Jordan and the Bulls allowed NBA Entertainment to follow them throughout the season and document their final championship. The series features never-before-seen footage, as well as interviews with more than 100 people close to the team.
Here’s what you need to know from the seventh and eighth episodes, which covered Jordan’s first retirement, the mid-’90s Bulls led by Scottie Pippen and the start of the 1998 postseason.
ESPN’s NBA experts on ‘The Last Dance’
Our team weighs in with their biggest takeaways from the seventh and eighth episodes of the series. This will be updated throughout the night.
Bobby Marks: I can still see the confetti coming down at the old Continental Airlines Arena. After winning the final game of the season at home against the Detroit Pistons, the New Jersey Nets had clinched a playoff spot. Their reward: the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
Game 1 of the series was one of those “what if” moments. Two starters, PG Sam Cassell (groin) and rookie PF Keith Van Horn (flu), played a combined 33 minutes. A third starter, SG Kerry Kittles, struggled offensively (3-for-17 from the field).
Still, Chicago needed overtime to win Game 1, despite the Nets being down 14 in the fourth quarter.
There was so much confidence heading into Game 3 that the Nets, trailing 0-2, flew in legendary ringside announcer Michael Buffer to introduce the starting lineups.
Jordan dropped 38 points on 16-of-22 shooting from the field, and the Bulls swept the series in a non-competitive Game 3.
The lasting memory from that game is the infamous staredown that Jordan gave Calipari.
Coach Cal had a penchant for stomping his feet on the sidelines and screaming at our younger players, in this case Van Horn and Kittles. I can still see Jordan staring at Calipari. The wordless expression was aimed at telling Calipari to leave these two young players alone.
Eric Woodyard: I love my job to death, don’t get me wrong. But it’s definitely bothersome at times to see how rumors can get started without any sort of proof or facts to support them by certain media members, and that they can actually stick all these years later.
As a kid, you hear about all of these stories about MJ leaving basketball the first time because of the supposed “secret suspension” and that he got his father killed because of so-called gambling debts. But in this day and age, there is no way something like that would still remain under wraps. We all have a job to do, and criticism is a part of solid reporting. But I also believe that you have to be able to convey a human element to these athletes to go along with the concrete evidence before writing something. Yes, they do make millions, but they are human beings as well. In some ways, it seems like the media robbed MJ of his joy of the game as well. Being like Mike was no easy job. The man couldn’t even mourn his father in peace. That will weigh heavy on any man.
Dave McMenamin: Just because technology advances, doesn’t mean it always gets better. People still get dressed up in old-timey garb at theme parks to pose for black-and-white photographs because they enjoy the ceremony of the pop of the flashbulb over the flick of the finger on their smartphone’s screen. There is something so quaint, so cemented in the time and place that was 1995, about the way Jordan announced his comeback with a fax machine.
And it’s not just the method of conveying the message, or the meaning of the message that stands out, it’s the syntax of the message itself that makes it memorable. “I’m back” assumes a base knowledge from its recipient. Who is I? Well, Michael Jordan, maybe the most famous person on the planet, of course. Back where? To play for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA, duh.
I always associate the fax, which J.A. Adande thoroughly explored at the 20th anniversary in 1995, with the clip of Scottie Pippen sitting on the bench during a Bulls game and pointing to the Jumpman logo at the bottom of his Air Jordan X sneakers, beckoning Jordan to return. In this case, technological advancements in the sneaker world paid off. Rather than a basic rubber sole, Nike incorporated storytelling into the shoe, etching MJ’s major career achievements into rivets added not just for traction, but for aesthetic.
Fun fact: The fax informed the manner in which LeBron James announced his decision to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018, according to sources. After the TV spectacle that backfired with “The Decision” in 2010 when he went to Miami and the extreme course correction that followed with a first-person essay as told to Sports Illustrated in 2014 when he went back to Cleveland, James’ camp wanted something clean and simple in 2018. So they drafted a 36-word announcement (Jordan’s was actually 42, including the preamble) and slapped the Klutch Sports logo in the upper left hand corner of the page in the same place Jordan’s agent, David Falk, had his F.A.M.E. agency’s letterhead in ’95. Below the logo but before the announcement began – just as with the MJ fax — included three words in a strikingly similar sans serif font to prompt the basketball world that major news was about to follow: “For immediate release.”
Tim Bontemps: Michael Jordan summed up his entire ethos with one phrase late in Episode 7: “Winning has a price.”
Jordan punched multiple teammates in practice. When several were asked on camera if he was a nice guy, they either hemmed and hawed or simply said, “No.”
But to Jordan, none of that mattered. What mattered was the end result. And, to him, there was only one acceptable result: winning.
The fact Jordan got emotional at the end of talking about the way he would drive his teammates, and what he was trying to accomplish by doing so, was just the latest moment in a documentary full of them that exemplified just how badly Jordan wants to win.
Even now, 22 years later, the competitive fire within him hasn’t been dimmed at all. And, to him, it was the only way to operate.
Because, as he said, winning has a price. And Jordan was more than willing to make sure not only he, but everyone around him, was going to pay whatever it took to win.
Eric Woodyard: “Nice game, Mike!” – LaBradford Smith.
Michael Jordan was just different. The dude is as motivated as anyone throughout the history of basketball, and it was on display this episode. The fact that he made up this story about LaBradford Smith to motivate himself to destroy him the next night in Washington is just insane. He will go the extra mile to be great.
That ability to turn it up a notch because of B.J. Armstrong in the playoffs is just as crazy, too. Most players aren’t willing to dig that deep to be successful. Love him or hate him, that is true greatness. You really have to be an a—— sometimes to reach feats that others never will.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Michael Jordan’s personal trainer Tim Grover reflect on MJ’s decision to play baseball. Episodes 7 and 8 of “The Last Dance” debut Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Jesse Rogers: It didn’t take long to see the athleticism. It was apparent after spending just a few days in Birmingham, Ala. in 1994. Michael Jordan had that quick first step – just as he did on the basketball court.
But as you might imagine, Jordan’s size worked against him, especially in the batter’s box. His swing was long, taking its time through the zone. Even an average fan could recognize those deficiencies.
But when Jordan got moving – on the base paths or in the outfield — it resembled MJ in the open court. He was still entertaining despite a career .202 batting average over 127 games. His three home runs were a thrill, though, proving that he had some hand/eye coordination and ability. Double-A baseball isn’t exactly a picnic, and there were plenty of times the 31 year-old held his own.
But MJ wasn’t accustomed to failure. And baseball is all about failure.
Andrew Lopez: There are several moments in “The Last Dance” where you think, “what would happen if this occurred during the social media era?” and Scottie Pippen’s refusal to go in with 1.8 seconds left is certainly at the top of that list. A team’s star player not wanting to go in because he didn’t get the play drawn up for him? It’d be insane.
But another thing that stood out – Toni Kukoc feels like one of those players from the 1990s that came around too early. Kukoc played until 2006, but he seems like he’d be just perfect in the modern game.
Mike Schmitz: According to our historical database, Scottie Pippen is one of only two NBA players since 1980 to average at least 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.5 steals per game over the course of an NBA season, which he did through 72 games in 1993-94. The other? Michael Jordan in 1989, when MJ averaged 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2.9 steals in 81 games. Pippen’s 1993-94 campaign was further proof that he could have absolutely thrived in a LeBron James-style, jumbo lead ball-handler role with shooters surrounding him.
Jackie MacMullan: If you want to understand how much his father’s tragic death affected Michael Jordan, fast forward to March 19, 1995 — the first time he was playing basketball since James Jordan’s senseless murder. The same superstar who was so meticulously dressed throughout “The Last Dance”, who, before every single game, painstakingly lined up his shoelaces so they matched exactly, was so overcome with emotion playing on Father’s Day without James Jordan present, he actually took the court with his shorts on backwards.
Jesse Rogers: MJ’s close relationship with his father highlights the kind of loner he was — which sometimes comes with being so famous. But Jordan came to Chicago that way. His driver (George Koehler), who picked him up on his first day in town, became his life long friend and confidant. He and James Jordan basically were his support system. Jordan had no posse. I can’t emphasize that enough. It shaped who he was from early in his playing career. It became about basketball and only basketball and I think that’s why he was so ruthless in all the ways he competed. And after his father died, he had only Koehler. There was no entourage to distract him.
More on ‘The Last Dance’
ESPN’s NBA experts weigh in with their biggest takeaways from the third weekend of ‘The Last Dance.’
Steve Kerr talks about how fights in practice used to happen all the time and no one found out about his scuffle with Michael Jordan until months later.
Dennis Rodman once split Scottie Pippen’s chin open, but “The Last Dance” and the history it reveals has strengthened their bond.
ESPN’s NBA experts weigh in with their biggest takeaways from the second weekend of “The Last Dance.”
In 1998, Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris, sat down to discuss what it is like to be the mother of the world’s greatest basketball player.
“The Last Dance” offers a glimpse into the Michael Jordan-Kobe Bryant relationship, but the bond between the two basketball icons goes far deeper.
ESPN’s NBA experts weigh in with their biggest takeaways from the first two episodes of “The Last Dance.”
Sunday, May 17
7 p.m. ET | Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 7
8 p.m. ET | Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 8
9 p.m. ET | Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 9
10 p.m. ET | Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 10
Netflix (outside of the U.S.)
Monday, May 4 | 12:01 a.m. PT | “The Last Dance” Episodes 5 and 6
Monday, May 11 | 12:01 a.m. PT | “The Last Dance” Episodes 7 and 8
Monday, May 18 | 12:01 a.m. PT | “The Last Dance” Episodes 9 and 10