The fourth episode of ESPN's documentary called 'The Last Dance,' which profiles Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, aired on Sunday night. Here are five takeaways from the episode...
1. Some have argued that ESPN should space the 10 episodes of 'The Last Dance' out more, that there is no reason not to with sports on hiatus. Those people may be changing their tune after Sunday night.
Thankfully, ESPN aired back-to-back episodes because if they hadn't, we would have had to wait for the rest of what they teased in Episode Three. At the end of that installment, we heard the story of how head coach Phil Jackson granted Dennis Rodman 48 hours to leave the team for a 'vacation' in Las Vegas. Basically, he had been a straight-edge model citizen and needed to let off some steam. Michael Jordan even lobbied Jackson to agree, and he did.
But Rodman didn't come back in 48 hours. He overstayed and to the point where Jordan had to go to Vegas and get him. He knocked on the door of his hotel room, in which 90s starlet Carmen Electra was staying, and took him home.
Though Jackson's decision to give in backfired, that saga gave us a window into the relationship he had with Rodman. He understood Rodman and what made him tick and it helped him unlock his potential with the Bulls.
"Phil realized I was different, man," Rodman said.
2. Much of the first half of this episode followed that theme in that it examined Jackson as a head coach. We learned more about his backstory and his philosophy on motivating players.
As this documentary has been prone to do, we saw some amazing footage from decades ago. They showed highlights of Jackson in college, in the pros and then through his coaching ranks which brought him to Puerto Rico and then the Albany Patroons of the CBA. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks was actually one of his players on that team, which won a championship.
What was particularly interesting about Jackson's basketball playing career is that some saw parallels between him and Rodman. He was a defender and rebounder who initiated physical contact. And that helped him understand Rodman on a deeper level.
There was also stuff on how Jackson would use Native American history to motivate players and other unique tactics he employed. And also how he installed the triangle offense, which was pioneered by his assistant coach, Tex Winter. It was a major adjustment for Jordan, who was the best scorer in the NBA and would have to take a backseat to create better ball movement for the team.
Jordan admitted in the episode, at first he wasn't particularly fond of Jackson's coaching style.
3. The meat of Episode Four was how Jordan and the Bulls got over the hurdle that was the 80s Pistons, a two-time championship powerhouse. We saw a series of highlights of the 'Bad Boy Pistons' punishing Jordan with hard fouls.
So, Jordan decided to redesign his body to not only withstand it, but give it back to the Pistons. He put on weight in the offseason with help from his trainers. One of them, Tim Grover, who was famous for working with Jordan, said Jordan's work ethic through all of it was remarkable. He would always do more reps than prescribed whether it be the bench press or another exercise.
"If I asked for six, I knew that he was going to do 12," Grover said.
Part of standing up to the bullies that were the Pistons was a mindset instilled by Jordan. He made sure his teammates like Horace Grant weren't backing down, even when it came to showing frustration with the hard fouls.
As Jordan described it: "Don't f---ing whine. Don't let them see you whine. That's when they know they got you."
Also included in this part of the episode was a reminder that Jordan once had the reputation as a guy who couldn't win. He was a great player, but not the winner that Magic Johnson or Larry Bird were. Jordan said it really bothered him.
We all know what happened next and how he changed that narrative. But it's amazing how that can stick with just about any player before they win, even one of the greatest champions sports has ever seen.
4. The biggest highlight from the Pistons portion of this episode was the production crew showing Jordan a clip of Isiah Thomas explaining why he and his teammates walked off the floor after the Bulls beat them in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. They didn't shake hands with the Bulls because, as Thomas explained, the Larry Bird-led Celtics did the same thing to them years before.
That famously irked Jordan, who hasn't really forgiven Thomas and the Pistons to this day. And that was confirmed by how he reacted, saying: "You can show me anything you want. There's no way you can convince me he wasn't an a--hole."
What made this part even more interesting was Jordan went into detail about why it bothered him. He clearly has a deep appreciation for sportsmanship and thought it was disrespectful to the game of basketball. As ruthless as he was as a competitor, he felt the unwritten rules should be adhered to. And he pointed out how even after bitter defeats against those Pistons in previous years, he shook every players' hand.
All of it was a revealing look into Jordan's personality and what makes him who he is.
5. Sort of along those lines was a fascinating part of the episode that chronicled the series after the Bulls beat the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. They then met the Lakers, who were led by an aging Magic Johnson, in the Finals. After the Bulls beat them, Jordan wept while holding the championship trophy.
Teammate Will Perdue said that Jordan was such a machine-like athlete that he never showed feelings. Perdue said it was like he wasn't human.
"The only emotions we had ever seen out of him were anger and frustration," Perdue said.
But in that moment, Jordan let it all go and Perdue said he and his teammates were "stunned" to witness it.
Speaking of that series, what a collision of NBA greatness it was. The world got to see Johnson and Jordan, two of the biggest stars in basketball history, square off. It made you wonder what it would have been like to see other players that defined their eras meet in the Finals. We never got to see Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant or Bryant vs. LeBron James on that stage.
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