The Last Dance

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The next 'The Last Dance'? Five sports stories we want to see

The next 'The Last Dance'? Five sports stories we want to see

It’s been just under a fortnight since sports fans joined together to relive the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls era of the 90s through ESPN's 'The Last Dance' documentary.

Through unprecedented access viewers were treated to an exclusive look at the Chicago Bulls' final NBA championship during the 1997-98 season.

So many memories were brought to the surface while many other unknown revelations left us all in awe. And like you, I couldn’t help but imagine some of the other sports stories I would love to receive the same treatment.

With that thought in mind, I present to you five of the best candidates for your consideration for their own #LastDance:

5. “The Dub” - The Birth of the WNBA

There was something major missing from professional sports 24 years ago: omen. As a remedy, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern took the most significant step for women’s professional basketball by founding the WNBA and providing a counterpart to the NBA platform to showcase the best basketball talent women’s sports has to offer. Led by players like Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, and Sheryl Swoopes, the WNBA declared “We Got Next”, and has since gone on to deliver on that promise.

4. “Carolina Blues” - Duke vs North Carolina (Men's Basketball)

It’s impossible to tell the story of basketball, college basketball in particular, without mentioning the entire state of North Carolina; the Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tar Heels most notably. Only 10 miles separate the two programs that have combined for 11 national championships and produced countless NBA players. It’s not enough to ask why so many players attend these institutions. That’s easy. What really needs to be explored is how deep the rivalry between these two schools goes and how can they coexist while remaining in such close proximity. With so much competitive fire in a state with a population of 10.5 million, it’s inevitable that from time to time someone has to sing the blues while their rival hoists another trophy.

3. “Game. Set. Goat.” - The Legend of Serena Williams

Name another athlete as dominant as Serena Williams; especially within the game of tennis. Williams' accolades include 73 Singles Titles, seven Wimbledon Titles, Olympic Gold Medalist several times over, and that’s not even scratching the surface. From the courts of Compton, CA, all the way to the clay of the Australia Open, Serena has provided greatness at a level few have experienced, many have attempted, and all have witnessed. She’s in a class all to herself and yet has always maintained a never-ending fervor for athletic excellence; even against intermittently insurmountable odds. Regardless of the obstacles, she has persevered to this day to still be considered the GOAT. Period.

2. “The Patriot Way” - One Franchise; Six Rings

Winning and controversy go hand-in-hand. That’s to be expected; especially in sports. However, both of them have been at a fever pitch for the New England Patriots for almost two decades since their first Super Bowl Championship in 2001. When fate combines one of the greatest coaching minds ever with one of the most competitive athletes ever, it’s no mystery that their greatness yields some rather bewildering results, even if it means bending the rules from time to time. There’s no mistaking the fruits of their labor, but there’s also nothing wrong with peeking behind the curtain to get an intimate understanding of how things got done the Patriot Way!

1. “Diesel & The Mamba” - The End of the Shaq & Kobe Lakers 

On the road to three consecutive NBA titles in the early 2000s, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal entertained us with the most dominant basketball performance since MJ’s Bulls of the 90s. We knew they were great. We knew they had the great Phil Jackson as their coach. We knew they were having fun being young, rich and successful in Los Angeles. What we didn’t know is why these two all-time great players couldn’t keep their relationship intact long enough to possibly challenge, if not supplant, the aforementioned Chicago Bulls as the greatest dynasty in NBA history. If only…

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5 NBA players from the 90s who would be much better if they played today

5 NBA players from the 90s who would be much better if they played today

With everyone getting nostalgic for throwback hoops these days, here's a look at five 1990s players who would be better fits for today's NBA than the were in the era they played in...

Glen Rice, SF

Rice wasn't so underrated that he didn't make All-Star teams or even All-NBA. He made a few of those and was even a household name for many fans given his college career and the NBA markets he played in. But looking back at his numbers, it seems like he should have received a lot more credit for being a star.

Rice had some years he didn't make the All-Star team that make you scratch your head, like in 1994-95 when he averaged 22.3 points and shot 41 percent from three. At his peak, he was averaging nearly 27 points and shooting a ridiculous 47 percent from long range. Despite being such a great shooter, he only averaged 3.9 three-point attempts per game for his career. If he played today, he would have had the green light to attempt many more.

Dale Ellis, SG/SF

Ellis made All-NBA and the All-Star team once, but that doesn't seem like enough. From the 1986-87 season through 1998-99, so 13 years, he averaged 17.9 points per game while shooting 40.6 percent from three (4.0 attempts) with a 54.2 effective field goal percentage.

Ellis didn't fill up the box score in many other categories, but the efficiency suggests he would have been relied on a lot more in today's game. He was regularly among the NBA leaders in eFG%, he just didn't get the credit for it he would if he played now.

Walt Williams, SF

'The Wizard' was a three-point specialist for a long time in the NBA, but back then it was easy to be boxed in by that role. If Williams played now, some team would likely unlock his range to turn him potentially into an All-Star. Williams was 6-foot-8 and in 1996-97 hit 40 percent from three on 6.0 attempts per game.

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While Williams sometimes fell into the category of 'tweener,' nowadays he would be an ideal fit as sort of a positionless sharpshooter. And given he shot 39.9 percent from three in his last three seasons, maybe he would have played past the age of 32.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, PG

Those who didn't watch Abdul-Rauf, who was formerly known as Chris Jackson, play perhaps know him from when Phil Jackson drew a comparison between him and Stephen Curry. Abdul-Rauf had plenty of acclaim in college and early in his NBA career, but it seems like he would have had more success in the pro ranks now because players like him are more commonplace.

Abdul-Rauf was undersized, but made up for it with his range and at his peak shot just south of 40 percent from three. Though Curry is much better, he along with Trae Young and others are disciples of Abdul-Rauf. Abdul-Rauf also likely would have been given more leeway nowadays for the political stances he took as a player.

Toni Kukoc, SF/PF

On one hand, more people probably know who Kukoc is than the average player of his caliber from the 1990s era simply because he played on three title teams with the Bulls. But Kukoc is viewed as a good role player and not a star. If he played now in the right situation, he could have made a much larger impact and probably made a few All-Star teams.

In his prime, he regularly held an eFG% over 50 and filled up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. The 1998-99 season, the first after Michael Jordan's second retirement, is a good example. Kukoc averaged 18.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals. At 6-foot-10, he had some unicorn tendencies before they were popular.

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What happened when Michael Jordan, Wizards played against his Bulls teammates from 'The Last Dance'

What happened when Michael Jordan, Wizards played against his Bulls teammates from 'The Last Dance'

ESPN's “The Last Dance” documentary did a great job detailing the final year of the Chicago Bulls' dynasty of the ‘90s, through the lens of Michael Jordan. Though Jordan was still playing at an all-time level, leading the Bulls to a sixth championship in the 1997-98 season, he was essentially forced into retirement by the front office’s desire to begin a rebuild.

The documentary ended with a brief explanation of how that rebuild began: “Phil Jackson was replaced. Michael Jordan went back into retirement. Scottie Pippen was traded. Dennis Rodman was released. Steve Kerr was traded.”

Jordan was the most tenured player on that team, so it made sense that while he walked away from the game, many of his teammates continued to play for as long as there was a team that would have them. Jordan still had basketball in his future too, as he returned three years later as a member of the Washington Wizards. With many of his "Last Dance” teammates still in the NBA, Jordan had a chance to take the court with them again, this time as opponents.

As detailed in the documetary, playing against Jordan didn’t go so well for former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong in the 1998 playoffs as a member of the Hornets. But as far as we know, none of MJ’s '98 teammates made Armstrong's mistake of taunting him during the legend's two seasons in the nation’s capital.

From 2001-03, Jordan didn't seem particulary motivated to show up him '98 title teammates. He went 5-6 against them while averaging just 19 points in those games, two below his 21-point average during his time in Washington. Most of that damage came in games against Toni Kukoc, where Jordan averaged 26 points in four games -- those were actually the only games against his former teammates that he eclipsed 20 points. And against coach Jackson, he had a 1-3 record, though he did fare better with over 23 points per game in the three games he played significant minutes.

Below is a brief summary of how all those games went, sorted chronologically by his first matchup against each player.

Toni Kukoc

November 1, 2001

Up first was Toni Kukoc, who had played another season and a half with the Bulls before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, then to the Atlanta Hawks, and lastly to the Milwaukee Bucks. “The Last Dance” focused on Kukoc for an episode about how Jordan and Pippen made his life miserable during the 1992 Olympics. They resented general manager Jerry Krause’s affinity for Kukoc, and set out to make a statement.

That statement game was Jordan’s first competitive matchup opposite Kukoc, but his first NBA game against Kukoc came in just his second game out of retirement. Jordan dropped 31 points on Kukoc and the Atlanta Hawks, leading the Wizards to a 98-88 win. Kukoc scored just 8 points in 27 minutes off the bench. The two would take the floor against each other three more times over the next two years, splitting their four matchups 2-2.

Nov. 1, 2001 in ATL (Wizards beat Hawks 98-88): Jordan: 31 Pts (13-30 FG), 6 Reb, 6 Ast, 40 minutes; Kukoc: 8 Pts (3-6 FG), 2 Reb, 1 Ast, 27 minutes off the bench

Dec. 19, 2001 in DC (Wizards beat Hawks 103-76): Jordan: 23 Pts (11-19 FG), 4 Reb, 6 Ast, 27 minutes; Kukoc: 19 Pts (8-16 FG), 8 Reb, 5 Ast, 34 minutes

Jan. 30, 2003 in MIL (Bucks won 97-90): Jordan: 24 Pts (11-24 FG), 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 39 minutes; Kukoc: 5 Pts (1-6 FG), 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 19 minutes

March 7, 2003 in DC (Bucks won 85-82): Jordan: 27 Pts (11-24 FG), 9 Reb, 3 Ast, 43 minutes; Kukoc: 2 Pts (1-6 FG), 4 Reb, 3 Ast, 22 minutes off the bench

Jud Buechler

December 1, 2001

One month later, Jordan took the floor against Jud Buechler’s Orlando Magic. Buechler wasn’t discussed much in the documentary, but he was a part of the ‘97-98 Bulls’ regular rotation. Buechler played in 74 games that season and 16 games in the playoffs.

He remained a member of the Bulls for the 1998-99 season, but was released midway through the year. After two years with the Pistons, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns and then to the Orlando Magic. Jordan scored 15 points in their first matchup, but shot just 6-of-19 in his 33 minutes on the floor. Buechler played 27 minutes off the bench for Orlando but was held scoreless. Tracy McGrady was the star of the game, scoring 26 points in a 96-87 win for the Magic.

Dec. 1, 2001 in DC (Magic beat Wizards 96-87): Jordan: 15 Pts (6-19 FG), 7 Reb, 7 Ast, 33 minutes; Buechler: 0 Pts (0-3 FG), 4 Reb, 2 Ast, 27 minutes off bench

Dec. 21, 2001 in ORL (Wizards won 93-75): Jordan: 12 Pts (3-16 FG), 6 Reb, 8 Ast, 34 minutes; Buechler: 4 Pts (2-7 FG), 6 Reb, 0 Ast, 25 minutes off bench 

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Phil Jackson

February 12, 2002

As he mentioned in the documentary, Jackson took a sabbatical from coaching for a year after the final Bulls championship. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said he offered Jackson the opportunity to return for a year, but Jackson didn’t think that would be fair to Krause.

Jackson returned in 1999-00 to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, and picked up where he left off by leading them to a three-peat beginning that year. Jordan’s first game against his old coach was decent, but not good enough to get a win against the eventual champs. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 41 minutes. A young Kobe Bryant notched his third-career triple-double that game, posting 23 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists.

Feb. 12, 2002 in LA (Lakers won 103-94): Jordan: 22 Pts (8-20 FG), 5 Reb, 6 Ast, 41 minutes; Kobe Bryant: 23 Pts (9-20 FG), 11 Reb, 15 Ast

April 2, 2002 in DC (Lakers won 113-93): Jordan: 2 Pts (1-5 FG), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 12 minutes off bench; Shaquille O’Neal: 22 Pts (7-18 FG), 18 Reb

Nov. 8, 2002 in DC (Wizards won 100-99): Jordan: 25 Pts (9-14 FG), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 30 minutes off bench; Jerry Stackhouse: 29 Pts (9-23 FG), 6 Reb, game-winning dunk at buzzer after Robert Horry made a 3-pointer to put the Lakers up

March 28, 2003 in LA (Lakers won 108-94): Jordan: 23 Pts (10-20 FG), 0 Reb, 4 Ast, 41 minutes; Bryant: 55 Pts (15-29 FG)

Rusty LaRue

March 21, 2002

A rookie at the time, Rusty LaRue didn’t play a role on the Bulls’ championship team, only seeing action in 14 regular season games and none in the postseason. He was even waived that season before being brought back a couple weeks later. He would spend another year and a half with the Bulls before brief stints with the Jazz and Warriors.

During his time in Utah, Jordan and the Wizards visited and were sent home with a 94-79 loss. Jordan had just 11 points in that game on 4-of-12 shooting. LaRue got nine minutes off the bench and made one of his five field goal attempts.

March 21, 2002 in UTAH (Jazz beat Wizards 94-79): Jordan: 11 Pts (4-12 FG), 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 22 minutes off bench; LaRue: 2 Pts (1-5 FG), 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 9 minutes off bench

Scottie Pippen

December 10, 2002

Pippen had been traded to the Houston Rockets for the lockout shortened 1998-99 season, but after that year he was moved to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he would spend four fruitful years before joining the Bulls for one last brief stint.

Playing in the Western Conference didn’t afford the Bulls’ best players many opportunities to play against each other, but they did share the floor one last time in Jordan’s final season. Each player scored 14 points, but Pippen’s Trail Blazers were a much better team and walked away with the 98-79 win.

Dec. 10, 2002 in DC (Trail Blazers won 98-79): Jordan: 14 Pts (6-10 FG), 5 Reb, 1 Ast in 29 minutes; Pippen: 14 Pts (6-7 FG), 7 Reb, 5 Ast in 27 minutes

Steve Kerr

December 21, 2002

A few weeks after taking on Pippen, Jordan took the floor against Steve Kerr’s San Antonio Spurs. Kerr had been traded to the Spurs for the 1998-99 season, notching the rare four-peat as the Spurs went on to win the NBA title that year. He played in San Antonio for two more years before being traded to Portland, who traded him back to the Spurs a year later.

By the time Jordan and the Wizards visited Kerr’s Spurs, he wasn’t playing much and went scoreless in seven minutes off the bench. Jordan, however, was notching a lot of time for someone who was approaching 40 years old, playing 41 minutes in a 16-point effort. The Spurs won 92-81. 

Dec. 21, 2002 in SA (Spurs beat Wizards 92-81): Jordan: 16 Pts (8-20 FG), 5 Reb, 3 Ast, 41 minutes; Kerr: 0 Pts (0-1 FG), 0 Reb, 1 Ast, 7 minutes off bench

Dec. 31, 2002 in DC (Wizards beat Spurs 105-103): Jordan: 17 Pts (7-15 FG), 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 35 minutes; Kerr: 5 Pts (2-5 FG), 1 Reb, 3 Ast, 14 minutes off bench

Randy Brown

January 27, 2003

Randy Brown, like Buechler, didn’t get much air time during “The Last Dance” but was a regular part of the team’s rotation. He played in 71 games that regular season, including six starts, and he played 14 games in the playoffs. He was actually a regular starter for the Bulls the next two years before joining the Celtics for a year and a half and then being traded to the Suns.

His Suns visited the Wizards in 2003, but Brown barely played. He went scoreless in 4 minutes off the bench. Jordan scored an efficient 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 38 minutes, as the Wizards won 98-93.

Jan. 27, 2003 in DC (Wizards beat Suns 98-93): Jordan: 19 Pts (9-14 FG), 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 38 minutes; Brown: 0 Pts (0-0 FG), 0 Reb, 1 Ast, 4 minutes off bench

There are some notable names names not mentioned above that didn't get a chance to play against Jordan as a Wizard. They either played their last NBA games before Jordan returned, or the matchups never took fruition once he did.

These are the players, along with their final seasons and teams.

1998-99: Keith Booth’s last season, with Bulls

1999-00: Joe Kleine’s last season, with Trail Blazers

1999-00: Dennis Rodman’s last season, with Mavericks

1999-00: Bill Wennington’s last season, with Kings

2000-01: Scott Burrell’s last season, with Hornets

2000-01: Ron Harper’s last season, with Lakers

2000-01: Luc Longley’s last season, with Knicks

2001-02: Dickey Simpkins’ last season, with Hawks

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