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‘The Last Dance’ Episodes 7 and 8: NBA players share their reactions

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ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ final championship run during the 1997-98 season continued Sunday with Episodes 7 and 8.

The 10-part series, which features never-before-seen video footage of Jordan’s tenure with the Bulls amid one of the greatest dynasties in sports history, finishes May 17.

Episode 7 began with Michael Jordan talking about the deep impact his father, James, had on his life. Jordan talked about the anguish he felt when his father disappeared before his body was found in a creek on August 13, 1993. Two men were later convicted of killing James Jordan.

“One of the things he always taught me is you have to take a negative and turn it into a positive,” Michael Jordan said. “So I started looking to the other side of it, and that helped me get through it.”

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The documentary then pivoted to Jordan’s decision to retire from basketball in October 1993.

Jordan surprised the sports world by deciding to pursue a baseball career. In his last conversation with his father, Jordan said he told him he wanted to retire from basketball and play baseball. His father encouraged him to follow his new dream.

Jordan said he didn’t care if his critics believed he wouldn’t ever go anywhere in baseball.

Jordan’s on-court intensity and competitiveness wasn’t reserved just for games. He rode his teammates hard in practices, especially after poor performances.

“My mentality was to go out and win at any cost,” Jordan said. “If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality then you don’t need to be alongside of me because I’m going to ridicule me until you get on the same level with me. And if you don’t get on the same level, then it’s going to be hell for you.”

Former Bulls teammate Will Perdue said Jordan “crossed the line at times” but said he was a “hell of a teammate.”

With no Jordan, Scottie Pippen emerged as the Bulls’ on-court leader during the 1993-94 season. Pippen, however, damaged his reputation with teammates during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. With the game tied with 1.8 seconds left, coach Phil Jackson decided Toni Kukoc would take the final shot. Pippen, upset with Jackson’s decision, benched himself just before Kukoc made the winning shot. Instead of celebrating, the Bulls are stunned by Pippen’s actions.

“It’s also going to come back to haunt him at some point in some conversation,” Jordan said. “Pippen knows better than that.”

Episode 8 began with a look at the intense rivalries Jordan had with certain players, including Charlotte’s B.J. Armstrong and Washington’s LaBradford Smith. Jordan’s competitiveness was one of the reasons why teams feared him.

Jordan’s decision to return to the Bulls once again made him the center of attention in the sports world. Jordan didn’t waste time rekindling his basketball prowess, scoring 55 points against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in only his fifth game back.

After the Bulls’ loss to the Orlando Magic in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, Jordan decided to change his jersey number from 45 to 23. No. 23 was retired by the team, but that didn’t stop Jordan from unretiring his old number. He dominated in Game 2, but the Bulls ended up losing to Horace Grant and the Magic in six games.

The following season, Jordan’s competitiveness got the best of him when he and teammate Steve Kerr got into an altercation during practice session.

The last part of Episode 8 took a close look at the 1996 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics. After the Bulls dominated in the first three games, Seattle changed tactics and put Gary Payton in charge of shutting down Jordan. While the Bulls eventually went on to win the title, Jordan struggled against Payton until his memorable — and emotional — Game 6 performance on Father’s Day.

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Jordan could only laugh when listening to Payton describing how he tried to tire out the Bulls star.

Minutes later, the documentary showed Jordan sobbing while laying face down in the locker room after winning his fourth NBA title — and the first since his father’s death.


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