Michael Jordan 'The Last Dance' Top Moments and Reaction from Episodes 7 and 8May 11, 2020
A shocking retirement, baseball growing pains, intense practices and tragedy.
It was all on display in Episodes 7 and 8 of ESPN's The Last Dance documentary chronicling Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls.
Here is a look at some of the biggest moments.
'Way to Go, Craig'
One of the most memorable lines of Sunday's episodes was from journalist to journalist and came right out of the gates.
Craig Sager asked Jerry Krause about potential backstabbing within the organization before the 1998 playoffs, which set the general manager on a tirade before he stormed away from the press conference.
"Way to go, Craig," someone from the press gaggle deadpanned.
Way to go indeed.
Stunning Retirement, Real-Life Tragedy and Conspiracy Theories
The Last Dance made perfectly clear how much the weight of fame, expectations and media scrutiny weighed on Jordan during both three-peats.
Jordan revealed during Sunday's episode that his father, James, was the only other person who knew he was thinking about retiring in 1993. He made it clear how important his father was to him, calling him "my rock" and likening him to a "friend."
That's what made the offseason before the official retirement all the more tragic.
James was murdered, and his body was found near the North Carolina and South Carolina border after a search that lasted for weeks. That immediately drove conspiracy theories that he was murdered in part because of Jordan's gambling connections.
"It did hurt, but you had people who were throwing darts trying to hurt me anyway," Jordan said of the speculation.
It wasn't the last time conspiracy theories would surround Jordan, as many thought his stunning retirement when he was just 30 years old following three championships was some sort of punishment from NBA Commissioner David Stern because of those gambling ties.
"Ridiculous, no basis in facts," Stern said during the documentary.
Not Exactly Bad News Michael on the Baseball Diamond
In the story of Michael Jordan, his baseball career is often seen as the comic relief.
After all, the greatest basketball player in history who is synonymous with success languished for a season on minor league buses as a member of the Birmingham Barons, who were the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. It was jarring to see Air Jordan of all people playing at a minor league level, although there is something to be said for picking up a bat after an entire basketball career and finishing with a batting average better than .200.
Sarah Spain @SarahSpain
The reaction to MJ playing baseball not only ignored the inherent difficulty in what he was trying to do, the real work he was putting in & how he improved, it was also callous & cruel considering how openly he talked about doing it for his just-murdered dad. #TheLastDance
During the 1994 season, Jordan finished with a .202/.289/.266 slash line, three home runs, 51 RBI, 30 stolen bases, 51 walks and 114 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances.
Even with 30 stolen bases and no professional experience to fall back on, Sports Illustrated ran a cover that said "Bag It, Michael! Jordan and the White Sox Are Embarrassing Baseball." Jordan said he felt "betrayed" by the cover, revealed he was never interviewed for the story and said he didn't speak to the magazine in the aftermath.
Darren Rovell @darrenrovell
This Day In 1994: Sports Illustrated goes with what will become its most costly cover of all time, telling Michael Jordan to “Bag” his baseball career. Inside headline is “Err Jordan.” 24 years later, MJ has denied all of the magazine’s interview requests. https://t.co/Nn8033ZA1E
Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said the only reason he was facing formidable Double-A pitching was because the facilities in the lower levels couldn't handle the onslaught of media attention.
To Jordan's credit, he put in the work and improved enough to the point Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who managed him with the Barons, said "In my opinion, with 1,500 at-bats he would have found a way to get to the major leagues."
Steve Kerr—8 Championships, 1 Black Eye
Jordan wasn't the only one who didn't back down from challenges.
No. 23's legendary intensity at practices wore on his teammates at times, and Steve Kerr paid the price when he didn't fall into line. Both players recalled one instance when head coach Phil Jackson started calling fouls on Jordan when they were guarding each other, perhaps to even things up, which did not sit well with His Airness.
"Now I'm getting mad because for you to be protecting this guy, that's not going to help us when we play New York," Jordan said. "That's not going to help us when we play these teams that are very physical."
Jordan took things into his own hands, unleashing a hard foul on Kerr and saying, "Now that's a f--king foul."
Kerr responded by hitting Jordan in the chest, and MJ answered right back with a punch to the right eye. Jackson had enough and kicked his best player out of practice, although Jordan said that was the moment Kerr earned his respect.
"I have a lot of patience as a human being, but I tend to snap at some point," Kerr said. "Because I'm extremely competitive, too. Just not really good enough to back it up usually."
Not Just Kerr
Jordan's relentlessness certainly didn't start or stop with Kerr.
In fact, Scott Burrell was arguably his biggest target, especially in the footage on The Last Dance. Jordan went after him one-on-one in practice, didn't stop trash-talking him and, at least according to No. 23 himself, was using it as a motivating tactic to make the team better.
Scottie Pippen said the Bulls needed that, and Will Perdue—even while adding the caveat of "let's not get it wrong, he was an assh--e, he was a jerk"—agreed.
B.J. Armstrong Should Have Learned from LaBradford Smith
One of the flashbacks in Sunday's episodes went back to a regular-season game in 1993 in which LaBradford Smith dropped 37 points in a matchup with Jordan's Bulls.
Smith apparently said "nice game, Mike" on the way to the locker room, which Jordan used as fuel to go after him the next night in the back-to-back matchup on his way to 36 points in just the first half alone.
"I've never seen a man go after another player the way he did," B.J. Armstrong said.
But ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon noted Jordan made up the exchange with Smith, though, as a way of motivating himself with an imagined sleight. A dominant player who makes up sleights doesn't need an actual motivational factor, but that's what Armstrong gave him in the second round in 1998 when the guard was on the Charlotte Hornets.
Armstrong drilled a key shot near the end of Game 2 and stared down the Bulls bench.
That was it for the Hornets, as Jordan took over from there, going after Armstrong and leading his team to an easy series win in the ensuing games.
No Longer the Jordanaires, but Pippen Controversy Endures
The Bulls with Michael Jordan: six championships.
The Bulls without Michael Jordan: zero championships.
Playing without Jordan wasn't a completely lost cause, though, as the 1993-94 Bulls still reached the second round of the playoffs while he was playing baseball. Pippen and Horace Grant were the go-to options, and they took the physical New York Knicks to seven games before bowing out in a heated postseason series.
It was a much better effort than some of the team's historical counterparts:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
When Michael Jordan left the Bulls before the 1993-94 season, Chicago players and fans likely didn’t predict what happened next. The 1993-94 Bulls went 55-27 without Jordan. No other team in NBA history has even won 45 games the season after losing a 30 PPG scorer (FROM ELIAS). https://t.co/KwXG5osGnO
Still, that team was largely remembered and defined by a single moment in the Knicks series. Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc instead of Pippen in the final seconds of Game 3, and Pippen refused to check in to the game.
Kukoc hit the shot, but the damage was done.
Grant described it as a "twilight zone moment, like, what the hell is going on," while Kerr said, "he quit on us ... we couldn't believe that happened." They also both revealed Bill Cartwright was in tears during a postgame speech in the locker room.
Sunday's episodes gave Pippen a chance to address the situation, and, in something of a stunning admission, he said, "If I had the chance to do it over again, I probably wouldn't change it."
Pippen is a Hall of Famer and one of the best players in NBA history, but even Jordan acknowledged that moment will always be part of his former teammate's legacy.
It may be the most famous fax in sports history.
Jordan kept things simple when he decided to return to the court with a fax that said, "I'm back."
The rest was history, as the Bulls three-peated for the second time in eight years with Air Jordan leading the team to NBA Finals wins over the Seattle SuperSonics and Utah Jazz in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
While Chicago didn't win the title in 1995 when he returned with 17 games remaining, he led the team to a 13-4 record down the stretch and into solid playoff position despite its slow start without him. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they lost in the second round to Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, Grant and the Orlando Magic in a rare moment of vulnerability for Jordan.
Bugs Bunny and Scouting Reports
Any child of the 1990s remembers Jordan hooping with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes in the movie Space Jam.
MJ wasn't just filming a movie, though, and the late-night scrimmages with a number of NBA players, including Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller, were a focal point for part of Sunday's episodes. Jordan took the opportunity to scout what his opponents were doing before he returned to basketball and dominated the league once again.
Those scouting reports must have been on point.
Doesn't Mean a Thing Without the Ring
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors stunned the basketball world when they broke the 1995-96 Bulls' record of 72 regular-season wins.
But Jordan's Chicago team has the most important thing—the ring.
The 1995-96 season was the first time Jordan was coming off a playoff loss since he won his first championship in 1991. It wasn't just any playoff loss, as the Magic carried Grant off the floor on their shoulders following the second-round series the prior campaign.
Safe to say, he was motivated to respond to the challenge.
Chicago tore through the league on the way to a stunning 72-10 record and might have been even better in the playoffs with a single loss on the way to the NBA Finals. That loss happened to come in overtime against the Knicks in the second round, and it appeared as if the dominant squad was on the way to an NBA Finals sweep against Seattle.
To the SuperSonics' credit, they won two straight to force a Game 6 with Gary Payton keeping Jordan in relative check. The Seattle point guard suggested the series may have been different if he guarded No. 23 the whole time, which sent Jordan into a laughing fit:
The Bulls ultimately prevailed in Game 6 for Jordan's first championship since his father died.
The image of a basketball's greatest player grasping the game ball on the ground in tears remains one of the most powerful ones in the sport's history.