‘The Last Dance’: Did a poor golf outing inspire historic Michael Jordan performance?

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan takes part in the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest in Seattle on Feb. 7, 1987
Michael Jordan takes part in the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest Feb. 7, 1987.
(Kirthmon Dozier / Associated Press)

The first two episodes of the ESPN documentary series “The Last Dance” are filled with nuggets about Michael Jordan that we never knew or at least hadn’t thought about in a long time.

But one of the main takeaways from the shows is something we’ve always known about His Airness and will never forget.

He hates losing.

And he was doing a lot of it around this time 34 years ago. But that seems to have led to one of the greatest playoff performances in NBA history.


Jordan had a frustrating second season with the Chicago Bulls. He broke his foot during a game in late October and didn’t play again until mid-March. As documented in “The Last Dance,” he was allowed to play only 14 minutes a game upon his return but still helped the Bulls make a late playoff push that resulted in a first-round matchup with the mighty Boston Celtics.

From the start, Michael Jordan understood the value of his brand. His ESPN docuseries is his reminder to a new generation that he’s still the GOAT.

April 20, 2020

No longer bound to any playing-time limits, Jordan scored 49 points in Game 1. But the Bulls still got routed, 123-104.

To make matters worse for the victory-obsessed Jordan, his golf outing with Celtics guard Danny Ainge the day before Game 2 didn’t go so well either.

“I took a few bucks off of Michael that day,” Ainge said in the second episode of the docuseries, “and we’re talking trash to each other.”

“That,” Ainge added, “might have been a mistake.”

Author Mark Vancil, who also golfed with the players that day, recalled the last thing Jordan said to Ainge that day.


“We get done, we get in the car, we drop Danny off first,” Vancil recalled. “And Michael says, ‘Hey, tell your boy D.J. [Celtics guard Dennis Johnson] I got something for him tomorrow.’”

Jordan certainly did have something for every member of the Celtics on April 20, 1986.

“We all took our cracks at him that day, it wasn’t just one guy,” Ainge said. “D.J. was our best defensive player and he picked up four fouls early in the third quarter. ... I remember laughing in the middle of the game because [Bill] Walton was cursing me out because he had to guard Jordan on a few occasions.”

The Celtics ended up winning that game in double-overtime, 135-131, but Jordan’s 63 points still stands as an NBA playoff record. The closest anyone has come to that total since then is Charles Barkley’s 56 points during the 1994 postseason (Jordan also had 56, during a 1992 playoff game).

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.

April 19, 2020

“That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there,” Celtics legend Larry Bird said. “That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

While being interviewed on “The Last Dance,” Jordan was reminded that he had played golf with Ainge the day before that historic game. His response?

“Mmm-hmm,” Jordan said with a nod.

The guy really hates to lose.