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ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’ Lives Up to the Hype With Record-Breaking Premiere

The nation has been buzzing about what they watched this weekend…and it has nothing to do with tigers. ESPN was sitting on something big. With the country quarantined, they decided to move up their documentary on the Chicago Bulls.

Parts one and two debuted Sunday. Michael Jordan and his teammates were rock stars in the 90s, and apparently nothing has changed. Millions of people tuned in. ESPN has a history of terrific documentaries, but this one produced record numbers. Often events or programs that are heavily hyped lead to disappointment and negative feedback. Especially with today’s short attention spans and social media. “The Last Dance” seemed to be universally praised. Particularly by those of us who lived through MJ’s brilliance and the Chicago dynasty. It was strange to hear curses allowed. ESPN2 was bleeping the bad words. ESPN decided to go with the salty version. I enjoyed seeing Bob Costas from 40 years ago. He called Bulls games during the 1979-1980 season.

I had one complaint, so I’ll get it out of the way. Too much jumping back and forth. It is primarily about the 97-98 season. Ten hours provides plenty of time to cover other years and various people. It’s just inconsistent. We’re in 1986. One episode focuses on a specific person. Then we are back to their final season together. Oh yeah. That’s where we were. A very minor inconvenience. Honestly, that’s about all I could find that bothered me in the first two episodes.

Obviously, footage has been tremendous. It was expected, but we see all kinds of interesting things. Later interviews with players. Game footage. The team at practice. Jordan’s mother speaking. Everything you could ask for and then some. John Andariese teamed with Skip Caray to call a playoff game on TBS. Did anybody catch the green and blue tie? TBS colors. Several characters other than Jordan were spotlighted. Some really had fans talking (or tweeting). Here is a recap of people that stood out so far:

Our country has a new national enemy. It is Jerry Krause. Although America was shocked to see how players treated the Chicago general manager, most people felt he deserved it. The guy could not wait to take this team apart. He didn’t even want them back for 1998. Telling your coach that was going for a third straight championship and sixth in less than a decade that he was not coming back under any circumstances takes onions. Not even if they went 82-0. It’s interesting that he died before this documentary came out. It was first teased in 2018. Krause passed away back in 2017. I just read that Jordan’s cooperation for the documentary was secured six months after Krause died.

Following his attempt to start rebuilding, the GM’s team barely won a quarter of their games in the next five seasons. Krause resigned in 2003. Chicago has not sniffed another NBA Finals appearance since 1998. Their best chance was when Miami easily disposed of them in 2011. The Bulls fell 4-1 to Miami, and the Heat moved on to face Dallas. Krause wanted more credit for putting the team together. Despite making some good trades, Krause was not responsible for drafting Jordan. He did nothing when given the opportunity to start from scratch. Although he isn’t around to defend himself, I think the actions and results speak for themselves.

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf stuck with Krause. He apparently stepped in and made sure that the team came back intact for 1998, but allowed them to be disbanded after a third straight title. One can only assume that the decision was about money and bringing down payroll. That is the only possible defense for Krause. He might have been taking the fall for Reinsdorf. Choosing to play Jordan after a major injury was also puzzling. Reinsdorf seemed to be logical in explaining his thought process. Not sure how doctors concluded that seven minutes per half would dramatically reduce the chances of Jordan hurting himself again. Also, he was fine to completely let loose in the playoffs. Michael couldn’t go a few extra seconds as Chicago competed for a postseason spot down the stretch. I’m sure Jordan was a total nightmare to deal with, but these things don’t really add up.

Finally, we get to Scottie Pippen. I was not his biggest fan. Pippen always seemed to be a mixed bag, or an enigma. This documentary did nothing to change that for me. We learn about Pippen’s family members. Two of them were in wheelchairs. You start to feel sorry for him. His contract was ridiculously unfair, but Scottie signed it. He wanted security for himself and the family. Having surgery in October and missing games during the season so he could enjoy his summer was not fair to his teammates. Imagine being spiteful and hurting your team because they were only giving you 18 million over 7 years. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago. Contracts had yet to take off when he signed his. It should have been ripped up for a better deal, but that wasn’t going to happen.

MJ felt that the choice Scottie made was selfish. It’s hard to disagree. Reminds me of 1994 when Pippen didn’t take the court for a final shot because the play wasn’t designed for him. God forbid someone else take a key last shot other than the top star. I guess he couldn’t remember John Paxson just one season earlier. Kukoc made a shot to win the playoff game with Pippen on the bench, but Scottie should have been out there as a decoy. For all the talk about him not getting paid fairly, Pippen earned more in his NBA career than Jordan. He was paid a total of more than 109 million.

I’m looking forward to next week’s episodes. Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman are featured. Should be great!

 

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