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 X of The Last Dance.
Episode X is the best episode of the series and what I had a hoped the series would have been the entire time. We got a focused story, a lot of excitement, emotion, and thrills, and most of the episode was footage, from games played to after the games. This is what I wish the entire series was, but I’m glad it ended this way.
My favorite thing in Episode X was that it stayed on one event: the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. There wasn’t any jumping back in time and there wasn’t any side-stories about other players. This was an episode about the 1998 Chicago Bulls and their last title run and what happened after the season was over. This is what The Last Dance should have been the entire time.
The game footage of the Finals was incredible. I remember distinctly watching this series as a kid seeing the footage brought me back to when I was ten. Seeing how good the Jazz were that year, being led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, and watching them push the exhausted Bulls was gripping. You could see the fatigue on the Bulls faces. It wasn’t just physical, it was also emotional and mental and the Jazz were there to push them even more. The Jazz won game one and the Bulls won game two. In game three, the Bulls held the Jazz to the lowest point total ever in a game in the shot-clock-era, 54 points. Seeing Jazz coach Jerry Sloane look at the box score during the post-game press conference and his eyes open in shock about the score was great stuff.
The Bulls seemed to be flying high, but the practice after game three, something went awry. Denis Rodman wasn’t there. Rather than show up to practice, Rodman took a detour and went on WCW Monday Night Nitro to wrestle with Hulk Hogan. He didn’t have team permission, but Rodman needed a break, like he had needed in the past. After Nitro, Rodman flew back to Chicago to the team, practiced with them, came back to game four, and played like an animal, grabbing every rebound and playing with endless energy. Rodman was a freak of nature and always showed up when his team needed him.
The Bulls won game four and the Jazz won gave five in a close battle. Game six went back to Utah and there was lingering tension that this could be Jordan’s and this Bulls teams’ final game. Game six started off rough for the Bulls. Star forward Scotty Pippen had been dealing with back issues the last couple days and it effected him on the court. He left game six shortly after it began after tweaking his back on a dunk. Jordan had to lead the way without his righthand teammate next to him. He was giving it everything that he had. Pippen returned the game and acted as decoy. He made the plays that he needed to make, but was more of a distraction to the Jazz.
It was a tight game the entire time, yet in the last minute of the game, Jordan’s legacy was solidified forever. After the Jazz took the lead by three, the Bulls had just over thirty seconds to turn the game around and avoid a game seven. Jordan quickly scored a layup, narrowing the deficit to one. They needed a stop on defense and they got just that, as Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone. Jordan then brings the ball up and shoots arguably the biggest shot of his career. Taking Jazz guard Bryon Russell one-on-one, Jordan gives Russell a simple crossover and hits an eighteen footer that hits nothing but the bottom of the net. This would be the last shot Michael Jordan would make as a Chicago Bull, as the Bulls went on to win the game and complete their second three-peat.
We are then treated with a barrage of post-victory footage. We watch the Bulls celebrate in the locker room, with the champagne flowing and the whole team taking a gigantic sigh of relief that this season was over. We see them reach their hotel, treated to a mob of fans just wanting to get a glimpse at this dynasty. We see Jordan celebrating in his hotel room, playing the piano, badly, while smoking a cigar and drenched in champagne. We see the goosebumps-inducing championship rally back in Chicago. This is the kind of footage I wish we got the whole documentary.
This was it. This was the end of the legendary Chicago Bulls. Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr talk about the last team meeting, where Jackson asked the whole team to write what the team meant to them on a piece of paper and and then they would throw the paper in a tin can and light it on fire, having the messages go into the atmosphere. Kerr described it as emotional, saying everyone had great things to say and that Jordan even wrote a poem. This would be the last time the Bulls would ever be together.
Though rumors and excuses have flown around about if Bulls upper management could have re-signed everyone to go for another championship or if everyone was on board or not, nothing has been truly confirmed. After the 1998 season, Phil Jackson was replaced as head coach, Michael Jordan retired, Denis Rodman was released, Scotty Pippen and Steve Kerr were traded, and the Bulls began to rebuild.
In Jordan-like fashion, The Last Dance saved the best for last. Episode X was the best episode of the series and what I had hoped the documentary series would have been the entire time. It was focused, emotional, compelling, and a perfect ending to this monumental achievement.
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