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 IX of The Last Dance.
Episode IX is the penultimate episode of The Last Dance saga and it’s a lot of the same that we’ve seen throughout the series. We watch some of the 1998 “Last Dance” playoffs, go back in time to watch an old Bulls series, look at how someone pushed Michael Jordan over the edge, and how the Bulls prevailed. Though some interesting moments, the only really interesting part was when they discussed the legendary “Flu Game”.
Episode VIII ended with the Chicago Bulls about to face the Indiana Pacers in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Episode IX starts off in February 1993, where the Bulls faced the Pacers in a regular season game. In this game, after an aggressive play, Pacers guard Reggie Miller hits Michael Jordan and causes a near brawl. This opening sequence sets the tone for the Bulls 1998 series against the Pacers.
According to many in that series, Jordan included, the Bulls series against the Pacers was one of the toughest series the Bulls ever played. They had a young, tough, talented team and were coached by a former Jordan foe in Hall of Fame forward Larry Bird. After the Bulls won the first two games in Chicago, they went into Indiana and didn’t have as much luck. With Reggie Miller playing at the top of his game, the Pacers won game three. Game four was the most memorable game of the series. The game was a constant back-and-forth and came down to the final possessions. After two missed free-throws from Scotty Pippen late in the game, Reggie Miller was able to make a go-ahead three-pointer to give the Pacers a two point lead. However, there were still a few seconds left on the clock, which gave the Bulls an opportunity to still win. Though a valiant attempt, Jordan missed the buzzer-beater and the Pacers won, evening the series at two games each.
We then jump back in time to the 1997 NBA Finals, where the Bulls faced the Utah Jazz. There were two motivating factors for Jordan going into this series. The first was that Jazz forward Karl Malone won league M.V.P. over Jordan. The second was Jazz guard Bryon Russell talking trash to Jordan earlier in his career about being able to guard him. This was all Jordan needed to push him over the edge.
The Bulls won the first two games in Chicago and the Jazz won the next two games in Utah. The final game in Utah is one of the most legendary games of Jordan’s career. Known simply as the “Flu Game”, this game is legendary because Jordan dropped 38 points in 44 minutes while being unbearably sick and barely being able to stand. An iconic game that lives in NBA infamy, it is a game that shouldn’t actually be called the “Flu Game”, but the “Food Poisoning Game”. When talking about the game with Jordan, he reveals that the night before the game, he ordered a pizza and that it got delivered to his hotel room by four guys, something his security team thought was a little off. Jordan woke up in the middle of the night realizing he had a case of food poisoning. Was Jordan intentionally poisoned or was it just bad pizza? Did those four guys poison Jordan or did they just want to see Jordan in person? The fact that it wasn’t actually the flu doesn’t take away from the legend of the game, but only adds more layers to one of Jordan’s most infamous moments.
The episode then shifts focus to Bulls guard Steve Kerr, an interesting choice that felt a little off. As much as I liked Kerr as a player growing up and as big as he is now as 3x-NBA Championship head coach for the Golden State Warriors, I don’t think his story really mattered in the grand scheme of The Last Dance story, especially in Episode IX. Kerr’s life growing up was interesting, as he grew up in a house of academics and busted his butt to get a last-minute basketball scholarship to the University of Arizona. His life took a tragic turn when his father was fatally shot while teaching in Beirut, Lebanon. Again, I liked Kerr a lot as a player and I like him as a coach, but giving us his story this late in the game felt forced and empty.
We then go back to the 1997 Finals, where the Bulls are up three game to two heading back to Chicago. Game six was a tight game and came down to the final shot, which was taken not by Michael Jordan, but Steve Kerr. Kerr says he had Jordan’s trust because he worked hard, was tough, and went beyond what people thought was capable of him. Kerr made the shot and the Bulls won their fifth title.
We then come back to the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls and Pacers split game five and game six, forcing a game seven in Chicago for a trip to the NBA Finals. Yet another tough game between the two teams, the Bulls pulled off the win and were headed back to the NBA Finals in search of their second three-peat. Jordan credits his determination to win game seven to his security guard Gus, a father-figure to him after his father passed away. Gus was Jordan’s security guard his entire career, but was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to leave for treatment. Jordan was by Gus’ side for every treatment and when Gus game to visit Jordan and the Bulls in game seven, that was a little more push for Michael. It’s one of the sweeter moments in the documentary and showed Jordan’s softer side.
There were good moments in Episode IX, but it was really all over the placed and highlighted the major flaw of The Last Dance as a documentary series. The footage was good, but some of it felt empty and the episode felt really long.
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