Top Takeaways from Night 3 of Chicago Bulls Documentary 'The Last Dance'

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2020

Top Takeaways from Night 3 of Chicago Bulls Documentary 'The Last Dance'

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    The third night of ESPN's landmark documentary event, The Last Dance, has come and gone. And, as was the case with the first two nights, it didn't disappoint.

    Episode 5 kicks off with a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, who in many ways came closer to a Jordan-like run than anyone we've seen since MJ. It gets into the shoe business and Michael Jordan's duel with Clyde Drexler.

    The Dream Team takes center stage for a while. Toni Kukoc finally gets some love, though the pieces on him are still mostly foreshadowing.

    In Episode 6, the documentary finally tackles the greenback elephant in the room: Jordan's gambling habits.

    And following a breakdown of the 1993 Finals against the Phoenix Suns, there are hints toward the first retirement and year off with baseball.

    All that and more follow in this edition of the biggest takeaways from sports' biggest weekly event.

MJ vs. Kobe

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    Episode 5 of The Last Dance tips off with behind-the-scenes footage of the 1998 All-Star Game, when Jordan went head-to-head with up-and-comer Kobe Bryant.

    In the Eastern Conference's locker room, Jordan shoots the breeze with Tim Hardaway, Reggie Miller and others about how Bryant wants to "take" the game, rather than allow it to go to him.

    In a timeout, Jordan told his teammates that he was going to make Kobe work. And he did. Jordan won the All-Star Game MVP after posting 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Teenage Kobe had 18 in a losing effort.

    "What you get from me, is from him," Kobe said.

    The relationship was a brotherly one. Jordan was willing to impart his wisdom and moves to Kobe. And coming from someone as competitive as MJ, that means a lot.

    Fast forward a decade-and-a-half, and there are now YouTube highlight reels showing just how eerily similar the move sets of these legendary wings were.

    In terms of stats, Jordan may never be surpassed. But on an aesthetic level, Kobe came as close as anyone to the GOAT.

Nike vs. Adidas

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    It's hard to believe now, but Michael Jordan was determined to sign with Adidas during his rookie season with the Bulls. Nike had a hard time even getting a meeting with the phenom.

    "I am not going to Nike's, Mom," Jordan's mother Deloris recalled him saying.

    "She made me get on that plane and listen," Jordan added.

    The company offered the rookie a $250,000 deal. His agent, David Falk, said the goal was $3 million in sales by the end of the fourth year. The company moved $126 million worth of Air Jordans in the first year of the deal.

    As explained by celebrities like Nas, Justin Timberlake and Spike Lee, Jordan made basketball shoes cool outside of basketball.

    And ultimately, it was his game that was the biggest marketing tool. As Jordan points out in the documentary, pedestrian numbers wouldn't have sold merchandise. Jordan averaged an absurd 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game as a rookie.

MJ, Clyde and the Shrug

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    "Clyde was a threat," Jordan said of Portland Trail Blazers wing Clyde Drexler. "But me being compared to him, I took offense to that."

    Before Game 1 tipped off, play-by-play commentator Marv Albert said the numbers of the two stars numbers mirrored each other in 1991-92. And believe it or not, Drexler really wasn't that far behind.

    MJ led the league in box plus/minus that season at 9.7. He averaged 30.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.3 steals and 0.9 blocks.

    Drexler was third, with an 8.7 box plus/minus. His averages were 25.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks.

    That second batch of numbers is phenomenal, and Jordan taking offense to being compared to the player who posted them is another window into a competitive soul without equal.

    Prior to the series tipping off, he told Magic Johnson that he was going to take it to Drexler, and that's exactly what he did. After hitting what was a record sixth three in the first half, we got the famous shrug seen above.

    Jordan finished that game with 39 points and 11 assists. For the series, he averaged 35.8 points on the way to his second title and second Finals MVP.

The Dream Team

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    "You want to attribute it to me, go ahead and be my guest," Jordan said of Isiah Thomas being left off the 1992 Dream Team. "But it wasn't me."

    As pointed out by ESPN's Michael Wilbon, most of the roster for that Olympic team had issues with Thomas going into that summer. And, for what it's worth, John Stockton's statistical resume was stronger.

    The group that was there obviously made the most of it, even in practice.

    Jordan said those sessions were perhaps his favorite part of the experience. And Magic Johnson said it was some of the best basketball ever played.

    "If you don't turn into Air Jordan, we're going to blow you out," Johnson recalls telling Jordan during a scrimmage in which his squad was up eight. "Man, why did I say that?"

    Jordan then took over a gym full of some of the best to ever play the game.

    "After that game, everyone kind of acknowledged we were in a new era," said Brian McIntyre, the NBA's senior vice president of public relations at the time. "Michael Jordan was the alpha alpha. Period."

    After the United States steamrolled the competition in the Olympic tournament, the NBA's worldwide profile took off, leading to the global talent pool we see in the league today.

A Cold Introduction

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    David Aldridge said Jerry Krause called Toni Kukoc the future of the Chicago Bulls organization. He was selected in the second round of the 1990 draft but didn't debut with the Bulls till the 1993-94 season.

    "The situation at home was not so great, because of the war," Kukoc said. "I just decided to play a couple more years in Europe first. Just to be there. ... Just to not take off completely. And I was making considerably more in Europe than I would make my first couple years here."

    Around the time of the 1992 Olympics, Jordan and Pippen felt Krause prioritized getting Kukoc to the team over getting Pippen a new contract. And they took their frustrations over that situation out on the young forward.

    Before their first game against each other in Barcelona, Jordan told the rest of the locker room to leave Kukoc to him and Pippen. They proceeded to annihilate their future teammate, who finished with seven turnovers, five assists and four points.

    "If he's that nervous, he can't come to the NBA and play 82 games," Pippen said after the Dream Team crushed Kukoc's Croatian national team.

    Jordan said that was unfair at the time. And Kukoc mentioned that they didn't even know him during his interview for the documentary.

    In the second game between USA and Croatia, Kukoc had 16 points and nine assists, proving his mettle to the teammates he would go on to win NBA titles with.

Jordan's Competitiveness

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    Former Bulls center Will Perdue explained that Jordan couldn't help but have his competitive side come out with everything.

    The interview is played behind video of Jordan betting with United Center security personnel over who can toss a quarter closest to the wall without hitting it.

    He played card games on the back of team flights with Ron Harper and others for thousands of dollars per hand. Perdue, John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong and others played blackjack on the other end of the plane for a dollar a hand.

    Jordan insisted on playing in their game. When Paxson asked why, Jordan explained that he simply wanted Paxson's money in his pocket.

The Jordan Rules

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    Bulls drama was not exclusive to the 1997-98 squad. In January of 1992, Chicago journalist Sam Smith published The Jordan Rules, an inside look at some Jordan's clashes with teammates.

    Horace Grant called himself a "scapegoat" because of his relationship with Smith. But Armstrong insisted that other teammates, coaches and personnel up and down the organization could've been responsible for some of the quotes and anecdotes.

    After years of dominance and "Be Like Mike" commercials, this felt like the first concentrated effort to to take a little varnish off his reputation.

    Of course, the drama spawned from the book ultimately proved another victim of Jordan's insatiable hunger to win. The Bulls went on to win two more titles between the book's release and Jordan's departure for baseball.

The Gambling

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    Episode 6 of The Last Dance gets into the gambling stories that have become inseparable from the lore surrounding Jordan.

    He testified to a gambling debt he had to Slim Bouler in court. A golfing buddy, Richard Esquinas, alleged that Jordan owed him $1.2 million from bets on the course. A late-night trip to Atlantic City during a 1993 playoff series against the New York Knicks led to further speculation.

    "No, because I can stop gambling," Jordan told Connie Chung when she asked if he had a gambling problem. "I have a competition problem. A competitive problem."

    As journalist David Aldridge explained, a $10,000 bet to MJ is a like a $10 bet to most. Like Jordan said, this was more about the never-ending desire for wins.

    After his trip to Atlantic City, the Bulls came back from a 2-0 series deficit to win it 4-2.

    And after the series was over, Paxson credited the attacks on Jordan for galvanizing the team.

The Three-Peat

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    "I was a little bit upset that I didn't get the MVP that year and they gave it to Charles Barkley," Jordan said of the 1993 Finals against the Phoenix Suns. "But with that said, OK, fine, you can have that. I'm going to get this."

    Charles Barkley had his moments, averaging 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the series, but Jordan did indeed "get" that title. He averaged 41.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists over those six games.

    "That was the first time in my life that I felt like there was a better basketball player in the world than me," Barkley said of Game 2. Despite going for 42 points and 13 rebounds, Barkley felt that Jordan, who had 42 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, outplayed him.

    Eventually, the Bulls would win the series in six. Paxson's last-second three in the final game is one of the lasting images. But it's what happened after the 1992-93 campaign that may be better known.

    Teammates explained that Jordan simply seemed tired after that season. Tired physically, sure. But the mental and emotional toll seemed even heavier.

    Episode 6 teases it a few times, but this was the series that preceded Jordan's first retirement and venture into baseball. 

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