The Last Dance, a documentary produced by ESPN Films and Netflix, and directed by Jason Hehir, is a miniseries about a basketball dynasty for the ages that no sports fan should miss out on. It unveils the story behind the building of an unbeatable team through their ups and downs during an unforgettable decade for the Chicago franchise.
Throughout the 10 episodes we are presented to the star from that team, Michael Jordan, and some of his teammates such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr among others, all of them coached by Phil Jackson. The management with Jerry Reindsdorf, the owner of the franchise, and Jerry Krause, the general manager, also play an important role on the organization´s outcomes during that decade. Thanks to this production, we can all witness unseen background scenes from that successful era for the Bulls in order to get a glimpse of the behind the scene dynamics of this team.
When Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, his purpose was clear:
“I just want the franchise, the Chicago Bulls, to be respected as a team, like the Lakers or the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics. It’s very hard for something like that to happen, but it’s not impossible. Hopefully this organization and this team can build a program like that”
Michael Jordan holds up his Chicago Bulls jersey in 1984. Photo / Getty
He certainly changed the history of the organization from Illinois, but the path to the peak was full of obstacles.
He made the difference since day one, carrying the Bulls back to the playoffs in his first season and earning the Rookie of the Year Award. The year after, they fell to the Celtics on a series where he ended up with 63 points in Game 2 despite the fact he missed 64 regular games due to a broken foot injury that started off the issues with the management because they limited his playing minutes when he rushed to return.
Reinforcements came in 1987 when Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were acquired. Pippen became MJ´s best ally in the long run while at the same time as he was very underpaid during his time at Chicago, taking into account his contribution to the team. It is true that he was the one to sign a seven-year $19 million contract in 1991 as he wanted to make sure that he would have enough to provide for his family in case his career ended short, but the Bulls never offered him a contract improvement despite being considered one of the best players in the league by then.
On the court, it was not until the 1989 season when the Bulls finally overcame the playoffs first round barrier. Michael´s first game for the annals took place after the Bulls defeated Cleveland Cavaliers in a five-game first-round series thanks to a 2-point basket by Jordan in the last second for what is known as “The Shot.”
Michael Jordan celebrates after making the shot that beat Cleveland. (Eddie Wagner, Chicago Tribune).
The Bulls still had to wait a couple more years to lift their first trophy since the Detroit Pistons, known as “The Bad Boys,” got in their way twice in a row (88-89 with Doug Collins and 89-90 under Phil Jackson as the new coach). Those Pistons, led by Isiah Thomas and future Bulls player Dennis Rodman, simply played too aggressive and turned the games into a physical combat through “The Jordan rules,” a plan to knock him down. They just looked like a Hockey team with fight after fight. The Bad Boys won two consecutive rings and Michael did not have any problem on admitting that they were a better team after losing to them, which the Pistons did not do when the Bulls swept them the next season, 90-91, on a 4-0 series, as they walked off the court before the end of the game. That was such an unsportsmanlike conduct to refuse to shake hands with the Bulls players, a gesture that reflected what that Pistons team was.
The Bulls won their first ever NBA title in 1991, mostly boosted by a new system that Phil Jackson´s assistant Tex Winter brought into the team. It basically consisted on not only relying on Michael to carry the entire team by himself, but also letting other players to cooperate on it. That approach worked out thanks to a triangle system on the court that would always provide any player with 33 passing options so the rest could participate more, and that is one of the aspects they used to finally beat the Pistons. Then they won the finals against the Lakers of Magic Johnson 4-1 to lift the first trophy.
Michael Jordan holds in tears his first NBA trophy after defeating the Lakers.
The Bulls won two rings in a row the next two seasons, first against Portland in the 92-93 season and Phoenix the year after thanks to John Paxson´s triple with three seconds remaining that gave the Bulls a 99-98 victory and their third straight title, becoming the first NBA franchise to win three consecutive ones for the last 27 years.
John Paxson winning shot.
Between those two seasons, Michael and Scottie went to the Barcelona 92 Olympics with the U.S “Dream Team” and they earned the gold medal against Croatia, led by Bulls future Kukoc. MJ also launched his Nike Air Jordans, which brought millions of dollars to Nike but conflicted with the company that sponsored the Dream Team, Reebok. Jordan did not want to work with Rebook and to stay loyal to Nike would be seen covering the Reebok logo during the gold medal ceremony.
The Dream Team
Suddenly, Jordan announced his retirement at the age of 30 right before the start of the 1993-1994 season after his father was murdered. We can see a totally worn out Jordan who is also facing to the public opinion about gambling problems. He needs a break from basketball and he joins the White Sox´s minor team Birmingham Barons. Pippen takes over as the start of the team and Kukoc also arises as an important player on the season without Jordan, but the Bulls fall to the Knicks in Game 3 of the conference semifinals.
Michael Jordan playing for the Barons.
He returns to the Bulls late in the 94-95 season with his famous fax “I´m back,” but it takes time for him to recover the shape of a basketball player. It is not until next season when he is really back into his highest performance level. Dennis Rodman joins the team and, along with Scottie Pippen and Michael, drive the Bulls to a new ring.
The Bulls obtained a record of 72 regular-season victories, the second highest in history, and beat the Seattle SuperSonics in the finals to get their fourth and start a new three-peat. MJ brought in tears as he got his new title on Father´s Day, his first one without his father.
The next year, the Bulls faced the Jazz and MJ played the famous “Flu Game”on the fifth one of that series as he was supposedly poisoned from a pizza he ate the night before. Despite this illness, he showed up to the building, scored 38points and won his fifth title. That really proved how determined he was in addition to his superior skills.
The Last Dance came to an end in the 98 season. General manager Jerry Krause already warned since the beginning that that would be Phil´s last year as the coach of the Bulls, and Michael said that he would not play under any other coach, so every member from that team knew that that was going to be their last season together. The Bulls ended their dynasty beating the Jazz again on a tight series where Michael scored “The Last Shot”on the 6th game with his last service to Chicago.
Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the game-winning jumpshot over Byron Russell #3 of the Utah JazzPhoto by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Bulls started to rebuild and still are. Almost the whole team left after that season as Michael thinks they should have defended a seventh title:
“It´s maddening because I felt like we could have won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but, man, just to not be able to try, that’s something that I just can’t accept. For whatever reason, I just can’t accept it”
NBA 98 season title ceremony. / Chicago Tribune.
“I’ve had a lot of great people in my life, and that’s why my success happened. I played with Phil Jackson, the greatest coach in the game; Michael Jordan, the greatest player in the game; Jerry Krause, obviously the greatest general manager in the game”
“There will never be quite another team like this”
NBA Commissioner David Stern
End of an era.