From Michael Jordan’s competitive relationship with his brother Larry to Scottie Pippen being one of the most underpaid players during the Chicago Bulls’ championship run, here are the highlights from the first two parts of ESPN’S The Last Dance documentary.
On Sunday night, the sports world stood still in unison as ESPN premiered the first two episodes of their 10-part Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance. The documentary offers an unprecedented look into the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls during the team’s 1997-98 season — the season before their sixth championship; the season before Phil Jackson’s departure; and the season before Michael Jordan’s second retirement.
For some, this documentary may be a welcomed retreat into nostalgia. For others, this should be a comprehensive history lesson — there are literally current NBA players who weren’t even alive for this chapter in basketball history.
I feel like this documentary gonna make me put MJ #1, instead of #2…
Can’t Wait!!! #LastDance
— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) April 19, 2020
No matter the audience, this documentary will explore parts of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls that fans have never seen before, and two episodes in, it already has. Here are five highlights from the first two episodes of The Last Dance.
1. Michael Jordan’s origins
Larry Jordan (Michael Jordan’s brother) is 5’8” and had a 44” vertical leap.
— Chuck Millan | The Dunk Guru (@TFBChuckTheBoss) April 20, 2020
One trait often talked about when mentioning MJ in the GOAT discussions is his competitive edge, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. The genesis of this competitive nature can be traced back to a sibling rivalry he had with his older brother, Larry. The documentary shows archival footage of Jordan’s father, James, saying that Larry was the better basketball player at one time. Jordan felt as though Larry was more beloved by their father, and he strived to be better than Larry. (Although, MJ sprouting like six inches over a summer helped.)
“I always thought I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention,” Jordan said.
The Last Dance also went into detail about Jordan’s meteoric rise as a college student. Michael Jordan’s NBA legacy often overshadows his time playing for the Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina. But that’s where his legend was originally cemented. Jordan’s game-winning shot against the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas in the 1982 National Championship game is one of the most famous in collegiate history. But what we didn’t know was some of the details — like legendary coach Dean Smith giving the freshman MJ — the second-best player on the team behind James Worthy — the green light to hit that shot because he would probably be open.
“That [shot] turned my name from ‘Mike’ to ‘Michael Jordan,'” Jordan said.
2. Michael Jordan walked in on his teammates smoking weed and doing lines of cocaine his rookie season
Today, Michael Jordan is known as a cigar-smoking, dark-liquor-drinking retiree. But in his early years in the NBA, he did nothing of the sort. He described his early years in the NBA as boring: going to the gym and spending time at home with friends and family, drinking “7UP and OJ.” (Might be some myth-making here.)
During his rookie season, he knocked on the hotel door of one of his teammates and was welcomed into a room with lines of cocaine in one corner, weed smoke in another, and women in another. Feeling like just being in that room was incriminating, he turned around and left, and “kept to himself” for most of the season.
3. Michael Jordan’s up and down second year
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 20, 2020
Coming off of his Rookie of the Year season in 1984-85, Jordan broke a bone in his left foot that kept him out of 64 games in season two. After rehabbing back at the University of North Carolina and playing scrimmage games — unbeknownst to the Bulls — he was eager to get back on the court for Chicago. But he was given a 10% chance of reinjuring his foot and possibly ending his freshly-started NBA career. After going back and forth with team doctors and management, everyone settled on a seven-minute per half restriction upon his return. He told then Chicago head coach Stan Albeck to find the most important seven minutes of the game and play him. He still averaged over 20 points a game that season.
The Bulls ended up making the playoffs after winning the last game of the season. And once the Bulls made the playoffs MJ went off, setting a record that still stands today. Coming off of a 49-point performance in the first game of a playoff series against the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics, Jordan scored a record-setting 63 points in Game 2. Jordan had only played 18 games that season and was on a 14-minute restriction up until the playoffs. Unfortunately, those two performances were not enough for wins as Chicago would get swept by the Celtics.
4. The story of Scottie Pippen
“.. I would never be able to find a tandem, another support system, another partner in the game of basketball like Scottie Pippen.”
“Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen.”
— mira (@juansgerardo) April 20, 2020
Scottie Pippen played 17 seasons in the NBA, standing at 6’8” with impressive ball skills. It’s not hard to see why.
However, Pippen’s road to becoming a six-time NBA champion, Olympic gold medalist, and Basketball Hall of Famer did not come as easy as others, which the documentary brilliant displays. Pippen initially started off at the University of Central Arkansas as an equipment manager. He made his transition into the team by waiting until some of the players became academically ineligible. (He also begged his coach for a scholarship until he got one.)
In 1991, Scottie Pippen signed a seven-year, $18 million dollar contract. That was a lot of money for a young man coming from an 11-sibling household in a small town in Arkansas with a population of roughly 3,500. Nobody — Pippen included — could’ve seen his value increasing as much as it did over such a short span of time. However, Pippen was actually one of the most underpaid players in the league. In the 97-98 season, he was second in minutes played a game (37.7), rebounds (6.5), and points (20.2) for the Bulls, but was sixth on the team in salary and 122nd in the league. Pippen was making a little over $2.5 million a year, which is minuscule when compared to Jordan’s $33 million that same year.
Scottie Pippen was the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman for 10 years but felt disrespected by Bulls’ general manager Jerry Krause. After the 1996-97 season, Pippen intentionally delayed a surgery during the offseason as to not “fuck up” his summer. The later surgery delayed the start of his 1997 season, and many thought he did this to spite management. Those many were right; he demanded a trade from the Bulls before he was healthy. Jordan always acknowledged Pippen’s importance to that Chicago Bulls team, as well as his own legacy. He also found time to critique his teammate.
“Whenever they speak Michael Jordan they should speak Scottie Pippen,” Jordan said, before referring to Pippen’s move as “selfish.”
5. Jerry Krause was responsible for building the Bulls’ dynasty, as well as destroying it
Space Jam makes more sense when you realize that Jerry Krause looks like Mr Swackhammer pic.twitter.com/gepu7hB3wk
— Charles J. Moore (@charles270) April 20, 2020
Every great drama must have a great villain, and in just the span of two hours, Jerry Krause, who died in 2017, has become the most-hated man in America. The former general manager of the Chicago White Sox took over the same role for the Chicago Bulls in 1985. To his credit, he helped build a championship team with crucial acquisitions for both players as well as staff; he traded for Scottie Pippen on draft night and gave Phil Jackson his first head coaching job. But, he also frustrated the team and alienated himself with his actions, even offering up this infamous quote: “Players and coaches alone don’t win championships — organizations do.” Though Krause accused a reporter of taking that quote out of context, the players — Jordan, particularly — still resented him for it.
Jordan Pandy is a writer from the DMV who covers culture, music, and sports. You can follow him @JordanPandy_