Editor’s Note: “The Last Dance” is a 10-part ESPN documentary series. Every Sunday between April 19 and May 17, two parts will be aired on ESPN and ESPN2, beginning at 8 p.m. Each Monday, the episodes will be available on ESPN+ and Netflix. Mason Schweizer will discuss each week’s episodes on Tuesdays as the series airs.
I was yet to be conceived when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their first of six NBA titles in the 1990s. I remember watching the team celebrate their final two titles in 1997 and 1998, but aside from the commemorative Coke cans that heralded their record-setting 72 wins in 1995-96 during that summer, there aren’t a whole lot of specific, in-game memories I have from the Bulls’ dynastic days.
Needless to say, there is plenty I have learned already and plenty more for me to learn during “The Last Dance,” the 10-part ESPN documentary series that debuted Sunday night with the first two parts. I’ve loved “Space Jam” since before I can remember. I had a Michael Jordan baseball card before any of his basketball cards. And while it didn’t take my parents very long to get me up to speed on who exactly Michael Jordan was, the documentary already has done a tremendous job of bridging some gaps for me.
As I sat on the couch and watched parts one and two with my soon-to-be 21-year-old sister, it dawned on me she wasn’t alive for any of MJ’s career, unless you really want to count that stretch with the Washington Wizards. The fact there are now so many people out there who are unfamiliar with His Airness gave me the idea to recap what happens each week, giving a day of buffer to help ease up on spoiler alerts for those who couldn’t catch it live.
I think the fact so many youngsters have become unfamiliar with Jordan and his greatness, as LeBron James continues to make more and more of a claim for the right to be called the greatest of all-time, is why he finally agreed to make footage from that final season, 1997-98, available for public viewing after more than 20 years.
It’s fascinating to know this insanely in-depth look at the greatest player ever, and the greatest team ever, sat out of the public eye for so long. Even those who are old enough to vividly remember the Bulls’ run already have been surprised at some of the details and conversations that have been exploited. There is a ton to divulge already, but there are a few story lines I’m looking most forward to following.
As a 20-something, the Jordan I have come to know always has been an old man who is ripe for the meme-making. There’s of course the Crying Jordan meme, a captured moment of Jordan breaking down during his hall-of-fame speech that is certainly a first-ballot meme hall-of-famer. He always is getting roasted on social media for his ridiculously baggy, bootcut jeans that went out of style around the time he retired. But behind the old-head Jordan was a cool, hip Jordan. Who ever could forget his shoe line changed the way we look for and purchase our kicks? His logo is a status symbol. He rocked a mean hoop earring and made Kangol hats look cool. Getting to see more of a hip Jordan is probably what I’m most excited about.
But the disfunction in the front office is a close second. The moment I remember most about the ‘90s Bulls, in terms of vividity, was during the 1998-99 season, the year after the dynasty blew up. Toni Kukoc was absolutely balling out, but I was confused he was out there without Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. I asked my dad what happened to them, as well as head coach Phil Jackson, and his simple response was Jerry Kraus was an idiot, although that message was delivered with probably a bit more colorful language.
A prime example of a huge piece of information my 6-year-old self didn’t know in real time was just how badly Pippen wanted out. I knew of the rumored deal for Shawn Kemp but was unaware of the context. Through the first two episodes, the vitriolic vibes between the front office and the roster was a level that much exceeded what my young mind remembered.
There are plenty more pieces of the puzzle that have me curious, so be sure to check back every week. I assume the rivalry with the Detroit “Bad Boy” Pistons will be coming soon, and subjects such as the death of Jordan’s father and his journey through minor league baseball also promise to serve as must-watch episodes.