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 sixth episode of the ten-part documentary series. Here is a recap and review of Episode Six of The Last Dance.
Episode V left us with Michael Jordan being the biggest name in the world. Everyone wanted to be like Jordan and everyone wanted a piece of Jordan. He always had to be “on”. He had to portray the perfect public image that everyone thought he was, even though he wasn’t. Episode VI takes us deeper into the Jordan image and how it changed over the course of a season.
The episode starts in the “Last Dance” season of 1998, but it wasn’t focused on the action on the court, but the action off. As displayed throughout the series, Michael Jordan was highly competitive, probably the most competitive athlete we’ve ever seen. He was competitive in everything that he did, including playing cards and golf. Jordan, along with teammate Scotty Pippen and a few others, would play cards in the back of the team plane for thousands of dollars. In the front of the plane, players like forward Will Perdue and guard BJ Armstrong would play blackjack fro $1 a hand. Though in heated games in the back, Jordan would sometimes venture towards the front of the plane with Perdue and Armstrong and play hands of blackjack with them. Though for only $1, Jordan played, “because I wanna say I got your money in my pocket.”
We then go to the 1993 season, where the Bulls are repeat champions, Jordan just won a gold medal at the Olympics, and he was still the best player in the world on the best team in the league. Sports writer Sam Smith published a book called “The Jordan Rules”, which really shook up the 1993 season. The book gave a more complex look at Jordan and who he was as a player and a person and showed that Jordan wasn’t exactly perfect. The book featured Jordan saying some unsavory things about General Manager Jerry Krause and getting into some altercations with players, including one time punching Will Perdue. This did take a tole on his image, but he was still the best.
In the 1993 playoffs, the Bulls faced the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals and it was a brutal match. The Knicks were reminiscent of the Detroit Pistons just years before. They were physical and both teams hated each other. Knicks center Patrick Ewing said, “it wasn’t a foul until you drew blood.” That’s how physical this series was and it had a tole on Jordan. After going down 2-0 in the series, the Bulls had their backs against the wall. Jordan needed a break and needed to get his head right, so one evening, he went to a casino in Atlantic City with his father and a few friends. This caused somewhat of an uproar in the media and amongst Bulls fans. People thought it showed a lack of care, even though Jordan says he just wanted to get his head right and get away from everything New York. But those who knew Jordan longer thought it could have been something different.
In 1992, after the Chicago Bulls won their first championship, they paid a visit to the White House like every team does. Jordan was not there. Instead, he was out golfing and gambling with a golf hustler by the name of James ‘Slim’ Bouler. Jordan would golf with Bouler often and for a ton of money. Between this and the book, Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction… My Cry for Help, a book written by Richard Esquinas that dove into Jordan’s gambling habit on the golf course, people wondered if Jordan had a gambling addiction. Jordan shrugs this off by saying, “I have a competition problem.” and saying that he never bet on the Bulls or basketball and only bet on golf and cards. Whether he liked it or not, the casino trip and the past gambling rumors really tarnished Jordan’s “good name” and because of all the scrutiny he was facing, he shut out the media for the rest of 1993 playoffs and his father did his interviews.
After the casino visit and the media scrutiny, Jordan turned it up another level. With all the negativity giving him motivation, Jordan went off harder than he had before, leading the Bulls to win both games in Chicago, including a 54-point effort in game four, and ended up winning the final two games to win the series and head to their third straight finals, where they would face the Phoenix Suns and league M.V.P. Charles Barkley. Besides trying to three-peat, something that rarely happens in the NBA, Barkley winning M.V.P. gave Jordan an extra push during these finals, as believed he should have won the award that year. Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause was also a big fan of Suns guard Dan Majerle, whom he thought was a great defender. Jordan, more motivated than ever, wanted to prove to Krause otherwise and went into those Finals to show Krause Majerle wasn’t a great defender and Jordan did just that, going at him every game and putting up ridiculous numbers, averaging 41-points-per-game along with eight rebounds and six assists. The Bulls won the series in six games, becoming only the third NBA team ever to three-peat.
Episode VI is the episode that showed Jordan as the competitive freak that he is. Whether it was in the NBA Finals or for $1-a-hand blackjack hands, Jordan wanted to win no matter what and if he was given even a little push, like media scrutiny, another player winning an award he should have won, or doubt from anyone, that would just push him even more to silence any doubt anyone had and come out the winner. Yet another compelling episode and coupled with Episode V, these were the two best episodes of the season.
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