Episodes 3 and 4 of “The Last Dance” raise the bar even from the first two shows. Part of that can be attributed to the need of the filmmakers to lay out the broader story line at the start. The larger reason is the most recent episodes drill down on Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, the two most fascinating Bulls of that 1997-98 team.
Here are 23 things that most captivated me:
1. Jordan could tame even the wildest soul on the team. After Dennis Rodman was ejected from a game during the 1997-98 season, during Scottie Pippen’s recovery from foot surgery, Jordan was “livid” at the flamboyant star. Afterward, “I went to Michael Jordan’s room for a cigar, but what I think he knew the fact that, you know, that I think that was my way of showing him, ‘My bad!’” Rodman said.
“He didn’t say an apology,” Jordan said. “He didn’t say anything. But by him coming to my room it was his way of saying, ‘Man, I ... up.’ And from that point on, Dennis was straight as an arrow.”
2. Well, not exactly. After Pippen returned to the lineup, Rodman announced he was taking a vacation — in the middle of the season. Jackson, after speaking with Jordan, granted Rodman’s wish, and off to Las Vegas Rodman went.“He [Jackson] looks at Dennis and says, ‘Dennis, well, can your vacation be like 48 hours?’” Jordan recalled. Forty-eight hours came and went and Rodman was nowhere to be found.
3. Rodman partied like a rock star in Las Vegas, leaving even his girlfriend at the time, party-girl Carmen Electra, dismayed. “It was definitely an occupational hazard to be Dennis Rodman’s girlfriend,” Electra said.
4. After Jordan sank his famous game-winning shot over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 playoffs, he let the media know how he felt about their non-Bullish predictions for Chicago in the series. “Whoever’s not with us, all you [people] go to hell,” Jordan said.
5. Jordan’s feelings toward the Pistons have not changed in 30 years. “Oh, I hated them,” he said. “And that hate carries even until this day.”
6. Sam Smith’s “The Jordan Rules” was the seminal sports book of its era. In these episodes, you see it come to cinematic life. Fascinating. “You have to stop him before he takes flight,” Detroit’s John Salley said, “‘cause you know he’s not human.”
7. It’s revealing to hear Jackson talk about how his religious upbringing by both his parents shaped him, especially his mother. “She was a extreme belief about the second coming of Christ so that was something that was foremost in your mind growing up,” he said. “Would you be ready if Christ came to be taken as part of that group that would be raptured? My goal was also in conflict. I would rather be playing sports than on my knees praying.”
8. In his book “Maverick: More Than a Game,” which was written when Jackson played for the Knicks in the 1970s, he talked about dropping acid, thinking he was a lion roaring up and down the beach in Los Angeles.
9. Jordan was cool toward Jackson taking over for Doug Collins as the coach of the Bulls, and wary of the triangle offense because it might take the ball out of his hands. “Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball, but I didn’t want Bill Cartwright to have the ball with five seconds left,” Jordan said.
10. After the Bulls lost to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern Conference finals, their second consecutive playoff elimination at the hands of the Pistons, Jordan “was absolutely devastated. I cried on the bus.”
11. The Jordan that entered the 1990-91 season was visibly stronger. To prepare his body for any punishment by Detroit, Jordan hit the weights. “I was getting brutally beaten up and I wanted to administer pain,” he said.
12. Jordan disliked the criticism that he wasn’t the leader and winner that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were. “Which ate at me,” he said. “It did. It did. My energy started to gear towards my teammates and pushing them to excel.” (See No. 21)
13. Horace Grant felt the heat. “Horace used to get beaten up and he would come back whining,” Jordan said. “Don’t ... whine. Don’t let them see you whine. That’s when you know they got you.”
14. By Game 4 of the ’91 Eastern Conference finals, again against Detroit, it was clear the Bulls were headed to the finals. But one moment left no doubt in Jordan’s mind that a new era had dawned. Rodman pushed a driving Pippen hard to the ground. “When Pippen didn’t respond to that abuse,” Jordan said, “it’s nothing they could do to beat us then.”
15. It has been replayed in a frequent loop since then, but the sight of the Pistons strolling off the court in front of the Bulls’ bench even before the clock has expired never gets old. Detroit guard Isiah Thomas said Bill Laimbeer told his teammates, “We’re not shaking their hands. This is how we’re leaving.”
16. When asked about the Pistons walking off the court, Jordan squints into the camera before saying of Thomas, “You can show me anything you want. There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a--.”
17. On the flight back from Detroit after the Bulls had defeated the Pistons, Pippen and his nemesis, general manager Jerry Krause, danced together.
18. During a timeout in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals against the Lakers, Jackson instructed Jordan to look for John Paxson. “And I started looking for Paxson,” Jordan said.
19. To see Jordan holding his first championship trophy, to see him crying, next to his dad, James, is chilling and revealing of a side we rarely got to see (all crying memes aside).
20. The public wasn’t alone in getting a window into that side of Jordan. “The only emotion we had ever seen out of him was anger or frustration,” Bulls player Will Perdue said. “We were literally stunned to see those emotions.”
21. “At last I fit somewhere in the category of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson,” Jordan said after that first title. (See No. 12)
22. Rodman’s introspection is both thoughtful and colorful. On his early recognition that the best way to carve out a successful career was to be an irritant on defense and the boards: “I was pretty much that rash on players. I was the rash you can’t even get rid of, right?”
23. The soundtrack is outstanding, in perfect sync with the era it covers. A montage of Jordan’s early NBA career is set to the Prince track “Partyman.”
All hail — the new king in town.
Young and old, gather ‘round (yeah).
Black and white, red and green.
The funkiest man U’ve ever seen.
Tell U what his name is.