Episodes 3 and 4 of ESPN’s The Last Dance center around the yin and yang relationship of Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, as well as Michael Jordan’s rise as a winning player.
In the first two episodes of ESPN’s The Last Dance, we explored the construction as well as the deconstruction of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, and also got a closer look at Scottie Pippen’s turbulent time with the franchise. In this week’s two new episodes, the stars are the fiery Dennis Rodman and the calm Phil Jackson, and their yin and yang relationship. We also get to see the opposing team in the ’80s that made Michael Jordan the player he was in the ’90s. Here are five highlights from the second two episodes of The Last Dance.
1. Rodman’s humble beginnings
"I thought it was the greatest achievement in the world. … I didn't know you weren't supposed to cry."
— ESPN (@espn) April 27, 2020
Dennis Rodman’s NBA career (and life) was so crazy that it got its own ESPN documentary last year, Rodman: For Better or Worse. But episode three of The Last Dance touched on some of his difficulties in his early life. When Rodman was 18 years old, his mother, fed up with his lack of providing for the family, kicked him out of the house.
“Basically, I lived in the streets for two years,” Rodman said.
Rodman was going home to home, staying with friends of his — some of which were dealing drugs — but he never got involved — he just went to the gym and played ball.
“I could’ve been a drug dealer, I could’ve been dead — I could’ve been anything at that time,” he said.
The moment that would define his future came when someone from Southeastern Oklahoma State University found him in the gym and asked him to play college basketball. He went on to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons as the 27th overall pick of the 1986 NBA Draft after playing three seasons at Southeastern.
2. Jerry Krause did not want Dennis Rodman on the Bulls
Jerry Krause has been catching a lot of heat during this documentary — some of it warranted and some of it unnecessary — but he almost messed up by not trading for Dennis Rodman in 1995. In fact, Krause “didn’t want anything to do with [Rodman].” It was Jim Stack, then assistant general manager for the Bulls, who pushed Krause into pulling the trigger on a Rodman trade.
“I just felt like the structure that we had with Michael and Scottie and the leadership, Dennis would respect those guys and play and thrive,” Stack said.
Rodman, who had faced this Chicago team many times as a member of the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, respected the leadership in place (especially Phil Jackson) and became an integral part of the Bulls dynasty.
“I knew that Phil could handle him,” Krause said — again taking credit. But he wasn’t far off. Jackson and Rodman had a special bond that formed over an understanding of each other’s character.
“We appreciate the fact that he’s a maverick,” Jackson said of Rodman. “But yet, when it comes time for him to perform, he’s always on the court for us — always playing hard for us.”
3. Dennis Rodman’s “wild” 48-hour vacation
— Wachira 😎 (@Wachira_16) April 27, 2020
While Scottie Pippen was both getting healthy and getting back at Bulls’ management by not playing at the start of the 1997 season, Dennis Rodman had to pick up the slack. Rodman was promoted to the No. 2 slot on the Bulls, and it weighed heavily on him physically and mentally. When Pippen returned from his hiatus in January, Rodman needed a break. So, he asked head coach Phil Jackson — who then asked Michael Jordan — if he could take a vacation — in the middle of the season. Jackson and Jordan both agreed on a 48-hour vacation and Rodman went straight to the airport and was on his way to Las Vegas.
“You ain’t gonna get that dude back in 48 hours,” Jordan argued. And he was right.
Rodman spent his 48-plus hours in Vegas drinking and partying all night with the likes of Carmen Electra, who recalled him as being “wild” during that short trip. So wild that Jordan literally had to pull Rodman out of his hotel bed and get him to practice after he had exhausted his limited time and then some. Upon his return, he seamlessly integrated back into the flow of the Bulls, and the team understood that that was just Dennis being Dennis.
“To get the most out of him, on the court, you had to give him some rope,” Steve Kerr said of Rodman. “And they gave him a lot of rope.”
4. Phil Jackson did not come up with the triangle offense
Among the many differences between Doug Collins and Phil Jackson as head coach of the Bulls: Doug could not sell MJ on the triangle. Phil did.
— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) April 25, 2020
One of the most recognized systems in all of basketball has to be the triangle offense. This offensive gameplan won Phil Jackson 11 championships in total with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Zen Master that is Phil Jackson has often been credited for not only implementing the offense but also inventing it. However, he actually didn’t come up with it — Tex Winter did. Winter, a beloved assistant coach for the Bulls and “the finest offensive mind in basketball,” according to general manager Jerry Krause, came up with the offense in the ’60s.
Doug Collins was the coach of the Bulls from 1986-89 and his offensive scheme was, more or less, to give MJ the ball and have everyone else get the hell out of the way. This worked well for Jordan; he averaged 36 points a game during that time. Winter and Krause wanted more flow in the offense, and eventually fired Collins and promoted Jackson to head coach. Finally, the triangle offense was put into action in Chicago — but not without any initial objection.
“I wasn’t a Phil Jackson fan when he first came in,” Jordan said. “He was coming in to take the ball out of my hands. Doug put the ball in my hands.”
5. Early on in his career, Michael Jordan was known for losing — not winning — in the playoffs
Michael Jordan is synonymous with winning, but some youngsters might not realize he had to endure a lot of losing and pain (both mental and physical) at the hands of the Pistons before he and the Bulls finally got past them… https://t.co/7q6QfYaPg0
— Colin Ward-Henninger (@ColinCBSSports) April 26, 2020
It’s hard to imagine Michael Jordan being anything less than unstoppable, and that’s because throughout most of his career he was. But for the first few years of his career, Jordan and the Bulls were known for early playoff exits. The Bulls lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in MJ’s first playoff appearance, were swept by the Boston Celtics the next two years, and were beat by the Detroit Pistons three years straight after that.
The “Bad Boy” Pistons were the heavyweights in the Eastern Conference during the late ’80s, and they got there by being overly physical with their opponents.
“They physically beat the shit out of us,” Jordan said.
It wasn’t until losing to the Pistons for the third time in a row that Jordan started to change. He went through a physical metamorphosis and added muscle to withstand — and dish out — the blows he was receiving, specifically from Detroit.
“I wanted to administer pain,” he said. “I wanted to start fighting back.”
The Bulls and the Pistons met in the Eastern Conference Finals for a third consecutive year, but this time was different. The Bulls swept the Pistons on their way to winning their first title, and Jordan shed his early exit label.
Revisit our recap of Episode one and two of The Last Dance, and check back every Monday for new installments.
Jordan Pandy is a writer from the DMV who covers culture, music, and sports. You can follow him @JordanPandy_