed all of it at the beginning of ’98. Why say that statement at the beginning of ’98? 

“If you ask all the guys that won in ’98, Steve Kerr, Jed Buechler… We give you a one-year contract to try for a seventh, you think they would’ve signed it? Yes, they would have signed for one year. Would I have signed it? Yes, I would have signed for one year. I had been signing one-year contracts up to that. Would Phil have done it? Yes. Now Pip, you would’ve had to do some convincing. But if Phil was gonna be there, Dennis was gonna be there and MJ was gonna be there to win our seventh, Pip is not going to miss out on that.”

Indeed, Pippen might have been the most difficult to convince. To that point in his career (11 years in), he had earned $22,275,000. His sign-and-trade to Houston after the 1998 season earned him roughly $77 million over his next five seasons. Jackson, for his part, took his much-needed season off before returning to the bench with the Los Angeles Lakers. As Krause writes, the ancillary cogs in the Bulls’ machine moved on, but nary many reached the individual heights they achieved in Chicago again. 

And crucially, despite Jordan saying in an earlier episode that he didn’t want to be a player that had to be carried off the court at the end of his career, he called it “maddening” to have walked away from the game on top, and at, what he believes, was the peak of his physical and mental powers. This wasn’t 1993. He wasn’t done. He wanted to come back. And he believes the whole gang would have wanted to, as well, if presented the opportunity.

“I felt like we could have won seven. I really believed that,” Jordan said. “We may not have, but man, not to be able to try, that’s just something I can’t accept for whatever reason I just can’t accept it.”

It’s hard not to believe him. Or at least yearn for what could have been.

That inability to accept what is as quixotic a storybook ending as you could script is truly at the heart of the entire story of “The Last Dance.” Every mini-flame ignited in Jordan’s eyes upon mention of a past foe. Every tale spun, memory recalled and what-if pontificated. All of them brought him closer to the days he clearly longs for, but can never get back. 

His insatiability is what made him the greatest basketball player of all time. Still, it drives him.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: NBA, NHL seem close to return, MLB lurks in distance

Laurence Holmes, David Haugh and Jay Cohen join Kap on a Memorial Day edition of SportsTalk Live.

0:00 - It looks like we’re getting closer to the return of team sports. The NBA is in talks to resume its season at Disney World, while the NHLPA approved a 24-team playoff format.

5:00 - MLB and the players continue to negotiate their restart plan.

13:00 - Sam Smith tells a San Francisco radio station the Michael Jordan lied in “The Last Dance” when he said he would have considered returning.

20:00 - The guys share their favorite non-title clinching moments in Chicago sports history.

Listen here or below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

So you’re sitting around Sunday night, missing “The Last Dance.” We get it, we wish it was still on too.

To help us all get through this first week without it, we’ve compiled some of our favorite “Last Dance” stories so that we can remember the good times together.

Whether it’s your first time seeing some of these, or just a fun look back, we hope you enjoy.

Recounting the best quotes from “The Last Dance”

We’ve got Jordan, we’ve got Kobe Bryant, we’ve got Dennis Rodman-- and yes we’ve even got some Carmen Electra for you.

Michael Jordan jamming to different songs takes over Twitter

If there was one thing more fun than simply watching “The Last Dance,” it was talking with your friends and family about “The Last Dance.” Some of the after-show interviews with athletes, coaches and pundits added incredible insight. And sometimes a memelord would create something so fun that you couldn’t help but watch and laugh. This is one of those latter moments.

Rod Thorn: Michael Jordan didn’t ask for Isiah Thomas to be left off Dream Team

One of the biggest beefs in basketball has a light shined on it. But after all this time, there are still conflicting reports as to what happened back in 1992.

Did Utah pizza give Michael Jordan food poisoning and was it intentional?

The “flu game” is one of the most iconic performances in Michael Jordan’s career, but now we’ve learned it wasn’t the “flu game” at all! Certainly one of the most intriguing new wrinkles out of all the details we learned across the series.

Scottie Pippen on Jerry Krause: ‘The greatest general manager in the game’

The beef between Pippen and Krause was well documented, especially early in the series. But by the end even Pippen had to give it up for Krause.

Why Scott Burrell appreciated Michael Jordan's harsh leadership style

Arguably the most emotional moment we saw during Jordan’s interviews was when he described his leadership style with his teammates. It’s clear Jordan pushed the Bulls very hard, and it’s easy to see how it could rub some people the wrong way. But not Scott Burrell.

How Bulls helped Scottie Pippen earn millions more on way out of Chicago

After one early episode of “The Last Dance,” many people on social media were incredulous that Pippen’s long-term contract was never renegotiated considering his important contributions to the team. However our K.C. Johnson set the record straight for how the Bulls made things right with Pippen when he was on his way out of town.

Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

To finish this post off, we’re going back to K.C. Johnson who tells us why the 1998 title would’ve been the last for the Bulls dynasty, no matter if Jordan, Jackson and co. returned, or not.

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