The Last Dance chronicles the final season of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, but it leaves out key details about Michael Jordan and his teammates.
ESPN’s documentary, The Last Dance, provides an in-depth look at Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, but leaves a lot of information out about its titular subject. The documentary chronicled the Bulls’ quest for their sixth NBA championship, with a behind the scenes look at the team from the locker room in Paris in the preseason to the trophy celebration. Beyond giving Michael Jordan’s backstory, The Last Dance also dives into how the team was constructed, who the key players were outside of Jordan, and what ultimately led to the end of their dynasty.
ESPN decided to fill the void left in the absence of live sports due to the coronavirus pandemic by pushing up their Michael Jordan documentary by a few months. The Last Dance, directed by Jason Hehir, was a hit and received three Emmy nominations. The documentary gave fans a deeper history in Scottie Pippen and why he felt compelled to take a discount to remain on the Bulls during their championship run. Viewers also got a peek at Phil Jackson’s coaching methods, which have helped him win 11 NBA championships in his coaching career. Furthermore, The Last Dance documentary set up a clear villain in general manager Jerry Krause – interestingly, it wasn’t the only time Krause was portrayed as a villain in Michael Jordan’s story.
The 10-part documentary was extensive in its interviews, as Hehir was able to talk to nearly the entire 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team. He even spoke to many of Jordan’s biggest rivals, including Reggie Miller, Isiah Thomas, and Gary Payton. The documentary also included two former presidents of the United States – Bill Clinton and Chicago resident Barack Obama. The Last Dance was a godsend for sports fans desperate for content, but despite the acclaim that the documentary received, it did skip over a few crucial parts that it just could not fit into the nearly 10 hours of airtime.
Michael Jordan’s Retirement Being A Gambling Suspension Conspiracy
The Last Dance went in-depth on Michael Jordan’s first retirement following his third NBA championship in 1993. An entire episode was dedicated to his time playing baseball in the minor leagues, and it discussed how his father’s death and burnout from his fame likely played a role in his decision to step away from the NBA. However, The Last Dance glossed over one popular conspiracy theory regarding Jordan retiring due to gambling.
By this point, Jordan’s love of gambling was well documented, most famously his association with Slim Bouler, where he gave Bouler $57,000 to pay off one golfing debt. He gave multiple interviews in which he calls it a hobby, and saying in The Last Dance, “I don’t have a gambling problem; I have a competitive problem.” But perhaps at least one person might have disagreed with Jordan’s assessment. The conspiracy theory believes that NBA commissioner David Stern was not a massive fan of Jordan being so closely associated with gambling. This theory assumes that Stern suspended Jordan under the table for 18 months to put some distance between him and his gambling problems. Jordan’s mention of Stern in his retirement press conference perhaps adds some credence to this conspiracy. He said, “Five years down the road, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back.”
Scottie Pippen Nearly Being Traded From The Bulls
The Last Dance discussed the draft-day trade in 1987 that sent Scottie Pippen from Seattle to Chicago in exchange for Olden Polynice. Still, it was the trade that almost sent Pippen back to Seattle seven years later, which would have shook the landscape of the NBA in the mid-90s, that wasn’t mentioned in the documentary. After the Chicago Bulls completed their first three-peat and Michael Jordan retired for the first time to play baseball, the Bulls nearly made a trade that would have sent their other superstar packing.
The Bulls had a deal in place with the Seattle Supersonics that would have sent one of the most electrifying young stars in the game, Shawn Kemp, to Chicago, along with two-time 6th man of the year, Ricky Pierce, and swapping a draft pick in return for Pippen. The pairing of Pippen and Gary Payton would have likely catapulted Seattle into the upper-echelon of the NBA. The trade ultimately fell through when word of the deal trickled out, and the Sonics owner pulled out of the agreement when fans caused an uproar about Kemp potentially being traded.
Jordan told ESPN in 2008 that the Pippen trade likely would have altered his decision to come out of retirement. When asked if he still would have played in 1995, Jordan said, “Probably not. I could have played with Shawn, but I wouldn’t have been as comfortable as I was with Scottie.” The two teams ultimately met in the 1996-97 finals where Pippen and Jordan defeated Kemp and the Sonics in five games to kick off their second three-peat. Kemp was traded that off-season.
Dennis Rodman’s First Trip to Las Vegas
Dennis Rodman’s trip to Las Vegas in 1998 was one of the most meme-able moments from The Last Dance. His adventures in Sin City with Carmen Electra shocked fans as they watched Rodman overstay his 48-hour vacation in the middle of the season and had to be retrieved out of his hotel room by Michael Jordan. But what many people may not know, and what The Last Dance did not mention, is Rodman’s first trip to Las Vegas as a Chicago Bull.
In the previous season, Dennis Rodman made his first excursion to Las Vegas as a Bull, only this time it was not just some trip during the regular season, but it was in-between games four and five of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. The request came after the Bulls dropped consecutive games, and Rodman underperformed in each. Coach Phil Jackson approved the request, and Rodman came back rejuvenated to help the Bulls win their second straight NBA championship, likely giving him a bit more leash for his trip the following season.
Robert Parish’s Interaction With Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan’s unique leadership style was on full display in The Last Dance. Jordan was concerned that the documentary might make him look bad and come off as a bully, and he might have had a point. His treatment of Scott Burrell made headlines from the first episode when he went after Burrell, who pleaded with MJ to stop because Burrell’s parents were going to watch it, to which Jordan responded, “Mom and Dad, he’s an alcoholic.” Jordan would continue to disrespect Burrell in practice, to go along with many other players, including the instance where he gave Steve Kerr a black eye.
However, there was one player who refused to put up with Jordan’s antics; Robert Parish. Parish was already a three-time champion and nine-time all-star when he got to Chicago for his final season in 1996. The 43-year-old Parish messed up a play in practice that led to Jordan’s typical irate reaction. The 7-foot-1-inch Parish was not going to back down, “I told him, ‘I’m not as enamored with you as these other guys. I’ve got some rings too,’” Parish recalled to ESPN. “At that point he told me, ‘I’m going to kick your ass.’ I took one step closer and said, ‘No, you really aren’t.’ After that, he didn’t bother me.”
Michael Jordan’s Cigar Incident In 1998
It came as a surprise to many when Michael Jordan said he would have signed for one year to try to get his 7th ring in 1999 instead of announcing his second retirement. Jordan said all the role players would have undoubtedly agreed to return if Phil Jackson was retained as coach. Scottie Pippen would have taken a little convincing, of course, but he likely would have come back to Chicago as well. It was maddening for Jordan because he believes they could have won the NBA championship that season, but what this statement overlooks is that Jordan would likely have missed the majority of the season due to injury.
In the summer of 1998, Jordan was on vacation in the Bahamas when he severed a tendon in his right index finger with a cigar cutter. In his retirement press conference, he announced that the injury would require surgery, which would keep him out for two months. It’s impossible to know how much the injury influenced his decision to retire instead of playing in the lockout-shortened NBA season. Even if he had played, it’s tough to imagine the Bulls being as dominating as they were throughout their run without Jordan for the majority of the regular season.
What Happened To The Bulls Players After The Last Dance
Perhaps it should not have come as a significant surprise that The Last Dance did not go beyond, well, the last dance. However, with the timeline jumping around as much as it did before the 1998 season, it was a bit odd that the documentary did not talk about anything after that Bulls dynasty broke up. It did not mention that Scottie Pippen teamed up with Charles Barkley in Houston after leaving Chicago and nearly made another NBA finals appearance as a Portland Trailblazer. It said nothing about how Phil Jackson went on to win another three-peat as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, and there was nothing on how Steve Kerr went on to win a championship the following year as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Plus, there was Dennis Rodman’s failed attempt at becoming an action star.
The Last Dance’s most shocking omission is that it did not mention Michael Jordan would go on to play two more seasons in the NBA and ultimately own the Charlotte NBA franchise. Jordan’s years as a Washington Wizard were a far cry from his peak days in the Windy City, but he still averaged at least 20 points per game and made the all-star team in each of his two years playing. His days as an owner have been underwhelming, but it is still a significant accomplishment that probably deserved mention in the documentary.