The first two episodes of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” finally arrived on Sunday, and — for the first night in a month — the NBA fans of the world had what they wanted. For two hours, fans received an unprecedented look into the lives of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.
Between its background, subject matter and timing with the sports world shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, “The Last Dance” premiered as quite possibly the most anticipated sports documentary of all time.
It was certainly appointment viewing for NBA Twitter, which went into a frenzy on a moment’s notice throughout the two hours. Here are the first of likely many highlights.
The Bulls traveling cocaine circus
The first indication that this documentary was going to get very real was a prod from Jordan’s interviewer about a certain habit of his Bulls teammates when he was first drafted.
Point blank, it was a question of how accurate the term “the Bulls traveling cocaine circus” really was. After a prolonged laugh and claiming he had never heard that nickname, Jordan led his response off with an incredible “Ahhhh ... look.”
Jordan went onto explain how he once walked in on his teammates partying with, among other things, cocaine and women, then walking right out to preserve his career. Hey, it was the NBA in the 1980s, what did you expect?
Naturally, a T-shirt has already been drawn up.
‘Former Chicago Resident’ Barack Obama
Sometimes, it’s the little things that elevate a work from good to great.
Take for example an interview with Barack Obama. The former president was a natural inclusion given his well-known fandom of Chicago sports, and it was a mark of how comprehensive this documentary is that he only got a few sentences in.
And then Twitter noticed how the producers described him.
Yeah, that’s the good stuff.
As you could imagine, people had thoughts.
Another former president got a similar treatment a half-hour later.
Everybody Hates Jerry Krause
It’s hard to believe how everyone on the Bulls seems ready to pull the plug on a dynasty. One year, the Bulls had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, and then, one year later, they did not.
They still had general manager Jerry Krause, though, and that was kind of the point. One thing that became very clear in the first few segments of the documentary is how much Jordan reviled Krause, and who followed his lead.
For starters, consider a United Center crowd booing its team’s general manager during a championship ring ceremony. As the first episode wraps up, Krause is the first man introduced for the Bulls’ fifth championship celebration and the jeers are audible through the background music.
There was also Jordan’s casual bullying of Krause on camera and the infamous drama between the GM and Jackson.
Some noted it was a bit unfortunate that Krause, who died in 2017, wasn’t around to defend himself.
Scottie Pippen made how much?!
The exact numbers were never lost to history, but hearing the terms of Pippen’s long-term deal was still shocking for so many fans.
The man held up as a central pillar of a dynasty and a perfect complement to Jordan signed a seven-year, $18 million extension in 1991. As the NBA took off over the next decade, the contract quickly became one of the biggest steals in modern sports history. It was so bad that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf looked physically uncomfortable talking about it.
Pippen explained he signed the deal because he needed the security in case of a debilitating injury. That justification was supported by an upbringing marked by poverty, as detailed in the documentary.
Many fans familiar with Pippen, but not well-read on him, were shocked to hear that Jordan’s No. 2 was the NBA’s 122nd highest-paid player at $2.78 million during his final year with the Bulls.
‘God disguised as Michael Jordan’
The climax of the second episode is a moment in which Jordan’s lore as an NBA player really got going.
Facing the legendary Boston Celtics team that ruled alongside the Los Angeles Lakers for a decade, Jordan dropped an NBA playoff-record 63 points on the road despite missing most of the season with a broken foot. His team only made the playoffs as an 8-seed at 30-52.
Larry Bird summed it up nicely.
As the unreal highlights rolled in, some were quick to note that Jordan was being guarded by Dennis Johnson, a future Hall of Famer who made nine consecutive NBA All-Defensive teams.
We somehow have four more nights of this and haven’t even touched the Dream Team, the Bad Boy Pistons rivalry and Jordan’s baseball career (and the tragic event that spurred it). Buckle up.
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