The 45 most fascinating takeaways from the final episodes of ‘The Last Dance’
Five weeks ago, Michael Jordan was mostly a memory — a tongue-wagging, title-winning, product-selling icon. On Sunday, after 10 hours of “The Last Dance,” it’s clear that he’s still the most dynamic living basketball player 20-plus years after he last won a title.
Millions watched the documentary take us from Jordan’s start with the lowly Bulls to their final championship victory in 1998, leaving a decade’s worth of rivals in his wake (with a curveball being the only enemy he couldn’t conquer).
With no sports to keep a country stuck at home occupied, “The Last Dance” has been like a weekly Super Bowl, something people could watch together and argue about all week. It has provided barbershop fodder (seriously, how underrated was Horace Grant) and a boatload of new memes, with “Tablet Jordan” maybe even unseating “Crying Jordan.”
Sunday, it ended.
Here are 45 most interesting takeaways from Sunday’s last two episodes.
1. Is there a better way to open an episode with Jordan landing a grazing punch on Reggie Miller and watching the footage from a 1993 game, saying “Don’t hold him back. Let him go.”
Jason Hehir, the director of “The Last Dance,” experienced his most powerful moment with Michael Jordan in his very first interview.
2. Reggie Miller is one of a handful of NBA players who stood up to Jordan. And he’s one of many who didn’t get to best him. When they squared off in Miller’s rookie season, he went at Jordan. Jordan proceeded to catch fire, and as he walked off the floor, he told Miller “Don’t ever talk trash to Black Jesus.”
3. Wait, did the Pacers all shave their heads for the playoffs? Playoff haircuts should be a thing again.
4. Bob Costas called Bulls-Pacers Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals the most memorable of their tight 1998 season. Scottie Pippen, with a chance to ice the win, missed a pair of free throws. Larry Bird (with assistant coach Rick Carlisle) drew up a play for Miller to hit a game-winner. Jordan’s chance to put the Bulls up 3-1 was missed by “millimeters,” Miller said. He pushed off — but the push-off gods would later even things up.
5. Producer: “What’s the motivation for you going into (the 1997 NBA Finals)?” Jordan (coldly): Karl Malone winning MVP.
6. Bryon Russell told then-baseball player Michael Jordan that he could guard him. “From that point on, he’s been on my list,” Jordan said. And in Game 1 of the 1997 Finals, Jordan got him.
7. The “Flu Game” was really the “Poison Pizza Game?” “If anything, I can be a decoy,” Jordan told Phil Jackson. Well, that’s one hell of a decoy. “He stayed with it,” Pippen said. 44 minutes, 38 points, one incredible game.
8. “I’m sure he looked at me as an overachiever,” Steve Kerr said of Jordan. In Episode 9, we finally go deeper into Kerr’s story — his father’s backstory, the way he modeled his game after John Paxson once he got to the NBA. Kerr’s father was a professor of Middle Eastern studies at UCLA. “Going to Pauley Pavilion in the early 1970s as a 5- or 6-year-old kid, it was magic,” Kerr said.
9. Steve Kerr’s father, Malcolm, was assassinated in 1984 in Beirut. For Kerr, his father’s death is still an obvious source of pain. Kerr said he and Jordan never discussed the loss of their fathers.
10. “The ultimate trust from Michael comes in the playoffs if you come through,” Kerr said. After struggling through the Finals, with 28 seconds left, Jordan tries to quietly tell Kerr the ball is coming to him. And Kerr yells back, “I’ll be ready.” He was. “Tonight,” Jordan said after the game, “Steve Kerr earned his wings.”
11. All Kerr had to do was hit a Finals winning jumper. No biggie.
12. The Bulls faced elimination only twice during their six championship runs.
13. The bonds between NBA stars and their security guards remain strong today. Jordan leaned on his, particularly Gus Lett, like father figures. Lett had lung cancer, but came back before Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals with the Pacers. “He was an inspiration for me. I wanted to win this game for Gus.”
Michael Jordan owned up to his competitiveness, which at times bordered on ruthlessness, in ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’and does not apologize for it.
14. Kerr hit a big three midway through the fourth quarter to push the Bulls past Indiana. “We had the better team. I really do believe that,” Miller said. “But championship DNA, championship experience, really rose to the forefront in Game 7 for Chicago.”
15. Lett, holding the game ball Jordan swiped at the end of Game 7, “That’s all right,” Lett said, visibly touched. “That’s all right.”
16. “Here in this building, it’s like sheep to the wolves,” Phil Jackson said before Game 1 of the 1998 NBA Finals in Utah. Michael Jordan’s children, appearing for the first time in the documentary, said their mother wouldn’t let them attend the game because the crowd was too hostile.
17. “I ain’t Shaq.” Jordan says three times when told the Jazz swept the Lakers.
18. The Jazz scored 54 points in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. 54. Points. In. A. Game. “This was actually the score? Is this the final? Jazz coach Jerry Sloan quipped postgame.
19. Dennis Rodman missed practice during the NBA Finals to show up on “WCW Monday Nitro” with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. “He’s only taking your focus away from the Finals. Not ours,” Jackson told the media. Rodman literally ran away from the reporters waiting to talk to him after his first practice back.
20. The last shot Michael Jordan took as a member of the Bulls in Chicago was an airball at the buzzer of Game 5.
21. The Bulls were noticeably quieter before Game 6 than they were before Game 5, particularly Jordan, who one Bulls staffer compared to a lion lurking in the shadows.
22. On the first play of Game 6, Scottie Pippen’s achy back flared up. “He was in such pain. So disabled,” Bulls trainer Chip Schaefer said. “When Scottie left,” Jackson remembered, “we were just kind of holding on.” Pippen returned for the second half, “barely getting up and down the floor,” Jordan said.
23. Still, Pippen was out there, a gutty performance that probably should erase the memories of his migraine headaches years earlier.
24. Fighting fatigue and playing next to a clearly diminished Pippen, Jordan has an incredible final 30 seconds in Game 6. First he blows by Russell and scores on a layup — Bulls down one. Jordan then sneaks in and strips Malone in the post.
25. Pippen: “Get the hell out the way was the only thing I’m thinking.”
26. “It’s just a matter of me picking the right time and when to attack,” Jordan said. And with a little nudge from his left hand, Jordan shakes off Russell, and swish, his final shot as a Bull.
27. “Everyone says I pushed off. B-------,” Jordan said.
28. The Bulls still needed to get one more stop to win title No. 6. In the huddle, a hobbled Pippen vows to try and take a charge. And exhausted Jordan wipes himself down with a towel.
29. With 5.2 seconds left, John Stockton gets a clean-ish look but misses. Jordan celebrates by putting six fingers in the air. Pippen, fighting through tears, celebrates. And Rodman does a crotch-chop at the Jazz fans.
30. “Can you believe it. Six. Six. Six of them…,” a champagne-soaked Jordan told Pippen. “They can’t win until we quit.”
31. Postgame, Jordan celebrates with … Leonardo DiCaprio? Jordan watched “The Man with the Iron Mask” before Game 6.
32. Classy for Malone to come onto the Bulls bus to congratulate them after the series. Classier for Jordan’s hotel suite in Salt Lake City to have a piano in it.
33. Jackson thanked Bulls general manager Jerry Krause during the team’s championship rally. Krause got booed. But asked about it now, Pippen called Krause the greatest general manager of all time.
34. “There are great players who don’t have an impact beyond their sports. And there are certain sports figures who become a larger cultural force,” former President Barack Obama said. “… Michael Jordan and the Bulls changed the culture.”
35. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf offered Jackson a chance to coach the team after they won their sixth title, but he thought it would need to be a rebuild.
36. Reinsdorf said he felt the Bulls’ older players were going to be worth too much money on the market to bring them back.
37. “We knew they weren’t going to keep the team,” Jordan said, referencing that everyone knew it was the “last dance” from the very start.
38. Jordan said he would’ve signed on for a chance to win a seventh title, and he thought everyone else would’ve too (Pippen would’ve needed convincing).
39. Jordan takes no comfort in going out on top. “It’s maddening because I felt like we could’ve won seven,” Jordan said. “… But not to be able to try is something that I can’t accept.”
40. For their last meeting, Jackson asked his players to write down what the team meant to them. Jordan even wrote a poem. And then they burned the words in a coffee can.
41. “We saw him as a bully sometimes. But that day he showed his compassion and his empathy for all of us,” Kerr said.
42. “Started with hope…” Jordan said of the Bulls. “We went from a s---- team to one of the best all-time dynasties. All we needed was one little match to start that whole fire.”
43. Maybe the Wizards will be in the sequel.
44. The final shots of the documentary are Jordan, as a rookie, talking about wanting to bring respect and winning to Chicago, with a cut to him walking away, black shirt on, lit cigar in hand as the camera blurs out.
45. Back to the real world.
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