Michael Jordan 'The Last Dance' Top Moments and Reaction from Final EpisodesMay 18, 2020
"I just want the Chicago Bulls to be respected as a team."
That is what Michael Jordan said shortly after he was drafted in 1984, and all he did was win six championships and become the most legendary player in NBA history. Legendary enough to make a 10-episode documentary called The Last Dance, which concluded Sunday on ESPN.
The final two episodes covered a number of topics, such as MJ's famous flu game, the final two championships, a heated Eastern Conference Finals showdown against the Indiana Pacers and much more.
Here is a look at the most memorable moments.
Reggie Tries to Retire Michael Jordan
There isn't much lost in the annals of history when it comes to Jordan's story, but the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers is often overshadowed by battles with the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons and the six NBA Finals appearances.
Reggie Miller was the leader of that Pacers team and turned heads during the documentary when he said, "We felt, I feel to this day, we were the better team." He also said he felt as if he was "going to retire Michael Jordan" heading into the series.
So much for that.
To Indiana's credit, the series went the full seven games in a physical battle that came down to home-court advantage. The home team won all seven contests, and it appeared as if the Pacers would stun the Bulls in Chicago in Game 7 when they built a double-digit lead in the first quarter.
Jordan and Co. used their stifling defense to climb back into the game and eventually close the deal by holding the challengers scoreless in the final two minutes of the series.
Miller can at least take solace knowing his squad earned Jordan's respect. During the documentary, No. 23 called the Pacers the toughest team he faced in the Eastern Conference outside of those Pistons, adding that "it became personal for me."
That was made all the more clear with old footage of fights between Jordan and Miller and the latter's winning three-pointer in the final seconds of Game 4, albeit only after the Pacers sharp-shooter shoved his counterpart away to create the necessary space.
The Real 1997 MVP
One of the unifying themes of the entire documentary is the realization that Jordan didn't need much to motivate himself. Perhaps nobody in sports history was better-known for taking slights, both real and imagined, and turning them into fuel for greatness.
That he had an actual slight heading into the 1997 NBA Finals was a problem for the Jazz.
Karl Malone edged out Jordan for the 1996-97 league MVP, but MJ had the last laugh in the Finals. Voters who were arguably tired of voting for His Airness when it came to the top individual award in the NBA could do nothing to stop him from defeating Malone in an on-court battle with the Larry O'Brien Trophy hanging in the balance.
Jordan's animosity toward Malone for winning that MVP was still clear during his interview on The Last Dance, and he called it his biggest motivating factor in the series.
Another factor was handling Bryon Russell, who apparently asked Jordan why he quit when the Bulls star went to visit Malone and John Stockton while he was playing baseball. Russell suggested he could guard Air Jordan, to which the latter replied, "From that point on, he was on my list."
It should come as no surprise then that Jordan, who won Finals MVP, drilled the winning shot over Russell in Game 1. Tying it all together was the fact that Malone missed two free throws on the previous possession after Scottie Pippen whispered "The Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays," in reference to the forward's nickname.
It set the tone for what eventually became a six-game win for the Bulls in a series that featured one of Jordan's most famous performances.
The Flu, er, Food Poisoning Game
By the time the 1997 NBA Finals rolled around, there was no questioning Jordan's status as a basketball superhero.
Dominating the Utah Jazz in a critical Game 5 all while battling sickness only added to the mythology. Utah had all the momentum following two straight victories to even the series, and Jordan's status was in doubt before the opening tip.
All he did was finish with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in more than 44 minutes of playing time. He scored 15 of Chicago's 23 points in the fourth quarter alone and drilled a three-pointer in the final minute to put the Bulls up for good after grabbing an offensive rebound on his own free-throw miss.
Pippen helped carry him off the court in an iconic image of the two champions, and the "Flu Game" was cemented in the lexicon of NBA fans forever.
Only, it wasn't the flu.
Jordan revealed during Sunday's episode that it was food poisoning from a bad pizza he ate the night before when five delivery people brought the pizza to his room in a hotel without room service. Even his mother Deloris said he shouldn't play in the game.
He did, and the rest was history.
Steve Kerr's Moment
Much of The Last Dance has been about delving into the backstories of some of the Bulls' core players.
Steve Kerr was a central figure Sunday.
"It was probably too painful for both of us," Kerr said when revealing he never spoke to Jordan about their fathers, who were both killed. Kerr's father, Malcolm, was shot by two gunmen when he was the president of the American University of Beirut.
Basketball-wise, Kerr revealed he used to watch how John Paxson, who connected on a massive three-pointer in the 1993 NBA Finals win over the Phoenix Suns, played alongside Jordan when trying to find his own way on the Bulls.
Never did that come in handy more than in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals when Jordan told him to be ready in the final 10 seconds. When the double came Jordan's way, he dished it to Kerr and watched his sharp-shooting teammate hit what proved to be the game-winner.
"I guess I gotta bail Michael out again," Kerr joked at the championship celebration.
The Children Make an Appearance
Michael's children with his first wife Juanita Vanoy, Jasmine, Marcus and Jeffrey, were nowhere to be seen in the first nine episodes of The Last Dance.
They finally made an appearance in the final episode.
Marcus and Jeffrey were interviewed together and said they were not allowed to go to Utah for the 1998 NBA Finals because of the hostile environment they would face. They said the entire family hated the Jazz, while Jasmine said the noise from Utah fans was "brutal."
Fortunately for them, their father had the last word when it came to the series against the Jazz.
Dennis Wrestles in His Free Time
Dennis Rodman wouldn't be Dennis Rodman if he didn't make headlines off the court.
While Sunday's story about the Worm wasn't as detailed as when he went on an in-season vacation to Las Vegas, it was another amusing anecdote about one of the most unique careers in NBA history.
Darren Rovell @darrenrovell
Dennis Rodman skipped a media session the day before Game 4 of the 98 NBA Finals and was fined $20,000. He instead was paid $250,000, plus use of a private jet, to appear at a WCW show. When he returned, his teammate Ron Harper said "I think that makes him a good businessman." https://t.co/fK1hxZaQcH
In between Games 3 and 4 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Rodman missed practice for, as Phil Jackson said, an unexcused reason. He teamed up with Hulk Hogan for a WCW show, which resulted in a hefty fine and a media circus.
He did his best to escape that media circus by running away from the press and up the stairs at the United Center, but, as was usually the case with Rodman, he made up for the off-court headlines on the floor and helped lead the Bulls to a Game 4 win.
Music Goes Out for Jazz Again
The lasting image of Chicago's 1998 NBA Finals win over the Jazz to cement its second three-peat is of MJ crossing up Russell and hitting the game-winning mid-range jumper.
As it should be.
After all, the Bulls were down three with less than 40 seconds remaining when Jordan attacked the basket for a layup, stole the ball from Malone on the ensuing possession and hit the jumper. It was fitting he held the follow-through pose for an extra beat since it was the final shot of his Chicago career.
"Get the hell out of the way," Pippen said when asked what he was thinking on that possession.
"He's gonna shoot this f--ker," Rodman said.
As for the debate about whether he pushed off on Russell? "Bulls--t," Jordan said when pointing out his opponent's momentum already had him sliding in that direction.
It was one of the most iconic moments in a career filled with them, but it didn't tell the entire story of the series.
His steal on Malone was more in line with the rest of the six-game battle, as the Jazz never even reached 90 points in a single contest. They scored a mere 54 in a 42-point loss in Game 3 and struggled to score against the Bulls' stifling defense that carried Chicago in the latter portion of Jordan's career.
The sixth championship was a testament to the nine-time All-Defensive selection's overall ability that went beyond just his unstoppable scoring, and he took over Game 6 all while Pippen courageously gutted out a debilitating back injury.
After Chicago Finished Dancing
Jordan and Jackson surely felt at least a tinge of satisfaction when watching what happened to the Bulls after their departures.
The reason the 1997-98 campaign was "the last dance" in the first place was general manager Jerry Krause's insistence it was Jackson's last season as head coach even if he went 82-0. Jordan said he wouldn't play for anyone else in Chicago, and he ultimately retired before the start of the 1998-99 season.
Chicago didn't make the playoffs again until 2005 and went an ugly 119-341 during the six seasons after Jackson's departure and Jordan's 1998 retirement. Meanwhile, Jackson went on to win five more championships with the Los Angeles Lakers while Krause consistently missed out on draft picks and marquee free agents while attempting to restore Chicago's greatness.
Krause is on the receiving end of Jordan's scorn for much of the documentary, and he surely could have handled the 1998 Bulls and the immediate aftermath in a more effective fashion.
Still, he also found a way to build the ideal supporting cast around basketball's greatest and perhaps most demanding player while helping the Bulls remain relevant throughout the 1990s—even when Jordan was playing baseball.
While Krause received some recognition during the end of The Last Dance for building the team, Jordan called owner Jerry Reinsdorf's comments that he would have been willing to bring Jackson back but only for a rebuild because the players would have been too expensive "maddening because I felt like we could have won seven ... not being able to try, that's something that I just can't accept."
Jordan suggested he and everyone else—with some convincing when it came to Pippen—would have been willing to come back and sign a one-year deal to go for a seventh title.
Alas, it wouldn't have been The Last Dance if they did.