‘The Last Dance’ Recap: Biggest Takeaways From First Two Episodes


Apr 20, 2020

The day basketball fans long have been waiting for finally arrived Sunday night.

ESPN aired the first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary series focusing on Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls. While the premiere offered plenty of nostalgia, it also shed additional light on what made the 1997-98 Bulls so fascinating.

Here were five of the biggest takeaways from the first two episodes.

1. Public Enemy No. 1
Jerry Krause wasn’t universally loved in the organization throughout the Bulls’ dynastic run, to say the least. As Michael Wilbon expressed in Episode 1, the former general manager was “openly mocked” by the players, most notably Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

Krause’s presence seemed to heavily weigh on players’ minds toward the back end of Chicago’s run. With the possibility of a rebuild looming, Jordan issued preemptive frustration toward Krause and Co. immediately following the Bulls’ fifth championship series win.

“We’re entitled to defend what we have until we lose it,” Jordan said. “If we lose it, then you look at it and you say, ‘OK, let’s change.’ Rebuilding? No one’s guaranteeing rebuilding’s gonna be two or three, four, five years. Cubs have been rebuilding for 42 years. …If you want to look at this from a business thing, have a sense of respect for the people who laid the groundwork so that you could be a powerful organization.”

Pippen’s disdain for Krause was much more direct, seeing as MJ’s right-hand man was a frequent topic of trade conversation leading up to the 97-98 season.

“That is really what sort of tarnished my relationship with Jerry,” Pippen said. “He’d try to make me feel so special, but yet he was still, like, willing to trade and do all that stuff but never would tell me to my face. After you’re in the game for a while, you realize that nobody is untradeable, but I felt insulted. I sort of took the attitude of disrespecting him to some degree.”

More “The Last Dance:” Documentary Premiere Prompts Twitter To Roast Krause

2. Puzzling Plan of Attack
Krause’s seemingly insatiable desire to rebuild was head-scratching. It’s important for executives to be mindful of the future, but Krause was hell-bent on a fresh start before even seeing how the 1997-98 season played out. Arguably no one was made more abundantly aware of Krause’s plan than Phil Jackson, who was granted a one-year contract before the Bulls’ sixth championship campaign.

“Jerry called him into his office and said, ‘This is going to be your last year. I don’t care if you win 82 games in a row. This is going to be your last year here,'” Jackson said. “So I said, ‘Fine’ and I walked out of the room. That was the only words that were exchanged.”

3. Pre-MJ Bulls
Jordan didn’t just turn things around in Chicago. He single-handedly lifted the “laughing stock” label off the Bulls beginning in his rookie season back in 1984.

How bad were the Bulls prior to Jordan’s arrival? It was noted in Episode 1 that even an indoor soccer club, the Chicago Sting, were outdrawing the local basketball team. The early-80s Bulls garnered much more attention for their partying rather than what they did on the court. Those teams once were referred to as “the Bulls traveling cocaine circus,” which drew a genuine belly laugh from MJ himself.

Chicago reached the playoffs just once over the seven seasons prior to Jordan’s arrival. They qualified for the postseason in all of MJ’s 13 campaigns with the team.

4. Humble Beginnings
Pippen’s below-market contract with the Bulls is well-documented at this point. Even those within the organization questioned the star forward’s decision to ink the seven-year, $18 million deal. Jackson called the contract “embarrassing,” while franchise owner Jerry Reinsdorf thought the deal was much too long for a player of Pippen’s caliber.

So, why did Pippen sign the dotted line?

The Hall of Famer’s rise to stardom is a rags-to-riches tale. Pippen, one of 12 children, grew up in a small Arkansas town with two wheelchair-ridden family members in the home, including his father who’d become paralyzed following a stroke. Pippen was a late bloomer and began his collegiate career at the University of Central Arkansas as a walk-on.

Despite seemingly being aware of his career trajectory, the thought of injuries or other obstacles seemingly flooded Pippen’s mind when it was time to negotiate with the Bulls. The star forward appeared to only have one priority in mind: locking down the ability to provide for his family.

5. No Punches Pulled
Jordan was not afraid to speak candidly about his longtime running mate.

Pippen first drew the tire of Jordan when he elected to put off ankle surgery, as he wasn’t going to let the Bulls “(expletive) up his summer.” Pippen instead used the first few months of the 1997-98 season to rehab.

“Scottie was wrong in that scenario,” Jordan said. “He could have got his surgery done as soon as the season was over and be ready for the season. What Scottie was trying to do was force management to change his contract. Jerry wasn’t going to do that.”

Amid recovery, Pippen’s aforementioned frustration toward Krause prompted him to not only humiliate the Bulls GM but also demand a trade out of Chicago. Jordan evidently wasn’t too pleased with how Pippen handled the situation.

“I felt like Scottie was being selfish worrying about himself as opposed to what his word was to the organization as well as to the team,” Jordan said.

“The Last Dance” returns Sunday night with Episodes 3 and 4.

More “The Last Dance:” How Danny Ainge Inspired One Of Jordan’s Greatest Playoff Performances

Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images
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