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 my review of Episode Three of The Last Dance.
Episode Three of The Last Dance was being touted as “The Dennis Rodman episode”, which is all the intrigue that I needed to be excited about this episode. Rodman was an incredibly talented, yet very controversial player during his time in the NBA due to his attitude on the court and his antics off. As a member of the Chicago Bulls, Rodman was one of my favorite basketball players growing up and I was excited to get more insight into Rodman as a player and learn more about how he became the “Bad Boy” or basketball.
Unfortunately, for Episode Three, it didn’t really tell me much that I, nor the average basketball watcher, didn’t already know. Though there were some interesting aspects, they didn’t dive into Rodman like they did Jordan in Episode One or Pippen Episode 2, which was really disappointing.
We get a brief glimpse into Rodman’s early life, which was troubled to say the least. Growing up in the projects of Dallas, Rodman saw all kinds of things that could have corrupted him, especially once he was kicked out of his mom’s house at the age of eighteen. Rodman was exposed to drugs, gangs, and death often, but he never joined in any of it and decided to pick up a basketball instead. He ended up playing basketball at Southeast Oklahoma State University, where Rodman put up great numbers by going all out every game, something he would take with him to the NBA.
Rodman was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1986 and was key member in the “Bad Boy” Pistons teams of the late 80’s. Episode Three shows how brutal these guys were during their games. So many elbows thrown, so many fouls given, so many guys thrown to the ground, the Detroit Pistons were so intimidating and rough that when you played in Detroit, “you gonna get your ass kicked.”
The film then leaves Rodman’s story and looks back to 1989 and Doug Collins, the Bulls new young coach. Collins was a fiery guy and very intense on the sidelines, sweating through his suit jacket on most nights and chewing his gum so viciously it would turn into powder. But Jordan loved Collins as coach, as he tailored the offense and defense to Jordan, which allowed Jordan win league M.V.P., All-Star Game M.V.P., and Defensive Player of the Year under Collins as coach.
In the 1989 playoffs, the Bulls played the “Bad Boy” Pistons and the Bulls got beaten up, literally. Jordan played masterfully in the series and was so dominating that Piston’s head coach Chuck Daily implemented “Jordan Rules”, which was to not allow him to go baseline, make him go left, and foul him before he got in the air. These rules slowed down Jordan and allowed Detroit to beat the Bulls in that series and eventually go on to win the NBA Championship that year.
We then jump to 1993 and back to Dennis Rodman, though not as his best. Rodman was going through an emotional breakdown of some kind, so deep that police found him outside the Piston’s stadium with a gun in his front seat. The specifications of what Rodman was doing are still unknown and it wasn’t looked at any further. Rodman was then traded to the San Antonio Spurs and that is where the Rodman we know of now began. The dyed hair, the antics on the court, dating Madonna, all of that started in San Antonio. But when Bulls GM Jerry Krause expressed interest in Rodman, Jordan and Pippen didn’t see Rodman for his antics, they saw it as an opportunity to play with another hardworking, great player, which is exactly what Rodman was.
Which brings to the “Last Dance” season, 1998. With Scotty Pippen still nursing an injury and not being happy about his situation in Chicago, Rodman became Jordan’s go-to on the court, though Rodman wasn’t initially up for that challenge. What Episode Three showed was that Rodman worked harder than anyone on the court and that is all that he cared about. He didn’t need the limelight and he didn’t need the accolades. He did everything he had to win. But Rodman was also the living definition of “work hard, play hard” and he needed a break after being Jordan’s number one for nearly half the season. As soon as Pippen came back on the team, Rodman wanted to clear his head and relieve some stress. Coach Phil Jackson gave Rodman 48-hours off, in which Rodman booked it to Vegas, arguably the worst place for him to be at a point where the Bulls could really start to get things going.
Episode Three wasn’t as strong as One or Two, but there were two sequences that made this a good episode and showed the genius of Dennis Rodman. The first was early in the episode where Rodman talks about how he became one of the greatest defenders and rebounders in NBA history. Hearing Rodman talk about learning the way the basketball would bounce off the rim and anticipating where it would go is a perfect fundamental lesson for any kid with dreams of being a basketball player. The second piece was a brief huddle conversation between Rodman and Jordan, as they discuss back-screens and whether to switch or not and how their rotation. It was a beautiful moment of two genius’ of the game discussing what they’re great at. Though not the episode I expected it to be, these moments made Episode Three a good watch.
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