ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series

Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan 1987-88.
Michael Jordan at Boston Garden, from Steve Lipofsky at / CC BY-SA (

Episodes 9 & 10

The final episodes of ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance” wraps up the story of the Bulls’ dynasty on a memorable note. The second to last episode highlights the Bulls’ hard-fought playoff series against the Pacers while the tenth episode sheds light on the 1998 season, otherwise known as the Bulls’ last dance.

Episode nine mainly follows the tough matchup between the Reggie-Miller-led Pacers and the Bulls in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Before the two teams met in the playoffs, they had locked horns in regular-season games. Both Miller and Michael Jordan got on each other’s nerves, making every battle a must-watch. By far the funniest part of the episode was when Miller began trash-talking in a regular-season game; as told by Miller, the Pacers were winning the game when he traded some words with Jordan, who had begun the game shooting poorly. Jordan did what he does best: he switched gears, won the game, and told Miller, “Don’t ever talk trash to black Jesus.” Only a legend like Jordan could get away saying something that bizarre! Shifting to the emotional part of the episode, it casts a spotlight on Steve Kerr’s life story, somewhat focusing on his father. Kerr would prove to be vital on the team, filling the shoes of Bulls point guard John Paxson. Kerr joined the Bulls after being signed as a free agent in 1993-94. Kerr’s father was a professor at UCLA before he became the president of the American University of Beirut. Caught up in the Lebanese Civil War, Malcolm H. Kerr went missing for several days. On Jan. 18, 1984, his father was confirmed to be shot and killed on campus by two suspects posing as students. This part of the episode tugged on my heartstrings, drawing parallels to MJ’s pain from his father’s loss.

The episode also jumps back to the Bulls’ championship run in 1997. One of Jordan’s most standout games was showcased, the “flu game”, where he was sick with flu-like symptoms against the Utah Jazz in game five of the 1997 NBA Finals. More importantly, it was not an ordinary sickness that struck the Bulls legend but food poisoning. The night before the game in Utah, Jordan and his crew had ordered a pizza from a shady restaurant, which Jordan ate all by himself. Was it intentional that Jordan was food poisoned? Anyways, after a clutch shot from Kerr in the game afterward, the Bulls would achieve their fifth NBA Championship. It was heartening to see Jordan and Kerr share their victory by exchanging hugs, really highlighting the relationship between the two.

Unlike previous episodes, episode ten predominantly focused on the Bulls’ series against the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. This emphasized the weight of their sixth championship as it was the end of the Bulls’ Dynasty—the titular last dance. With Hall of Famer Karl Malone at the forefront of the Jazz’s return from losing the 1997 NBA Finals to the Bulls, Utah proved to be troublesome for a mentally exhausted Jordan in the 1998 NBA Finals. Like the previous year, the Jazz pushed the series to game six with the Bulls up 3-2; however, they were ultimately eliminated by the fatigued yet focused Bulls. With less than 20 seconds on the clock of the fourth quarter, Bulls trailing by one point, Jordan dashed down the court and hit perhaps one of the most iconic clutch shots of all time; after he broke Bryon Russel’s ankles, he made a jump shot that silenced the entire Jazz stadium. When all was said and done, the media pointed fingers at Jordan, saying it was a push-off instead of a crossover, a point that has been argued over to this day. Standing by his actions, Jordan, when told about people’s assumptions on the final play, stated “his energy was going that way, I didn’t have to push him that way.” All of these iconic moments have remained memorable, and are as entertaining to watch now as they must have been then. Nearing the end of the episode, a montage of the Bulls dynasty timeline plays out, leaving viewers, including me, to believe that this is one of the greatest teams of all time in NBA history.

To conclude the series, the final episodes of the “The Last Dance” hit like Air-Jordan’s buzzer beaters: exhilarating to watch. Every episode, except for the last, was structured perfectly to give viewers a dose of emotions, awe-inspiring games, and important context to the makeup of the Bulls legacy. I loved every bit of it! The clutch shots from Jordan, the funny moments where Rodman would go off and do his thing, the life stories of individual players on the team, and most importantly the events that solidified the Bulls as the greatest team of all time. For people who were not born during the Bulls era, “The Last Dance” does a phenomenal job giving the viewers an overwhelming yet organized amount of information. The documentary also certainly fills the void of wanting to relive the Bulls era that longtime fans will come to appreciate. Looking into the future, I hope ESPN does another team’s legacy justice by using this documentary as the layout. I would be ecstatic to watch an ESPN documentary series that covers the Lakers led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or maybe modern teams like the Golden State Warriors championship run in 2015. Overall, “The Last Dance” is the greatest sports documentary I’ve ever seen and I certainly am not the only one who shares excitement for what’s next.

Episodes 7 & 8

ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance” released its newest episodes this week, and boy are they a tearjerker. Episodes seven and eight were very emotional as they captured the hardships Michael Jordan experienced. The episodes mainly focused on the events leading up to Jordan’s first NBA retirement and the Bulls’ championship run during the 1995-96 season.

At the beginning of episode seven, the red carpet is laid out for the close relationship between Jordan and his father James R. Jordan. Throughout Jordan’s life, his father was always a motivational factor for him to do what he loved in life. Whether that be playing baseball or basketball, his father always advocated staying out of trouble and to strive for success. It was heartwarming to see Jordan’s father there with him during his championship wins with the Bulls in ‘91, ‘92 and ‘93. “He was my rock,” Jordan said. “We were very close. He constantly gave me advice. I remember in ninth grade I got suspended three times in one year, and my father pulled me aside that summer and said: ‘Look, you don’t look like you’re heading in the right direction. You know, if you want to go about doing all this mischievous stuff, you can forget sports.’” Jordan’s father has been a major motivational factor throughout his successful NBA career.

In North Carolina, on July 22, 1993, Jordan’s father went missing for three weeks. Tragically, the NBA icon’s father would later be confirmed dead after two suspects, who committed the murder, left his body in a swamp. In perhaps one of sports journalism’s worst moments, the media pointed fingers at Jordan’s possible gambling addiction as the cause of his father’s death. It is absolutely ridiculous how reporters wanted to find anything to tarnish Jordan’s legacy, and it was blood-boiling to watch. This emotionally devastated Jordan and led him to retire and take on his second passion: baseball. Now, as many of the sports world knows, Jordan did not do too well playing AA baseball—it was funny to see Jordan wearing tight baseball pants. The reasoning behind his decision was not only to do what he loved but to relieve the pain garnered from his father’s death.

The episode also showcased how the Bulls fared without Jordan, which was cool to see as Scottie Pippen took on the role of team leader and came into his own. The Bulls were able to utilize the triangle offense to perfection and other players took on key roles: Toni Kukoč is an example. Despite their talent, the Jordan-less Bulls would lose 4-3 against the Knicks in the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Episode eight starts where the previous left off, with Jordan coming out of retirement to rejoin the Bulls in the 1994-95 season. In his press release, all Jordan said was “I’m back,” which set the sports world ablaze; it was like a worldwide celebration! Even though Jordan returned, the Bulls fell short against the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Semifinals and demonstrated how hard the transition from baseball was for Jordan to make. Doing what he does best, Jordan used this loss as motivation to dominate the next season, which he most certainly did! During the 1995-96 season, the Bulls finished with a 72-10 record, beating the 1971-72 Lakers’ 70-win record and further establishing their team as the best in the NBA at the time. Conveniently enough, the Bulls were given another opportunity to capitalize on their mistakes in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic. Clearly the better team, the Bulls swept the Magic 4-0 and would later take on Seattle’s beloved Supersonics in the NBA Finals.

I loved watching the matchup between the Bulls and Supersonics; it made me reminisce about having an NBA team in Seattle. Seeing Shawn Kemp and the glove Gary Payton face off against Chicago’s finest was entertaining, to say the least. Game six was the final game of the series, the Bulls led 3-2 going into it; however, the game fell on Father’s Day. Jordan, suppressing his emotions, led the Bulls to win their fourth championship. After the game, the NBA icon was shown lying on the floor crying. Seeing this legend brought to tears after winning it for his father tugged on my heartstrings.

These episodes provided a deeper look into the hardships Jordan had to endure, which was very emotional. I never knew about the close relationship Jordan had to his father. It was heart-wrenching when episode seven covered his father’s death. I have come to appreciate how well put together these new episodes are; I was hit with emotional parts and eventful NBA games, which was a nice change in pace. Furthermore, I can’t wait to see what’s next! The final episodes of the series, episodes nine and ten, air on May 17.

Episodes 5 & 6

Ever-so entertaining, the newest episodes of ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance” turns up the notch on the time machine of NBA nostalgia. From the 1998 All-Star game matchup between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to the USA’s Olympic Dream Team, these episodes were phenomenal.

In loving memory of the late Kobe Bryant, episode five begins with the All-Star game of 1998. This game showcased a matchup between the old and the new generation of NBA stars: Jordan and Kobe. I absolutely loved Kobe’s short interview regarding Jordan: the interview illustrated how he saw Jordan as a mentor. “What you get from me is from him… he’s like my big brother,” Kobe stated. In today’s media, people often try to pit the two against each other, usually saying that one is better than the other when it is really just two competitive legends that coexist. Later in the episode, the endorsement of NBA players for big companies like Converse was present—in a 1990s commercial, it was hilarious to see Magic Johnson and Larry Bird sing a jingle while advertising Converse shoes. Inevitably, Adidas shut down Jordan’s hopes to join the brand which led him to sign with Nike, a small company that only had track shoes at the time. In 1984, when Jordan released his branded shoes, the Air Jordan, Nike sold $126 million worth of shoes. Today, Jordan’s shoes are the most popular sneakers you can buy. Some retro Air Jordan’s go for thousands of dollars, which speaks for itself in how the legendary sneakers have stood against the test of time.

The 1992 Olympics were also highlighted in the episode, where for the first time the USA would comprise a team of NBA players later called the Dream Team to represent America. The key matchup of the 1992 Olympics was between the USA and Croatia. Toni Kukoč, a Croatian basketball player who would later join the Bulls in 1993, faced the Dream Team. Before their matchup, Bulls’ GM Jerry Kraus had grown fond of Kukoč. This rubbed Jordan and Pippen the wrong way and led them to bully Kukoč in their first matchup. It’s funny to think that Kukoč was just caught up in the turmoil between the Bulls and Kraus. As they said, Jordan and Pippen had no personal problems with him. They wanted Kraus to pay the cost of being disloyal to the team.

Episode six showcases an aspect not present in the previous episodes: Jordan’s mental stability. With the global popularity he had gained, Jordan came to regret living in the spotlight 24/7. Stuck in his hotel room due to the media frenzy, he stated, “This is not one of those lifestyles that you envy, where you are confined to this room. I’m ready for [sic] getting out of this life.” The sports world often views Jordan as a superstar who could take on anything, so it was interesting to see this perspective of his life. The episode also follows the Bulls’ journey to a three-peat championship. The Knicks, led by Patrick Ewing, were among the obstacles the Bulls had to face in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. It was cool to see this matchup as the two teams got physical! Like the NHL, most fans loved seeing stars duke it out on the court in the 90s; I can only imagine how much of a thrill it would be to see this live with players like Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard trading punches. Amidst the series, Jordan gambled at Atlantic City with his father; as a result, this brought in an avalanche of theories about Jordan’s possible gambling addiction, damaging his reputation. The army of reporters that questioned Jordan every day drove him to the point where he started avoiding the media. It’s ridiculous that the best player in the world would be bombarded with questions looking to tear him down.

Eventually, the Bulls would win 4-2 against the Knicks and take on the Phoenix Suns, led by Charles Barkley, in the 1993 NBA Finals. Game six of the series was a nail biter as it came down to a buzzer beater to seal the deal. With 14.4 seconds left in the final quarter, Bulls down 96-98, Jordan dishes the ball out to John Paxson for a game-winning three-pointer. That must have been heartbreaking for the Suns. After a hard-fought series, the Bulls emerged victorious over the Suns, achieving their third championship title. This set the Bulls apart from Magic’s Lakers (two championships) and Bird’s Celtics (two championships) as those teams never won three years in a row. Further, the Bulls’ three-peat championship not only separated Jordan as one of the best but solidified the team’s greatest-of-all-time status.

Episodes five and six were a treat to watch as they wrapped up the Bulls’ achievements alongside controversies throughout their up rise to become arguably the best team in NBA history. By far my favorite part of the documentary series were the hilarious commercials in which NBA players advertised brands. I wish those types of commercials were still around—the Shaq ones are lame. I find myself so entertained while watching, to the point where an hour feels like a minute; each episode is paced very well with a balance of matchups and events that happened behind the scenes. Like many watching the series, I will be impatiently waiting for episodes seven and eight on May 10.

Episodes 3 & 4

In the latest episodes of ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance,” the spotlight focuses on player Dennis Rodman and his relationship with coach Phil Jackson. Episode three paints Rodman’s life story. Raised in New Jersey, Rodman’s family lived in the projects. When he was 18 years old, his mother kicked him out of the house, leaving him homeless for two years. Through this rough experience, he developed a driven work ethic that would prove helpful in basketball. It’s touching to hear these kinds of stories in which players who started from nothing rise to the top. In 1983, Rodman, nicknamed “the worm,” was picked up by Southeastern Oklahoma University. This is where he learned to do what he does best: rebound. In the 1986 NBA draft, he made his way to the Detroit Pistons, a team that would be given the title “bad boys.” I loved this part of the episode as it showcased how the NBA was more physical back then. Nowadays, players get called on fouls due to flops.

Episode three continues by following the Pistons’ road to winning NBA championships in 1989 and 1990; however, the team was never the same after head coach Chuck Daly left in 1992. Due to Rodman’s strong bond with Daly, he was affected emotionally when the coach left. “I was at a lost place at that time,” he said. After switching to the Spurs for a year, Rodman would then be traded to the Bulls in 1995. Rodman’s profound ability to rebound made him a defensive powerhouse on the Bulls. He was a dominant player who provided an “edge” on the front line, former Bulls player Steve Kerr stated. My favorite part of the episode was at the end when Jordan and Scottie Pippen reflected on Rodman’s vacation to Vegas. Rodman was given the green light to go on a vacation by head coach Phil Jackson. Jackson understood that Rodman was not like the other Bulls’ players, therefore, he gave him time off to be himself. What was supposed to be a 48-hour vacation ended up turning into several days! The show does a great job or portraying this drama with a sense of humor.

Episode four begins with Phil Jackson’s career: he played basketball for the University of Dakota; drafted to the Knicks in 1967; was a reliable scorer for the Knicks as they won a title in 1973; and he retired in 1980. Immediately after his retirement, Jackson started coaching in professional leagues like the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and Puerto Rico’s National Superior Basketball (BSN). In the CBA, he led the Albany Patroons to their first title in 1984. In 1987, Jackson was hired as an assistant to Bulls head coach Doug Collins, where he met and worked with Tex Winter, the architect of the triangle offense. In today’s basketball, triangle offense is still used as one of the most dominant ways for offensive attacks—it’s crazy to think that a 20-year-old method still works. Jackson was promoted to the head coach of the Bulls in 1989, when he utilized the strategy.

Near the end of the episode, the Bulls win against the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals, giving them their first title in franchise history. It was so cool watching the battle as it was named Air vs. Magic! It was also intriguing that Jordan’s motivation to win a title was to break the stigma of only winning scoring titles: he wanted to be on the same level as Larry Bird and Johnson.

Episodes three and four were packed with more of what I loved in the first episodes: behind-the-scenes insights and interviews from icons. The format of each episode is done perfectly; fans alike get their filling of eventful moments in NBA history and context to controversy. As I continue to watch the series, I begin to realize why Jordan and the Bulls are considered the greatest of all time. The buzzer beaters, hardships and family-like relationships with each other personify why the Bulls were so great. So far, I am anticipating the next episodes with a surge of excitement. Episodes five and six premiere on May 3.

Episodes 1 & 2

Episode one mainly focuses on the kid out of the University of North Carolina, Michael Jordan, and his rise to fame; some of Jordan’s most important UNC games, like his buzzer-beater in the 1982 National Championship Game, are featured in the episode. These games were fun to watch as it really shows where Jordan earned his stripes. The episode also highlights the root of all tensions amongst the Chicago Bulls: general manager Jerry Krause. Due to personal problems, Krause did not like the fame garnered by the unbeatable Bulls; rather, he was jealous. Thus, problems with the team’s general management arose. One would find it strange that a general manager would be jealous of their team’s popularity. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Episode two follows Scottie Pippen’s life like Jordan’s in episode one, with a heavy emphasis on Pippen’s low salary. At the end of Pippen’s rookie contract, he signed a seven-year contract with the Bulls for $18 million. Pippen was one of the best players on the Bulls but due to the NBA’s increasing salary cap, caused by Jordan’s explosion in global popularity, the small forward was poorly paid. As Pippen should be, his underwhelming salary frustrated him in addition to Krause attempting to trade him for Tracy McGrady after winning a fifth title in 1997. As a form of protest, he went through with surgery for a ruptured tendon early in the 1997-98 season, which would leave him out for about half the season; taking his frustration out, Pippen also berated Krause on the team bus before demanding a trade. Further, he felt that he was not being appreciated enough and at the end of the episode, Pippen hints to leaving for better opportunities. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that Pippen was not given a better contract deal—he was a key asset to the Bulls!

Another complication mentioned in the episode was before the 1997-98 season; this is when Krause announced that Bulls Head coach Phil Jackson would be coaching his last season. In Krause’s own words: “I don’t care if it’s 82-and-0 this year, you’re f***ing gone.” Krause wanted the Bulls to separate as he did not have a healthy working relationship with Jackson, Jordan, and Pippen. This decision is essentially what stopped the Bulls from achieving a seventh title and broke the team up after the 1997-98 season. It is mind blowing that Krause would want the team to move on without Phil Jackson after winning back to back championships. Krause wanted Jackson out so the Bulls could rebuild with new head coach Tim Floyd; this did not work out as the seasons after the Bulls sixth championship win were anything but good: with Pippen, Jordan and important members gone, they went on a losing record of 49–190 while Floyd was head coach (1998-2001), making them mere shadows of themselves.

For someone who did not grow up during the Michael Jordan-era of basketball, it can be easy to overlook how great the Chicago Bulls were—especially how Jordan left an impact on professional basketball. After the first two episodes of ESPN’s mini-series “The Last Dance,” I was left wanting to see more of the Bulls’ greatness. These first episodes pulled me back into the ’90s NBA and kept me glued to the screen. The format of both episodes centers around a storytelling-like narrative of the Bulls chronicles and the complications centering around general management—particularly Krause. I appreciated the timeline of events brought up throughout the episodes, it was easy to follow. “The Last Dance” does a great job presenting the upcoming of Jordan and the Bull’s inevitable split after the 1997-98 season. This makes the show entertaining for anyone who may not know much about the Bulls’ legacy. Furthermore, “The Last Dance” is an intriguing documentary with a great start. Episodes three and four air on April 26.