Episode 2 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” hit on Michael Jordan’s disagreement with Bulls management late in the 1985-86 season. After Jordan returned from a broken foot, the Bulls — fighting for a playoff spot — placed him on a minutes restriction, much to his dismay.
Why did that moment in the documentary remind Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo of how tough that job can be?
“A lot of my job is to give unhappy news to players,” Rizzo said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington.
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Rizzo, a lifelong Cubs and Bulls fan who grew up 6 1/2 miles west of Wrigley Field, is watching the docuseries with as much attention as anyone.
"I often see it as kind of being the adult in the room at times, where you have to stop a player from playing or [tell] him ‘You're too hurt. In the big picture, you should go on the DL now rather than trying to gut through it,’" Rizzo said. "Or tell him, ‘For the good of yourself and the organization, we’re sending you to Triple-A.’"
One can see both sides of the Jordan situation. On one hand, Jordan knew his body, felt healthy and wanted to play. On the other hand, Jerry Krause and Co. were looking out for the second-year guard’s well-being, with his long-term health in mind.
Rizzo encountered a similar moment in 2012, his fourth season as Nationals GM. Washington made the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the National League but shut down ace Stephen Strasburg — who was on an innings limit post-Tommy John surgery — ahead of October.
The Nationals lost the NLDS to the Cardinals 3-2, and Rizzo took a lot of heat. Seven years later, the Nats won the 2019 World Series and Strasburg won Series MVP. The Bulls made the 1986 playoffs and were ousted in the first round. Seven years later, they won their second straight championship.
Krause, painted as the villain at times in the docuseries, was a big part of the Bulls' sucess, no matter if people agreed with him all the time or not.
"I think we underestimate the fact that when you look a player in the eye, a man in the eye and you’re man to man with him," Rizzo said, "they don't have to agree with what you tell them. They don't even have to like you, but they have to respect the fact that you're looking out for him and the organization. If you have that, you got everything."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.