Sports

“The Last Dance” Recap Part 3

See “The Last Dance” Recap Part 2 HERE.


Episode 5

“IN LOVING MEMORY OF KOBE BRYANT”

Gut-wrenching to read that across the screen. I’m sure we all agree on that.
Kobe Bryant, The Last Dance

1998 All-Star Game

To hear Larry Bird coaching the team up in the locker room and say, “Well we’re here, we might as well win” might be one of my favorite quotes of all time. It’s a mindset that rings true in every industry, lifestyle, and so on. If you’re doing something or going somewhere, do it all the way. For Michael Jordan, that’s the only way he knows. There’s no first gear.

As the team sits around the locker room mentally prepping, taping ankles, tying shoes, etc we hear what might become the most noted comment of the entirety of “The Last Dance” when it is all said and done. “That little Laker boy…” Yes, Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant (Left), Michael Jordan (Right)

A sit down conversation with Kobe offers commentary on the relationship, and pressure, that comes with being compared to Michael Jordan. Kobe mentions the fans that would suggest he would easily take MJ in a one-on-one match-up, which he sort of waives off.

Kobe Bryant arguably had two separate Hall of Fame careers, as number 8 and number 24. And even he, one of the fiercest competitors we have known, gives all of the recognition to Jordan. Kobe explains (firmly) that with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant doesn’t win five NBA Championships. Pretty much everything he knows about professional basketball comes from watching and playing with Jordan.

Even though this game spotlighted the transition that would soon take place and the change of power in the NBA, the chapter hadn’t closed yet…

“The All-Star of All-Stars, the MVP of the All-Star Game — Michael Jordan”

David Stern, NBA Commissioner presenting 1997-1998 NBA All-Star Game MVP Trophy to Michael Jordan

“He’s still the star among stars…”

Bob Costas
Side note: Can we go back to the traditional home vs away jerseys? I get it, the special edition jerseys are a great merchandise opportunity but the home vs away is just so nostalgic. Just think about it, please.

March 8, 1998 — So Long, Madison Square Garden

In what would be Michael Jordan’s final appearance at Madison Square Garden, he pulled one of the coolest moves of all time. He hopped in a time machine, got his hands on a pair of OG Air Jordan 1s and scored 42 points. The Last Dance is magical.

Even though I’m not sure Jordan mentioned this in The Last Dance — allegedly they were a full size too small. Jordan made a comment in the locker room pre-game about how far Air Jordans had come. A pair of Air Jordan 13s were being laced up by a trainer/equipment manager, presumably for Jordan to change into. The advances in the shoe (and maybe the size issue) were evident at halftime when Jordan’s feet were actually bleeding. But the man had 30pts and refused to change. He finished the night with 42pts.

“It’s gotta be the shoes.”

Spike Lee, Nike 1989
Michael Jordan playing in Air Jordan 1s from 1984 during a 1998 matchup with the New York Knicks

David Falk, ProServ and FAME

I would be remiss to not mention David Falk. Falk is the namesake of my college at Syracuse University (Go Orange). David Falk literally paid for my college education through a very generous donation to our alma mater. And for that, I will forever be grateful.

David Falk

Without a doubt, I’m quite sure, both, Michael Jordan and David Falk are rather appreciative for one another. Falk, and his then agency ProServ, took an approach common among individual sport athletes and applied it to Michael Jordan, a team sport athlete. The result? $126 million worth of shoes sold in year one of the deal. Jordan’s game sold shoes. It is as simple as that. And to think, companies like Converse and Adidas didn’t want to touch the pedestal Falk was preparing to put Jordan on. That being said, Michael originally had his own thoughts on where to sign…

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8KHadOlWNB/

For more on David Falk, check out The Boardroom’s Rich Kleiman sitting down for an interview on the famed agent. Easy to say, we wouldn’t be watching The Last Dance without David Falk.

1992 NBA Finals

Maybe (probably) the best Bulls team of all time. This was Michael Jordan’s second championship. The one that made him even with Isaiah Thomas and Magic Johnson, whom had also won back-to-back championships.

Before the series, Jordan was quoted as saying “Clyde was a threat… but me being compared to him, I took offense to that.” Imagine being offended by being compared to Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. Woah.

“Clyde was a threat… but me being compared to him, I took offense to that”

Michael Jordan regarding comparisons to Clyde Drexler before the 1992 Finals

Michael Jordan proceeds to burn Drexler for about a BILLION (39) points in game one. Followed by 39, 26, 32, 46, and 33 (35.8ppg).

After capturing the repeat, MJ (quick on his feet per usual) takes the opportunity to get in a sharp dig at Bulls GM, Jerry Krause. During the locker room celebration, Krause asked Michael if he was smoking a cigar. Anyone with eyes could see he was… Michael’s response?

“You can’t smoke it. It’ll stunt your growth.”

Michael Jordan to Jerry Krause, 1992

Dream Team

The Last Dance makes a point to note that Isaiah Thomas was snubbed from the Dream Team. Jordan has been asked on multiple occasions if he had anything to do with this. He denies, of course. But Jordan, and many other members of the team, name the camaraderie of the team as the greatest asset and experience of the Olympic Games. Would Isaiah Thomas have ruined this had he been on the team? Yes, absolutely. It wasn’t just Michael Jordan that hated him. A slew of players had their run ins with the Pistons great.

The real competitive storyline of the Dream Team’s games would be their showdown with Toni Kukoc. Yup, Toni Kukoc. Eventual teammate of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Well, Jerry Krause had taken a keen liking to the Croatian star and had given him a bit of attention. Maybe more attention than he had given his team (specifically Scottie Pippen) during the 1991-1992 season. Krause spent much of the season in Europe negotiating Kukoc’s move to Chicago (he had been drafter by the Bulls in 1990, but stayed in Croatia as he was making considerably more money as a star in the Italian League and Euro League). That didn’t sit well with Jordan or Pippen, and that means that Kukoc didn’t sit well with the Dream Team.

The USA faced Croatia twice in the 1992 Summer Olympics. Once in the early stages and once again in the Gold Medal game. Scottie Pippen played absolute lockdown D in the first meeting, holding Kukoc to just four points. In the Gold Medal game, Kukoc and Croatia earned the respect of Team USA, despite losing by 30+ points. Kukoc would have a stat line of 16 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds.

The gold medal was a point of contention for Michael Jordan. Say what? Winning the gold medal meant that Jordan (and the team) would be presented with the medal during a ceremony. During that ceremony, the team would be contractually obligated to wear the Team USA track suits sponsored by Reebok. Jordan was so committed to his Nike deal that the clause had made ripples throughout the games. Now at the medal ceremony, a moment that Reebok more, or less, paid millions of dollars to see these athletes clad in their brand, Jordan had vowed to hide the logo. He did so with the American flag. Can you argue with Patriotism, whether authentic or not?

Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, and Clyde Drexler receive their gold medals

The Elusive Tickets

In 1998, it was almost certainly Michael’s farewell tour. Phil Jackson was on his way out, and Michael had made it known he wouldn’t be playing for the next coach. That meant that each, and every, city Michael played in would be The Last Dance, including his 42 point performance on March 8th at Madison Square Garden.

The Last Dance gave us a glimpse of what that chaos was like. A-list celebrities were waiting at Will Call to collect their tickets to see His Airness. While I’m sure they had an easier time coming by those tickets than normal folks, it was still a site to see.

Jordan’s final game in Atlanta was a spectacle. The Georgia Dome had fans seated in the opposite endzone. I was reminded of two of my favorite moments as a basketball fan at Syracuse University. In 2013 and 2014, respectively, I was able to see the Orange’s final Big East showdown with Gergetown (still sucks) and the first ACC matchup with Duke. The Carrier Dome was at capacity — with fans sitting so far away that they needed binoculars to see the action on the court. While I was watching CJ Fair and Trevor Cooney, and not the greatest of all time (uh oh, I said it), the environment matched that of the late 90s NBA faithful.

Programming Note: Have we already decided not to call it "The Facebook Company" anymore? Has anyone else noticed that Facebook's ad card has changed each week?

Episode 6

We’re past the halfway point of The Last Dance and there is something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest… Ah Ah AHEM!

THE 1990s WARM UPS ARE THE MOST FIRE ‘FIT THERE HAS EVER BEEN. DON’T EVEN TRY TO CHANGE MY MIND.

Quarantine Jordan

We caught some insight into the life Michael Jordan was living during the 1997-1998 season when he was being interviewed in his car on the way to the arena, and then again in his hotel room before an away game. Jordan more, or less, says that he isn’t going to miss the life he was living — we’ve actually heard him say this a few times throughout The Last Dance. And that no one should dream of living that life or being Michael Jordan. These moments are when you truly realize that this might be the end of Michael Jordan’s playing days.

Jordan couldn’t go anywhere without hoards to people (fans and media) following him from his house to the arena to the locker room to the press conference to the parking lot to the bus to the hotel, and all over again in every city. In any event, I don’t know that anyone has ever followed me anywhere, so I can’t say that I have the same understanding as Jordan. What I do know is that at a net worth of $2.1 billion, Michael Jordan is the wealthiest former athlete of all time.

At the end of this segment, the only people that I really felt bad for were the other players. Can you imagine being Scottie Pippen playing on that out-of-wack contract and still having to answer to the media and fans? Or to be Steve Kerr, or even the guy at the end of the bench, answering questions about Jordan’s impending retirement after every game. Sure, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the Bulls weren’t under nearly as much pressure or scrutiny as Jordan. In reality, the frenzy was one of the most tiring motivations for MJ to get out of the game.

TBH, since watching The Last Dance,I've done some quick internet research on Scottie Pippen and I take back any ounce of sorrow I ever felt over his contract.

The Quarters Game?

What are we calling this?

  • The Quarters Game
  • Quarter Wall
  • Carpet Bocce

I don’t care what it’s called. It’s ELECTRIC, and gave us all a new quarantine activity. If you haven’t played yet, I highly recommend. The Quarters Game feels a lot like that weird hook and washer game that you might play to pass the time. The best part of it might be that there is a brand new way to gamble.

The Quarter Game is played by two individuals. The first player tosses a quarter towards a wall in an attempt to land the quarter on the floors as close to the wall as possible without touching it. The second player then receives a pre-determined number of attempts to beat that toss. Bets can be placed on individual turns or a best of seven series.

The United Center guard who took Michael Jordan’s money and put it in his pocket is one of two things — he is either the bravest man alive or he may very well be dead. Michael Jordan does not like to lose. And to add insult to injury, dropping a shrug on MJ…

United Center Security Guard, The Last Dance

Is this the gambling episode?

Jordan wasn’t only gambling $20 on The Quarters Game. He was playing golf for thousands of dollars per hole and blackjack for thousands of dollars per hand. No judgement from me. However, the early ’90s had a different prerogative. For the first time, Jordan may not have been the squeaky clean, by-the-book guy.

It all started (or at least came to the surface) with an afternoon drive from New York to Atlantic City. No harm, right? Jordan and his Dad played blackjack and whatever else at Bally’s that afternoon and evening. Well some Bally’s employees and patrons allege that the Jordans were in the Casino until at least 2:30am. Michael Jordan disputes this, claiming that they were home by midnight or 1:00am.

So what? Spending some time in a casino? Well, this was the night before an Eastern Conference Finals match-up with the New York Knicks, in which Jordan had a pretty slow start. It was during this series that things began to unravel around Jordan’s off court life.

Rumors began swirling that Jordan had gambling debts ranging anywhere from $57,000 to $1.2 million. Crazy, but I just don’t really care about this. I don’t know about you, but I’ve bet on horses, cards, dice, etc. As a matter of fact, I enjoy gambling. Everyone jumped to the conclusion that Michael must have been betting on NBA games or somehow breaking league rules. He was questioned about it and David Stern came back with the same understanding as pretty much any reasonable person. Michael Jordan was betting on his golf game the same way that any other Joe would, albeit with a few more dollars than most of us.

“It didn’t affect his endorsements. It didn’t affect him monetarily. It didn’t really affect his popularity. But the damage was in his reputation.”

Andrea Kremer, Former ESPN Correspondent

To me, the above quote points out one of the largest issues with the media. “It didn’t really affect his popularity. But the damage was in his reputation.” Is your popularity not very very closely tied to your reputation? Right? So if your popularity has gone unchanged, how can someone allege that your reputation is damaged? I don’t think I need to answer that one. The very fact that The Last Dance exists is proof enough that almost nothing will ever be able to touch Jordan’s reputation — even drafting Kwame Brown.

Magic Johnson warned the media and those listening to it that they were putting additional pressure on Jordan and were potentially forcing him away from the game.

They built him up only to pivot their energy to tearing him down. That wouldn’t fly. Afterall, Jordan himself said he has a “competition problem.” The media’s scolding was going to be silenced on the court. Boom — the Bulls beat the Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to take down the Phoenix Suns to three-peat as NBA Champions for the first time. 

Michael Jordan after winning the 1993 NBA Championship

Part 4 (Episodes 7 and 8) Premiere Next Sunday, May 10th at 9:00pm ET.