ESPN’s latest documentary, The Last Dance, is a ten-part documentary series chronicling the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls and their journey to their sixth championship. The Bulls gave the documentary team unprecedented coverage, giving us a truly immersive experience into what one of the greatest teams the NBA has ever had went through during their final season.
Growing up in a suburb of Chicago throughout the 90’s, this Bulls team was an essential part of my life growing up. To say I am excited about The Last Dance would be an understatement. It is one of my most anticipated movies of 2020 and a true event.
Here is a recap and my review of Episode Two of The Last Dance.
Episode Two starts by looking at Scotty Pippen, who many considered to be the Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Though Pippen played second fiddle to Jordan, he wasn’t a simple role player. Pippen was a bonafide superstar and one of the best players to ever play in the NBA. Jordan mentions in an interview that he wouldn’t have been as successful in his career without Pippen.
We look back and Pippen’s life growing up in a large, struggling family, to his journey through college at the University of Central Arkansas, where he started off as an equipment manager and made his way on to the basketball team due to other players not being academically eligible. While playing at UCA, Pippen hit the weight room, along with hitting a gigantic growth spurt, and became a highly touted player and getting drafted 5th overall in the 1987 by the Seattle Supersonics, only to be traded to Chicago. As a rookie, Pippen came in cocky and thinking he was the man, only to realize it was not only Jordan’s team, but his league. This is something I wish this episode dove into more. I wanted to see how Jordan and Pippen bonded throughout the early years and what made them become arguably the greatest duo in NBA history. Maybe they will dive into this more in later episodes, but since we already had an episode about Jordan and this episode was focused on Pippen, this might have been a good time to show this.
After going though Pippen’s personal life growing up, we cut to the 1997-1998 season. Pippen hurt his ankle at the end of the 1996-1997 season and rather than get surgery on it over the summer to be ready for the next season, Pippen didn’t want to ruin his summer and decided to wait until the season began to get his surgery, forcing him to sit out the first part of the season. Though not sitting right with some of his teammates, Jordan one of them, Pippen had a reason for it. He was underpaid, under-appreciated, and fed up with GM Jerry Krause and the way he was treating him.
Pippen’s act of protest caused some issues on the team. Jordan was playing like a man possessed, but he was winded from carrying the team, though their record was something to be desired. Jordan was frustrated and did everything he could to win while Pippen was out. This then takes us back to Jordan as child and him growing up. Jordan has always been known as a crazy competitor, doing everything in his power to win at whatever he does. Jordan credits this competitiveness to his brother Larry, who was more competitive than Jordan growing up. What was up for grabs was the affection of their father and Jordan wanted nothing more than to get his father’s approval. This was a touching moment in this episode that answered a lot about why Jordan played the way the he did.
Episode Two then jumps to the 1985-1986 season, where Jordan got hurt in the third game of the season, sitting out most of the season. He was losing his mind sitting on the bench and when he was allowed to come back, he was put on a minutes restriction of fourteen minutes a game, something that didn’t sit right with Jordan at all. Jordan’s tenacity in his brief minutes a game got the Bulls to the playoffs. Though not winning their opening series against the Boston Celtics, the number one team in the Eastern Conference, Jordan’s performance in that series solidified his greatness in just his second year in the league. Celtic forward Larry Bird said of Jordan’s performance, “That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there. That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.” That’s the highest praise from an all-time great.
Episode Two finishes with turmoil between Pippen and Krause coming to ahead, with Pippen confronting Krause, berating him in front of the whole team to the point where Phil Jackson and some other teammates had to step in. Pippen then demands to be traded, not wanting to step on a basketball court in a Bulls uniform ever again. Though we know the outcome, the episode ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. I’m interested in seeing how that issue got solved, since Pippen was so infuriated with Krause and the Bulls. Even though I enjoyed learning about how Jordan got his competitive spirit, I really with this episode was fully focused on Pippen and how the relationship between him and Jordan blossomed into one of the greatest duos in sports history.
Still, two episodes in and this documentary is something to behold and needs to be watched by everyone, whether you’re a fan of basketball or not.
The Last Dance airs Sunday nights on ESPN at 8pm CST.
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