Bill Cartwright

‘Last Dance’: Horace Grant and Bulls teammates fire back at Michael Jordan

‘Last Dance’: Horace Grant and Bulls teammates fire back at Michael Jordan

A fascinating byproduct of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” is the relitigation of events that occurred over two decades ago.

Old wounds have reopened. Old jealousies have resurfaced.

Dynasties don’t just feature winning. They feature strong personalities and plenty of testosterone.

So it shouldn’t really surprise that teammates are starting to clap back at some of Michael Jordan’s claims from throughout the 10-hour documentary.

Speaking Tuesday morning on ESPN-AM 1000’s “Kap and Co.,” Horace Grant in particular took offense to Jordan’s claim that he was the primary source for journalist Sam Smith’s seminal book “The Jordan Rules.”

“As I stated to everybody, that is a downright, outright, complete lie. Lie, lie, lie. And as I stated, if MJ has a grudge with me, let's talk about it or we can settle it another way. But yet still, he goes out and puts this lie out that I was the source,” Grant told Kaplan, who also works for NBC Sports Chicago. “Sam and I have always been great friends. We still are great friends. But the sanctity of that locker room, I would never put anything personal out there. The mere fact that Sam Smith was an investigative reporter, that he had to have two sources to write a book, why would MJ just point me out, Ok? It's only a grudge man, I'm telling you.

“During this so-called documentary, if you say something about him, he's gonna cut you off. He's gonna try to destroy your character. I mean, Charles Barkley, they've been friends for over 20, 30 years and he said something about Michael's management with the Charlotte Hornets and then they haven't spoken since then.

“My point is that he said I was the snitch but yet still after 30, 35 years, he brings up his rookie year going into one of his teammate’s rooms and seeing coke and weed and women. Why the hell did he want to bring that up? What's that got to do with anything? I mean, if you want to call somebody a snitch, that's a damn snitch right there.”

Grant also fired back at a story told by Smith during a radio appearance that Jordan told flight attendants aboard the team’s charter plane to keep the power forward from eating when he didn’t play well.

“Anybody who knows me as a rookie knows that if anybody comes up and tries to snatch my food away, I'm gonna do my best to beat their ass. And believe me, back then I could've took MJ in a heartbeat,” Grant told Kaplan. “Yes, it's true that he told the flight attendant, ‘Well, don't give him anything cause he played like crap.’ And I went right back at him. I said some choice words that I won't repeat on here. But I had some choice words and stood up. If you want it, you come and get it. And of course, he didn't move. He was just barking. But that was the story. Anybody that knows me, where I come from or what I stand for, come on man, there's nobody on this earth that would ever come and try to take food off my plate and not get their rear end beaten.”

In a roundtable presented by BetOnline.ag called “The Final Dance,” Grant went a step further.

“Let me clear something up about this food thing that he tried to take my food. Listen to me. I would’ve beat his ass, guys. It wouldn’t be no Air Jordan now,” Grant said. “It wouldn’t be no six championships, I guarantee you that.”

Bill Cartwright, Craig Hodges and Ron Harper also participated in “The Final Dance” roundtable and made light of Jordan’s reputation as a tyrannical teammate.

“MJ knew who he can talk to and knew who he had to push. He was one of those guys who made you work harder because you see how he works,” Harper told BetOnline.ag. “You ain’t gonna talk crazy to me and don’t think I’m going to talk crazy to you. He would talk to Scott Burrell and Scott wasn’t man enough to stand up for who he was. You ain’t doing that s**t with me.”

Added Cartwright: “Let’s be kind. I think that the documentary meant to be something positive. That’s what I want to be. We saw really three guys — Will Perdue, Steve Kerr, Scott Burrell. Really, that’s the only people I’ve seen. So we’ll just leave it with that. I didn’t see all that holding people accountable. I saw us, our guys. And these guys here, I promise you these guys are extraordinarily competitive. They’re not going to put up with anything. You can tell any story you want. I didn’t see it.”

Grant said the documentary didn’t show teammates challenging Jordan back.

“We were grown men out there. We were professionals,” Grant said in the roundtable discussion. “For MJ to critique our basketball, OK, well listen, I don’t think he was hard per se because the documentary didn’t show that over half the guys he got on went back at him. You know damn well that I did. He wasn’t difficult at all because if you stand up for yourself — and you’re not Will Perdue or Steve Kerr…

“I wasn’t there for the second three-peat but I know some of the guys on that team. And I know damn well if you’re gonna call Harp and a few other guys b**ches and h**s, they wasn’t gonna stand for that. I’m pretty sure they edited that out of the documentary — Harp going back at him on that.”

In fact, the players felt plenty landed on the cutting-room floor.

“I felt that it could’ve been more about what the team did and what the players done,” Harper told BetOnline.ag. “But you know I understand they gave the copyrights to MJ. So it was more like ‘Come Fly With Me, Part 2.’ But it was good.”

Said Cartwright: “We knew it was going to be really one guy’s perspective of what happened. I think everybody here would have their own perspective. It was interesting to watch. The main thing for me is being able to recognize different guys like (strength coaches) Al Vermeil (and) Erik Helland, other teammates that were out there. Just making sure that people have a clear understanding of why our team was successful. We had the best team, the best bench and at that point in time we happened to have the best player in the league. I was watching it for entertainment value mostly because I knew what happened.”

Concluded Grant: “That documentary was for MJ, to be honest.”

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Ex-Bulls recount Bill Cartwright’s speech after Scottie Pippen 1.8 second game

Ex-Bulls recount Bill Cartwright’s speech after Scottie Pippen 1.8 second game

Normally, a buzzer-beating game-winner in the midst of a contentious playoff series is cause for unbridled celebration. But after Toni Kukoc hit a turnaround 22-footer to snatch Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals from the jaws of collapse, the air in the Bulls’ postgame locker room was thick with tension.

That had less to do with the shot as it did with the events that transpired moments before it. Knotted at 102 with 1.8 seconds to play, coach Phil Jackson drew the winning play up for Kukoc instead of Scottie Pippen — a slight in the eyes of the latter. Asked to assume the role of inbounder — a decoy — on the most crucial play of the Bulls’ season to that point (they trailed 2-0 in the series), the MVP candidate’s response was simple: “I’m out.”

So, when Kukoc splashed that turnaround, it was off a pass from Pete Myers, not Pippen. He spent the final 1.8 ticks of the game on the bench. After a burst of ebullience by the team on the court, they trickled into the locker room, uncertain.

“We don’t know how to act because Scottie’s one of our favorite teammates, one of our favorite people in the world,” Kerr said of the postgame vibe. “He quit on us. We couldn’t believe that happened. It was devastating.”

In that moment, it was the sage Bill Cartwright who came forward, delivering an impassioned speech on behalf of his teammates who felt betrayed by Pippen. Though Will Perdue was left off the Bulls’ postseason roster that year due to injury, he was in the locker room to absorb Cartwright's comments. 

Here’s his account of Cartwright's raw, unfiltered and tear-filled comments, given on the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast:

“I had always known Bill as soft-hearted, but a hard-a**. He didn’t really say a lot, he talked with his eyes.That was really the first time Bill had expressed anything from an emotional standpoint. He had talked to officials with displeasure, he had talked to his opponents with displeasure, but never to his own teammates, especially having a direct conversation with Scottie in front of the whole locker room.

“And as you heard Steve (Kerr) talk about (in ‘The Last Dance’), it was one of those instances where he (Cartwright) was so angry and so frustrated, he was talking about opportunities and how we were blowing opportunities. ‘You guys don’t understand where I’ve been, what I’ve dealt with.’ He had tears rolling down his cheeks. I think it was one of those things where he wanted to grab Scottie by the neck, choke the crap out of him, throw a few body punches, throw him on the ground and tell him to straighten his a** out, but he knew he couldn’t do it. So it was almost like that anger turned into raw emotion, and the tears about what we were doing. The whole team was moved. 

“You heard everybody talk about, we came into the locker room — even though we won — we came in the locker room, it was dead silent. Phil didn’t even know what to say… But the one thing we did do is, guys rallied around him and almost won that series.

“Even though we didn’t get by the Knicks, we still made them earn it, and we were still a pretty good team that won 55 games.”

Cartwright’s rallying rant, and the emotion it was delivered with, is corroborated in “The Last Dance” by multiple teammates, including Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, John Paxson and Bill Wennington. Pippen, also with emotion, apologized in response.

“Scottie was in tears, and upset, and he realized, ‘I made a mistake,’” Wennington recalled in the documentary. “‘I thought I was bigger than the game and I’m not.' And he apologized to us.”

RELATED: Scottie Pippen: If I could do 1.8 second game over, ‘I probably wouldn’t change it’

Jackson said in "The Last Dance" that he briefly addressed the team after the incident. But in Cartwright’s eyes, his was the way the team's message should be delivered. Man to man. Player to player. Teammate to teammate.

“There’s times where the coaches don’t speak, because ultimately, look, we’re playing,” Cartwright said in a recent interview with Perdue and NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “This is our team, and our team is gonna be what we make it. Coaches are gonna teach you, they’re gonna hold you accountable, but ultimately this is us. 

“So at that point in time, I didn’t feel like Phil should be saying anything. This is on us. This is all us.”

Ultimately, Pippen bounced back. Three games later, he uncorked his legendary step-over dunk on Patrick Ewing. The Bulls went on to fall to the Knicks in seven games, but there remained three titles in Pippen’s future and a restoration of his status as a trusted leader alongside Jordan after his return.

“It (the 1.8 second game) was a learning moment in his life,” Jackson later told the New York Times before Pippen’s Hall of Fame induction in 2010. “He came back as a leader of teams for another decade.”

To this day, Pippen insists he wouldn't have done things any differently, even if given the chance.

“It’s one of those incidents where I wish it never happened,” Pippen said in “The Last Dance.” “But if I had a chance to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t change it.”

Believe him or not, there’s no changing the past. And Pippen’s features many more peaks than valleys, even if the valleys often echo the loudest.

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Scottie Pippen: If I could do 1.8 second game over, ‘I probably wouldn’t change it’

Scottie Pippen: If I could do 1.8 second game over, ‘I probably wouldn’t change it’

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” has thus far been the Michael Jordan show with occasional detours. In Episode 7, Scottie Pippen, for better or worse, got a segment in the spotlight.

The segment chronicled the Bulls’ 1993-94 season that succeeded Jordan’s first retirement to pursue a career in baseball (a topic that is also explored at length in the episode). That year, the Bulls won 55 regular season games, finished third in the Eastern Conference and were potentially poised for a deep playoff run — even without their savior.

Pippen and Toni Kukoc (even in his rookie year) led the way. The forwards' supreme skill and interchangability facilitated the Triangle offense to perfection. Steve Kerr lauded Pippen's gentle leadership style compared to Jordan's.

That prelude set the table for one of the hot button moments of Pippen’s career: the 1.8 second game. The scene was Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bulls trailed the fierce rival Knicks 2-0 and were in desperate need of a win to stay afloat in the series. A Patrick Ewing running hook tied the game 102-102 with 1.8 seconds remaining, capping a six-point Knicks comeback in just over a minute. The Bulls needed a quick play to survive.

Phil Jackson drew up that play for... Kukoc, who, it must be noted, did display a penchant for clutch late-game shots over the course of the game. Pippen refused to re-enter the contest out of protest, saying to Jackson nothing more than "I'm out."

“I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil. I was the most dangerous guy on our team. So why are you asking me to take the ball out?” present-day Pippen said in Episode 7.

The story ends with Kukoc stroking an off-balance, turnaround jumper to win the game off an inbound pass from Pete Myers, who Jackson subbed in for Pippen. The Bulls went on to lose the series in seven games.

This is a long-recycled tale, with Pippen ‘no commenting-ing’ the situation at the time and reportedly being berated by teammates after the contest. A win didn't heal those wounds immediately.

“We don’t know how to act because Scottie’s one of our favorite teammates, one of our favorite people in the world,” Kerr said of the postgame vibe. “He quit on us. We couldn’t believe that happened. It was devastating.”

“We had come too far with that team to go out like that,” Bill Cartwright, Pippen's teammate (and eventual assistant coach), said in “The Last Dance.” Cartwright delivered an impassioned, tearful speech to the team after the game, and Pippen apologized, yet still, many believed his legacy had been irrevocably impacted.

But in the documentary, Pippen admitted that if he could do it over, he probably wouldn’t. 

“It’s one of those incidents where I wish it never happened,” Pippen said. “But if I had a chance to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t change it.”

Pippen’s candor here is appreciated. There’s an argument to be made that this was a defining learning moment in his career, a turning point towards him evolving into a true leader. Take Jackson’s word for it.

“It was a learning moment in his life,” Jackson told the New York Times before Pippen’s Hall of Fame induction in 2010. “He came back as a leader of teams for another decade.”

Ultimately, the 1.8 second game will always be remembered as a smudge on Pippen’s legacy. But he did more than enough over the years to wash away most of its stain.

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