Sunday night the third and fourth episodes of ESPN Films “The Last Dance” premiered on ESPN, and as expected, it was another outstanding two hours of content. I mean, I haven’t been this excited for appointment television since Tony Soprano was smoking cigars and yelling “goombah!” in my living room every Sunday at 9PM.
Episodes 3 & 4 followed a similar trajectory of the first two episodes, giving us more detail on Jordans career leading up to the 97/98 season while also doing a dive into the backgrounds of Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson.
Starting with Rodman, it was a lot of the same stuff we’ve heard before regarding his off the court antics and partying ways, but was highlighted by the fact that mid-season he asked Phil Jackson and MJ for “vacation” because he had been on the straight and narrow for too long that season. Phil granted him a 48 hr vacation, but Rodman decided to turn that into more of a 4-5 days reprieve. The following clip was maybe the best part of episode three and gives us insight into how the Bulls handled the always eccentric Rodman.
It was eye-opening to see the team acknowledge that Rodman need time to basically let loose and party during the middle of the season but it seemed they all realized that was the best way to keep Rodman locked in and focused when he was there, and it worked. It’s hard to imagine this being possible during the age of social media, where Rodman would have been filmed partying all over Vegas while the Bulls played without him, but at the time it was what Rodman claimed he needed to refresh and focus himself.
BULLS VS PISTONS SAGA
The Rodman background in Episode three tied in nicely with the storyline of the Bulls having to overcome the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons to finally get over the hump and become top dogs in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons were more than physical with Jordan and refused to let his high flying acrobats defeat them. This tweet basically sums up how they handled Jordan during those playoff series.
Was it dirty? You could say that. But during that era they technically played within the rules. Some of those antics would never be allowed in todays game but as the documentary states it was getting through those Pistons that made MJ tougher and set him on a path to win 6 of the next 8 NBA Finals.
The rivalry with Pistons was fierce and the bitter feelings seem to remain to this day. 30 years later Jordan still holds a grudge against Isiah Thomas and those Pistons for walking off the court without shaking hands after the Bulls swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Clearly this is a grudge that Jordan won’t be letting go of anytime soon.
Phil Jackson: Greatest Coach of All-time?
The fourth episode went into more detail into the background of Phil Jackson and the impact he had on this Bulls team and how important he was to the success of this team. Many think Jordan would have won all his titles regardless of his coach or teammates but this documentary shows how Jackson’s style and approach when it came to coaching helped this team reach their apex and attain the heights they did.
If you just take a moment and think about the egos and personalities he had to manage over that run, it’s hard to imagine there is many other coaches that could have held that beast together for as long as he did. Handling Dennis Rodman alone feels like it would be a full-time job. We also were graced with some background info on how Phil used to like Acid back in his playing days and was very much into Native American teachings and implemented some of those practices into his coaching style.
The end of episode four shows how this Bulls team fully formed into the dynasty of the 90’s they would become and shows them winning their first title over the LA Lakers. Jordan again cements his legacy as the GOAT when it details the work ethic he put in to finally get over the hump of the Pistons and reach the NBA Finals. It was a refreshing reminder that taking the challenging road and working hard can have the sweetest payoff. Jordan didn’t asked to be traded when he couldn’t beat those Pistons teams or demand the organization surround him with more talent. He instead demanded more out of himself and his teammates and put in the work in the weight room to be better prepared for the rough and tough style the Pistons played.
I’m sure in the coming episodes we will see more of the cut throat side of Jordan and stories of his off the court escapades, but so far this documentary has driven home one fact that many of us knew to be true, Jordan was the most competitive SOB to ever grace a sports field or court ever, and that’s why his is the GOAT.