Top Takeaways from Night 5 of Chicago Bulls Documentary 'The Last Dance'

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2020

Top Takeaways from Night 5 of Chicago Bulls Documentary 'The Last Dance'

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    It's over. After weeks shared by a quarantined world, ESPN's documentary event The Last Dance wrapped up Sunday.

    And for the first time in the 10-part series, the focus was squarely on the actual last dance. The series called back to earlier seasons a bit, including the 1997 Finals, but the bulk of the time was devoted to the team in question.

    In the end, confusion remains over why the organization was broken up after the 1998 Finals. But this series' in-depth look at Jordan's run through the '90s was exactly what sports fans needed now.

    The biggest takeaways from the final night of The Last Dance follow.

Michael vs. Reggie

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    Episode 9 of the The Last Dance tips off with highlights of the run-ins Michael Jordan had with Reggie Miller, one of the greatest shooters (and shooting guards) in NBA history.

    Miller recounted an early-career matchup with MJ in which he was feeling himself a bit after a strong first half. He shot him a few verbal barbs, which unleashed Jordan in the second half of a Chicago Bulls victory.

    As Jordan walked off the floor afterward, Miller recalls him saying, "Don't ever talk trash to black Jesus."

    Later in their careers, these two met in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, which center Bill Wennington called the "hardest playoff series we had."

    In Game 3 of that series, Miller scored 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a 107-105 win. In Game 4, he had one of the best moments of his career.

    "A lot of players can make shots in the first three quarters of the game," Jalen Rose said. "But when you need a shot late, give the ball to Reggie."

    On the second-to-last possession of the game, Indiana ran a side out-of-bounds play that got the ball to Reggie cutting toward the sideline. He spun off the catch, hoisted a three and drilled it with 0.7 seconds left. A double-clutch jumper from MJ rimmed out and sent the series back to Chicago tied 2-2.

    After splitting Games 5 and 6, the Bulls were faced with what may have been their biggest challenge: Game 7 against Miller and a hungry Pacers squad led by coach Larry Bird.

    "We're gonna win," Jordan said before the tip. "Game 7. We will win Game 7."

    Indiana went up 12 early, but the Bulls evened the score by about midway through the second quarter. It was a seesaw battle from there.

    After Rik Smits tipped a now infamous jump ball to Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr hit a three that tilted momentum to the Bulls. They never gave it back, winning the game 88-83 and the series 4-3.

The 1997 NBA Finals

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    It didn't take Michael Jordan long to answer when asked what his motivation was for the 1997 Finals against the Utah Jazz.

    "You think he's the MVP?" Jordan hypothetically asked of Karl Malone winning the league's top individual honor that season. "OK, no problem."

    As if that weren't enough, MJ remembers an interaction with Utah wing Bryon Russell that added fuel to the fire, as well. During his hiatus with baseball, Jordan visited the Jazz, who were on a trip to Chicago to play the Bulls.

    Jordan recalled that Russell asked him, "Why'd you quit? You knew I could guard your ass, so you quit."

    The precocious Russell was on Jordan's list after that. And hitting the game-winner in Game 1 of the 1997 Finals was't enough to satisfy Jordan (you know how this ends).

    Utah refused to go away quietly, though. After winning Game 3, the Jazz evened the series in a Game 4 that included what David Aldridge described as the best pass he'd ever seen from a point guard.

    With time winding down, John Stockton grabbed a defensive rebound, wheeled around and hoisted a one-handed, full-court, perfectly placed dime to Karl Malone to give Utah the lead.

    Then came the infamous "Flu Game," which The Last Dance attempts to rename.

    Jordan and his trainer, Tim Grover, described a dubious pizza delivery that came from five deliverymen. Jordan said, "It wasn't the flu game. It was food poisoning."

    Of course, despite "flu-like symptoms" and a previous night spent throwing up, Jordan played Game 5.

    "He's like the terminator," Aldridge said. "I mean, he went somewhere, and he found a switch."

    Jordan finished the road victory with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 44 minutes.

    "He had shown that no matter how sick he was, he's still the best player in the world," Pippen said.

Steve Kerr's Journey

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    "I had to fight and scrap and claw for everything I got in the NBA," Steve Kerr said. "And that was just enough to make it."

    Kerr didn't get a ton of attention from college programs coming out of high school, but Arizona offered him a scholarship at the last minute. Kerr took it without ever visiting the school.

    While there, his father, Malcolm, was murdered in Beirut, Lebanon. He was the president of American University in Beirut at the time.

    "My phone rang in my dorm at 3:00 in the morning," Kerr said. "So, I knew something was up. He just said, 'Steve, I have terrible news.'"

    Kerr's mother, Ann, recalled, "Steve reacted by throwing himself more deeply into basketball."

    The Last Dance's retelling of Kerr's story culminated with a flash-forward to Game 6 of the 1997 Finals, when Jordan tells Kerr to "be ready" in the final seconds of the game.

    "If they're gonna double-team me, Steve's gonna be open." Jordan said.

    He was, and Jordan found him. Kerr put the Bulls up 88-86 in the waning seconds with a jumper that looked eerily similar to John Paxson's winner four years earlier.

    "Tonight, Steve Kerr earned his wings," Jordan said in the postgame presser. "And I'm very happy for Steve."

The 1998 NBA Finals

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    Jasmine, Marcus and Jeffery Jordan, Michael's kids, made their first appearance of The Last Dance in Episode 10. The hostility of the Jazz crowd led the family to think they were better off in the basement at home. The Bulls split those first two games of the 1998 Finals in Utah.

    In the first game back in Chicago, the Bulls annihilated the Jazz 96-54. Karl Malone had 22 points. No other starter put up more than six.

    Former NBA broadcaster Bob Costas said Utah's 54 was the lowest point total any team had mustered since the advent of the shot clock.

    "This is actually the score?" Jerry Sloan asked in the postgame press conference. "Is this the final?"

    After the blowout, Dennis Rodman missed practice for an appearance with Hulk Hogan and the New World Order.

    "There are some things worth missing practice for, brother." Hogan said in his trademark, rumbling baritone.

    At a later shootaround, Jackson said that Rodman brought dishonor to the team.

    "They're going to get to the 100 percent when I'm on the court," Rodman said.

    That series, he averaged 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 points, paltry numbers compared to the 15.0 rebounds and 4.7 points he put up in the regular season.

    But his best performance of the series may have come in Game 4, fresh off his appearance with the nWo. Rodman had 14 rebounds and six points in an 86-82 win that put Chicago on the brink of its sixth title.

    Malone did all he could to delay the inevitable in Game 5, going for 39 points, nine rebounds and five assists. With Utah leading by two with 1.1 seconds left, Jordan air-balled a potential game-winner, setting up the legendary moment in Game 6.

    Back in Utah, Jordan went off for 45 points. And Chicago needed all of them, as Scottie Pippen only managed 26 minutes because of a back injury.

    "I was a decoy that whole game," Pippen said.

    The added burden appeared to be weighing on Jordan, who went 2-of-6 from the field in the third quarter. He was 15-of-35 for the game.

    And he had a worthy adversary on the other end. Malone had another huge game, totaling 31 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

    But Jordan was simply too much.

    In the final 41 seconds, with the Bulls down three, Jordan hit a driving layup, stole the ball on a Malone post-up and sank perhaps the most famous shot in league history.

    "Get the hell out the way," Pippen said when asked what he was thinking on that last possession.

    With 5.2 seconds left, Jordan crossed Bryon Russell up and sent him tumbling into the paint.

    "Everyone said I pushed off," Jordan said. "Bulls--t. He was already falling that way."

    The image of Jordan hitting the jumper after that move is among the most iconic of his legendary career. It sealed his sixth and final title. And it was the final shot Jordan ever took as a Chicago Bull.

One More Year

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    Fans chanted "One more year!" at the 1998 championship parade, but the comments of Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen all featured a hint of resignation that it was over.

    Owner Jerry Reinsdorf said he asked Jackson to come back for 1998-99, but he also told him it wasn't economically viable to bring the same team back. He prepared him for a rebuilding season, which Jackson understandably didn't want.

    When Reinsdorf's reasoning was laid out for Jordan, he explained that he wanted to go for that seventh title. Jordan thought everyone, including himself, Jackson and Pippen would've come back for the next season.

    Going out at his peak was "maddening." 

    "There are great players who don't have an impact beyond their sport," Barack Obama said. "Michael Jordan helped to create a different way in which people saw athletics as part of the entertainment business. ... Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls changed the culture."

    Jordan took the game of basketball to the international stage in a way no one else had.

    "We went from a s--tty team to one of the greatest dynasties ever," Jordan said. "All you needed was one little match to start that whole fire."