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.
ESPN just aired the third episode of the ten-part documentary series. Here is a recap and review of Episode Four of The Last Dance.
Episode Four of The Last Dance is the weakest episode so far because it is the messiest episode. Where the first three episodes centered around one player – Michael Jordan in One, Scotty Pippen in Two, and Dennis Rodman in Three – Episode Four focuses on a number of different pieces to the Chicago Bulls legacy, which caused the episode to feel a bit unfocused.
Episode Four kicks off finishing with what happened to Dennis Rodman after he went on his 48-hour mental break to Las Vegas. But Rodman didn’t take a 48-hour break, he was gone for much, much longer, drinking, barely sleeping, and partying for days. It came to the point where Michael Jordan had to show up at his hotel room in Las Vegas and drag him out of bed and back to practice. Expecting Rodman to be a mess at practice, he showed up ready to go with no conditioning issues whatsoever. That “work hard, play hard” mentality had never been more real than at that moment.
We then shift our focus to coach Phil Jackson and his life. Jackson grew up the son of a preacher, yet rather than spend his time on his knees praying, he wanted to play basketball. Jackson ended up playing in college and professionally with the New York Knicks, where Jackson was a very aggressive, Rodman-like player of his time. Jackson then took his talents to coaching, first starting in Puerto Rico, then coaching the CBA (Continental Basketball Association), to then becoming an assistant coach to Doug Collins on the Bulls. Jackson worked closely with Tex Winter, another Bulls assistant who thought of the game of basketball differently but a way that appealed to Jackson.
Winter perfected what is known as the Triangle Offense, an offense that was focused more on the fluidity of the game and the team scoring rather than focusing on one player. Doug Collins did not like the Triangle Offense and instead, kept his focus on getting Michael Jordan the ball. After going to the Eastern Conference Finals 1989, Bulls GM Jerry Krause fired Collins and promoted Jackson to head coach. Unlike Collins, who was fiery and intense on the bench, Jackson’s used Native American practices and zen Buddhism to keep the team focused and he immediately implemented the Triangle Offense, much to the dismay of Jordan. Jordan was used to getting the ball and carrying the team on his back. He dismisses the notion of “no ‘I’ in team” with “but there’s one in ‘WIN’”. Jordan eventually came around to this offense, especially once he saw how much it improved Scotty Pippen’s game.
We then move to the 1990 playoffs, where the Bulls once again face the Detroit Pistons and, once again, lose. After the loss, the Bulls were more motivated than ever, taking the summer to get in the weight room and put on muscle so that when the Piston’s pushed them around, they could push back. Jordan was the leader in this, pushing the team further than they had ever been pushed before.
The 1991 season offered up a new Bulls team and in the playoffs, they Pistons didn’t stand a chance. The Bulls swept the Pistons and did so by beating them handedly. They beat them so bad that at the end of the final game, the Piston players left the court before the game was over, refusing the shake the hands of any of the Bulls players, an act that doesn’t sit right with Bulls players to this day. The distain that Michael Jordan has for Pistons point guard Isaiah Thomas and the rest of the team for not shaking their hands is still fully fueled and former Bulls power forward Horace Grant calls them, “straight up bitches.” The Bulls ended up winning the NBA Championship in 1991 over the Los Angeles Lakes, cementing Jordan’s legacy as one of the NBA’s greats.
Episode Four ends with the Bulls playing the Utah Jazz right before the All-Star break in 1998. Before the game, Jerry Krause reiterated that this season would be the final season for Phil Jackson, but that they would love to keep Jordan on the team. Jordan continued to stick with his stance that if Phil isn’t his coach, he doesn’t want to play. So why would Krause bring this back up right before the All-Star break? The Bulls ended up losing to the Jazz that night and questions arose about the meaning behind Krause’s statement.
Again, Episode Four was all over the place. I liked that they briefly dove into Phil Jackson’s past and showed the emotion of Jordan winning the championship. It seems we are done with Rodman and his life and story, which is a bit of a bummer because I still have many questions about him and his antics. But the ending of Episode Four was a good cliffhanger for the final six episodes. The Last Dance has established the key players on the 1998 team, so now I hope the documentary turns its focus on the season and less on the past. I want to see more player footage, more action, more focus on the “Last Dance” season. This is still an impressive documentary, but I really want to get more in-depth than they have already gotten and hopefully, we get that next.
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