The 23 most fascinating takeaways from Episodes 1 and 2 of ESPN’s Michael Jordan series
“Sirius” is a synth-driven instrumental from the Alan Parsons Project, but for me and untold numbers of other kids obsessed with the Chicago Bulls, it was our personal anthem.
At the end of the first episode of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the epic 10-part Bulls documentary series that launched Sunday night, I’m right back in 1996, a teenager glued to my parents’ pre-HD TV as the first notes of “Sirius” sound and Michael Jordan gets set to run into the techno-lighted madness of Chicago’s United Center.
I was a Michael Jordan fanatic — posters on the wall, T-shirts and jerseys in the drawers, books on the shelves. I had Jordan cologne, a Jordan watch, cereal boxes with his face on them. My fanciest tie? It had Jordan shooting a jumper on it.
I cried in despair when he retired. I cried with joy when he came back.
And I thought, in my obsession, that I knew everything there was to know about him.
I didn’t. Not even close.
The first two parts of “The Last Dance” offer so many new details, and reminders of details forgotten, about Jordan, Scottie Pippen (the episodes’ other focus) and the Bulls dynasty (and pre-dynasty) that even the most learned Granville Waiters scholar comes away freshly enlightened. Here are 23 things this die-hard Chicagoan found most fascinating in Episodes 1 and 2.
1. It’s jarring to see Jordan as something other than an abstract icon. But there you are, in his house. It’s the most human lens through which we’ve ever seen him. The sweetest moment comes when his mother, Deloris, reads a letter he wrote her while he was at North Carolina.
2. In the letter, Jordan includes his bank account number and asks for cash. “I have only 20 dollars in there. . . . P.S. Sorry for the phone bill. Please also send me some stamps.”
3. Before Jordan got to the Bulls, TV anchors called them a “dying franchise.” They were getting outdrawn in their arena by an indoor soccer team, the Chicago Sting.
4. In his first preseason, Jordan tells a story about walking into a teammate’s hotel room in Peoria, Ill., and seeing cocaine, weed and a buffet of other vices. When the filmmakers tell Jordan that the team was referred to as a “traveling cocaine circus,” Jordan unleashes a huge knee-slapping laugh.
5. After missing most of his second season with a broken foot, Jordan went off on the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Even though the Bulls were swept, he scored 49 points in the opener and 63 in Game 2 at Boston Garden. “That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there,” Larry Bird said. “That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
‘The Last Dance,’ which debuts Sunday, might shock some fans with its unfiltered behind-the-scenes look at Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
6. Immediately after the Bulls’ fifth championship, Jordan was asked about a rebuild. “No one is guaranteed rebuilding in two, three or four years,” he said. “The Cubs have been rebuilding for 42 years.”
7. Jordan can be a smartass. He cracks jokes at the expense of players who haven’t won before. We see him give Phil Jackson a mock exaggerated fist pump after a pregame speech.
8. We think of Pippen as a defensive whiz and skilled “point forward,” but you can poster a small room with the dunk footage from the two episodes.
9. “I don’t care if you win 82 games in a row, this is going to be your last year,” Bulls general manager Jerry Krause tells Jackson before the 1997-98 season.
10. Jackson put the title “The Last Dance” on the cover of the Bulls’ team handbook and gave it to players on the first day of training camp.
11. Imagine LeBron James being asked about the Lakers’ biggest challenges during the upcoming season and James responding by looking up in the direction of Rob Pelinka’s office. Yup, Jordan did that to Krause.
12. Krause’s fixation and flirtation with Tim Floyd as Jackson’s replacement was so bungled that Krause invited only one of the two coaches to a family wedding — and that coach wasn’t the one who worked for him.
13. Jordan and Pippen both had big growth spurts crucial in their development, with Jordan’s coming in high school and Pippen’s in college.
14. On his game-winning jumper against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA tournament final, Jordan was the second option on the play. James Worthy was choice No. 1. Worthy said he was better than Jordan at UNC — “for about two weeks.”
15. The Bulls luck out in the 1984 NBA draft. Jordan is on the board at No. 3 because Houston wanted Hakeem Olajuwon at No. 1. And because the Portland Trail Blazers had Clyde Drexler already at Jordan’s position, they took Sam Bowie. Had the draft happened after the 1984 Summer Olympics, when Bobby Knight anointed him as the best player in the draft, Jordan might have ended up in one of those two cities.
16. Knight’s words: “I think he’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen play basketball. Bar none,” Knight said. And yet ...
17. “I wish he were 7-1, but he isn’t,” Bull general manager Rod Thorn said after picking Jordan.
18. Krause rightfully gets credit for his scouting acumen. But another basketball nut who was onto Pippen at tiny NAIA Central Arkansas? Then-Gov. and future President Bill Clinton. “I went down and watched Pippen play and I knew he was going to be really good,” Clinton said in Episode 2. “The first time I met him, he could hardly string three words together he was so shy.”
Here is a look at some reactions to the debut of Episodes 1 and 2 of “The Last Dance” docuseries on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season.
19. By 1997, Pippen had found his voice. Hurt by being involved in trade talks, he waited until just before the season to have a foot surgery he could’ve undergone months earlier. “I’m not going to ... my summer up trying to rehab,” he said, using an expletive.
20. Pippen had signed a seven-year deal in 1991 for $18 million. By the time that deal entered its final season, he was one of the five best players in the league despite being paid like the 125th best.
21. Pippen missed the first two-plus months of the Bulls’ Last Dance with that injury, and early in the season, the team struggled without him. Jordan called Pippen’s decision “selfish.”
22. Jackson, though, gave Pippen his space. “You have to understand players’ mentality and where they’re coming from. Some guys can handle it and some guys can’t,” Jackson said. “And Scottie probably needed to have this to feel like he justified what his salary was.”
23. I’d never heard Jordan talk about the role racism played in his life. “At the time you had racism all over North Carolina, all over the United States, and there was a lot of it around there,” he said of his childhood. “As a kid, it was like, ‘OK, this is where I don’t want to be. I want to excel outside of this.’ So my motivation was to be something outside of Wilmington. For me, it became athletics.”
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