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The Winners and Losers of “The Last Dance”

This past Sunday night was the conclusion of ESPN’s docu-series “The Last Dance,” which chronicled the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls last title run; where they won their sixth championship in eight years. The documentary also features Michael Jordan, who goes in-depth talking about his life and career. 

There were many people or things that have come out of this documentary looking great. While there were also people who came out of this documentary who looked bad. Having said that, it’s time that we look at the winners and losers of “The Last Dance.” 

Winners:

Michael Jordan:

This is an obvious one because without the approval of Jordan this documentary never gets made. Since his retirement, Jordan has steered away from the spotlight, which means that when he does interviews, people listen.

In this documentary we saw Jordan talk about a wide range of topics, with many of those being considered touchy subjects that he has shied away from in the past. Topics ranging from his gambling habits, to his father being killed, why he retired the first time, and how he treated his teammates. 

Despite all of that, Jordan has come out of this documentary with glowing praise from viewers. People have been in awe every week, as they were reminded of just how dominant Jordan was on the court. We saw his leadership style which was flawed at times, and how he wasn’t always very nice to his teammates.

What cannot be disputed is that his methods weren’t successful because Jordan led the Bulls to six finals wins in eight years. People were also moved by Jordan’s emotion specifically when he held back tears describing just how much he wanted to win not just for himself, but for his teammates. 

Phil Jackson:

Another obvious winner coming out of this documentary is Phil Jackson who was the head coach of the Bulls from 1989-1998 and was one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success. It wasn’t until Jackson arrived that the Bulls started winning championships.

When he was hired, the move was a bit of a surprise as Doug Collins, in three years as the head coach, had the Bulls making tremendous strides. Collins was also someone who Jordan really enjoyed playing for because he was the focal point on offense. When Jackson came in he introduced the Triangle offense, which allowed Jordan to play more freely as he also learned to start trusting his teammates. 

Something that Jackson was also good at was managing players with big personalities like Jordan and Dennis Rodman. It was also Jackson who originally came up with the name “The Last Dance.” In Part 1 it was revealed that during the first team meeting Jackson gave the players a team handbook, and the front cover of the book said “The Last Dance.” 

A huge reason why this documentary is good for Jackson is that despite the fact that he is widely considered the greatest coach of all time, his last act in the NBA wasn’t very successful. From 2014-17, Jackson was the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks, and during that time he achieved minimal success.

Once he was let go, he hadn’t been heard from much since. This somewhat tarnished Jackson’s legacy despite his coaching success knowing that this would be his last act in the NBA. What this documentary has done is shine a positive light on Jackson as people were able to remember just how good of a coach he was. 

Ahmad Rashad:

In the 1990s Ahmad Rashad was one of the biggest names in television for the NBA, as he was a sideline reporter and was known for hosting the show “NBA Inside Stuff.” 

One of the biggest things that made Rashad standout was his close friendship with Jordan. It’s crazy to think that a media member had such a close relationship with Jordan, since he’s a very guarded individual who can also be a little dicey at times. What Rashad was able to do was gain the trust of Jordan, and that is not something that is easy to earn. 

Jordan’s Security Staff:

Some of the unsung heroes in this documentary who get highlighted throughout were Jordan’s security staff. Their job was keeping Jordan safe when he was surrounded by massive crowds, though the security staff was more than that, they were trusted by Jordan and were also considered friends. 

The two individuals that stood out the most were John Michael Wozniak and Gus Lett. Wozniak captured the attention of many viewers with his curly haircut, and for beating Jordan in a game of quarters and; doing the infamous “shrug” after beating him. 

Although, it was Lett who really had a profound impact on Jordan. As Jordan explained that, “When my father got killed, he became like a father figure to me.” There were even times where Jordan would call up Lett late at night when he needed someone to talk to. When Lett was diagnosed with lung cancer, Jordan was there for him during his tough times. 

Something important that these security staff members did was help bring out the human side of Jordan. This displays that he did in fact possess an emotional side to him, and that he wasn’t just some stone cold killer out on the basketball court.

Unfortunately both Wozniak and Lett have passed away and were not able to revisit some of their moments in this documentary. The good thing that they do know is that their services were not forgotten. 

The Soundtrack:

One of the most underrated aspects of “The Last Dance” was the soundtrack. What the soundtrack did so well was that it used music from mostly the 1990’s to connect with the time when all of these events were taking place. They enlighten people on the kind of music that people were listening to back then. 

A few songs that really stood out because of how well they matched the moment were: “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim, which was played during a highlight tape of Jordan’s rookie year. The reason this song fits so well is because it showed that Jordan was the real deal coming out of college. 

Another song that comes to mind is “I’m Bad” by LL Cool J, which was played during the highlights of Jordan’s 63 point game against the Celtics in Game 2 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs. This song connects because it symbolizes how dominant Jordan was in that game. 

The third song was “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” by Nas and Ms. Lauryn Hill. This song was used during the build up of Jordan’s last All Star Game in 1998 (before his second retirement) at Madison Square Garden, in New York City.

The way it connects is Nas being a New York rapper, Jordan was playing in New York, and the song title is “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” and Jordan at that point in time was ruling the NBA because he was the biggest star in the game. 

Losers: 

Jerry Krause:

This is probably the most obvious choice for people who looked really bad coming out of this documentary. From the jump, in Part 1 we get a lot of background information on Krause, and how he became the Bulls General Manager from 1985-2003. 

Despite the fact that Krause was the person who put these teams together that won six championships in eight years, he is also a big part of the reason why they broke it up. His rebuilding plans did not turn out very well as Krause hired Tim Floyd to be Jackson’s successor, who in three seasons won only 45 games. 

He was someone who most players disliked especially Jordan and Scottie Pippen who would torment him and make fun of him quite frequently. Krause always wanted more credit for his contributions. As he let his ego get in the way of what was best for the team.

An example of that was his deteriorating relationship with Jackson, where Krause said that even if Jackson went 82-0 in 1997-98 he wouldn’t be back the next year. As Jordan wouldn’t come back and play for any other coach besides Jackson. Unfortunately, since Krause passed away in 2017, he was not able to defend himself in any way, during this documentary. 

Jerry Reinsdorf:

Despite the fact that the owner Jerry Reinsdorf was a part of the team’s success, his stubbornness was a big factor in the Bulls demise. 

Reinsdorf had a policy that when a player signed a contract they weren’t ever going to be able to get an extension for a raise in pay in the middle of the deal. This would result in Pippen having a bad relationship with Reinsdorf and Krause for their unwillingness to give him the money he deserved. 

Throughout that period in the 1990s, Reinsdorf was someone who would always deflect blame and as a result, Krause would be the one taking all the heat, when Reinsdorf himself could have jumped in and taken control over Krause in the decision-making process. He was so eager to rebuild the team despite the fact that Jordan and the rest of the players felt they could win a seventh championship. 

Ever since the Bulls blew up their roster, they haven’t been able to replicate the same kind of success that they had in the 1990’s. Although, they have had success in spurts where from 2004-2017 the Bulls made the playoffs 11 times in 13 years. Where they had star players like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Jimmy Butler, but since their departures the Bulls have struggled with bad front office decisions and poor coaching hires. 

Isiah Thomas:

This documentary was definitely not the kind of reminder that Isiah Thomas needed. Thomas was the leader of the “Bad Boy” Pistons who took physicality to a whole new level. The Pistons were the team that held Jordan back early in his career, and it took years for the Bulls to finally beat the bruising Pistons. 

When the Bulls beat the Pistons in the 1991 NBA Playoffs, during the end of the game, the Pistons decided to not shake the hands of the Bulls players. Thomas was one of the culprits of this scheme, and as a result he lost the respect of a lot of NBA players especially Jordan. 

This was one of the many reasons why Thomas was left off the 1992 USA “Dream Team” as Jordan would not play on the same team with him. It was evident in the documentary that Jordan still has a lot of animosity towards Thomas. 

Jordan’s Rival Opponents: 

Throughout his career Jordan was someone who always looked for an edge to give himself when going up against a tough opponent. Whether he heard something said in the media, or just made it up himself. 

During the 1992 NBA Finals Jordan was going up against Clyde Drexler and the Trail Blazers, who before the start of the series compared himself to Jordan saying they were on the same level. When Jordan heard that he wasted no time in showing the world just how much better he was than Drexler. 

Another example of that was during the 1993 NBA Finals when Jordan was upset that Charles Barkley of the Suns won the MVP over him. He also was upset that people thought Dan Majerle could guard him and that Krause was enamored with him. Jordan used those two things as motivation and he would ultimately have the best Finals performance of his career. 

Jordan’s dominance was a big reason why many great NBA players never won championships. Hall of Famers like Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Reggie Miller, all finished their careers ringless mainly because they could never get past Jordan. 

Scott Burrell

One thing from the documentary that was somewhat of a revelation was Jordan constantly antagonizing Scott Burrell. Jordan did this because he wanted to toughen up Burrell and give him an edge. Because he knew that the Bulls would need him to step up at some point in the playoffs. 

Although Jordan’s intentions seemed good, the videos from practices and times off the court may say otherwise. During practices Jordan would constantly belittle Burrell and say things to him that were almost in the form of bullying. Luckily, Burrell didn’t let it all get to him, as now he is able to look back at those times with a positive attitude. Although, this documentary showed that Burrell had it far from easy.

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