“Coast to Coast” is a column by Jarrod Castillo about basketball.
Last Sunday, ESPN released the first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” the highly-anticipated 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Initially slated for June 2020, the documentary series premiered two months early as the sports world continued to deal with COVID-19.
For the last 20 or so years, Jordan controlled all footage — over 500 hours of film — from that season. After seeing the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate their championship, Jordan let director Jason Hehir proceed to tell his team’s story.
In typical Jordan fashion, he only said yes once he realized that LeBron James, as a player, and the Golden State Warriors, as a team, were threatening to challenge his legacy, according to ESPN.
Now after Week 1 of the documentary’s release, here are some things that stood out from the first two episodes:
The Crazy NBA Lifestyle
Immediately, I noticed how rowdy NBA players were in the 80s. As a rookie, Jordan went to a teammates’ hotel room and saw players doing lines of cocaine and smoking marijuana, among other things.
Considering how readily available drugs were at the time, especially if you had money, this makes a lot of sense. Watching that scene reminded me of Len Bias, a former No. 2 draft pick who died from a cocaine overdose before even playing in the NBA.
Thankfully, the NBA has cleaned up its act, which has made for a better on-court product.
Phil Jackson’s Role
Jackson’s role as the mastermind of the Bulls’ dynasty can’t be overstated: he perfected the Triangle offense, controlled Jordan’s massive ego and unknowingly came up with “The Last Dance” title.
His tenuous relationship with general manager Jerry Krause caused most of the team’s instability. Mainly, Krause told Jackson that even if he won all 82 games, he was gone. That’s especially problematic since Jordan said that he would only play if Jackson was the coach.
Which leads me to my next point...
By all accounts, the first two episodes made Krause out to be the antagonist. His insistence on getting credit for the Bulls’ success didn’t sit well with Jordan. Krause was quoted as saying, “Players and coaches don’t win championships; organizations win championships.” But the actual quote was “players and coaches alone don’t win championships; organizations win championships.”
That led to constant berating from Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the two most popular and productive players on the team. To his credit, Krause took it well, but the berating showed how combustible the situation was.
Scottie Pippen wants out
Personally, the most surprising part of the first two episodes was Pippen. I’ve always heard about how Pippen complemented Jordan perfectly and held the team together.
But in 1998, Pippen felt like he was worth more than what the front office gave him. Although he was either first or second on the team in most statistical categories, Pippen was the sixth highest paid player on the Bulls and 122nd in the NBA overall.
His seven-year, $18 million extension — signed in 1991 — was non-negotiable, and he was furious. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf said that Pippen would regret it later, but Pippen took the offer anyway because he needed to support his family. With the contract dispute, Pippen openly berated Krause, at one point telling the media that he was “never going to wear the uniform again,” and requested a trade.
Pippen delayed surgery on his injured foot and sat out part of the season to spite Krause and Reinsdorf. Even Jordan thought Pippen was being selfish, though that’s easy to say when you’re making $33.1 million for the year while your No. 2 is making around $2.7 million.
Nevertheless, Jordan understood Pippen’s importance to the squad, saying “Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen.”
Michael Jordan and his father
The last point was where Jordan’s competitiveness stems from. I’m not trying to psychoanalyze here, but hearing Jordan say that he was constantly fighting with his brother Larry to get his father’s recognition was eye-opening.
It lends credence to a point that one of my professors made: the greatest athletes had some sort of father issues. For Jordan in particular, it was trying to get his father’s recognition, and because of that, he became arguably the greatest player of all time.
“The Last Dance” was a refreshing take on a legacy that most people thought they knew. It gave outsiders a glimpse of who Jordan was and is, and it gave insiders a look at a side not seen before. It also helped that there were humorous moments sprinkled in, such as when former president Barack Obama’s onscreen title was “former Chicago resident”.
The selection of music was outstanding as well, with Eric B. and Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” and LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad” coming in at perfect times. I can’t wait to see what episodes three and four have in store.
Parts three and four of “The Last Dance” will premiere April 26 at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
“Coast to Coast” runs every other Friday.