“The Last Dance” came to a close Sunday night, and it did not disappoint.
The final two episodes of ESPN’s 10-part documentary series included portions about each of the cornerstones of the 1990s Bulls dynasty, as well as one of the team’s unsung heroes.
Night 5 also debunked a longstanding basketball belief and closed with parting thoughts from Michael Jordan on the end of Chicago’s remarkable run.
Without further ado, here were the five biggest takeaways from episodes nine and 10 of “The Last Dance.”
F̶l̶u̶ Pizza Game
One of Jordan’s most iconic performances was his impressive showing in the famous “flu game,” which saw the Bulls star drop a game-high 38 points in Game 5 of 1997 NBA Finals despite dealing with overwhelming illness.
It turns out, however, Jordan wasn’t battling the flu that night in Salt Lake City.
The night prior to the penultimate game of the series against the Utah Jazz, Jordan’s entourage sought out late-night food options for the hungry superstar. With no other choice available, pizza was the verdict. Upon the pie arriving to Jordan’s hotel room, his longtime trainer, Tim Grover, could tell something was up.
“No room service, Michael gets hungry,” Grover said. “So we’re calling all these places, we find one pizza place open. One. Five guys delivering one pizza and they’re all trying to look in. Everyone knew it was Michael. So I take the pizza, I pay them and I put the pizza down and I said, ‘I got a bad feeling about this.'”
Jordan awoke at roughly three in the morning to a severe case of food poisoning. Still, the Hall of Famer managed to lead the Bulls to victory en route to the franchise’s fifth championship.
Bonded By Tragedy
While the two never discussed the situation, Jordan and Steve Kerr shared a connection of heartbreak.
Months into Kerr’s freshman year at Arizona, his father Malcolm, who then was serving as the president of American University in Beirut, was killed by two gunmen just outside his office. The hard-working guard found comfort in basketball, which he never took a break from after the horrific incident.
“Basketball was the one thing I could do to take my mind off of what happened, so I went to practice the next day,” Kerr said. “I just didn’t know what else to do. … I used to think about it all the time when I was playing. During the national anthem, I would always think about my dad and think, ‘He would love this right now.’ He wouldn’t even believe it. He would love this.”
Rodman Runaway, Part II
The Bulls experienced another case of Dennis being Dennis during the 1998 Finals.
Fresh off the Bulls’ 42-point shellacking of the Jazz in Game 3, Rodman missed a practice ahead of Game 4, which Phil Jackson made clear was both unexpected and unexcused. Rodman’s absence was due to a detour to Auburn Hills, where he made an appearance on WCW’s “Monday Nitro” alongside Hulk Hogan.
As Rodman explained, it was just another day in the life of “The Worm,” which Jackson and the Bulls seemingly grew accustomed to.
“I wasn’t trying to do anything. I was just trying to play basketball, party, blah blah blah. Just be me, Dennis,” Rodman said. “I just think that Phil realized that I need to always do me. Just go do what I do. Like after a playoff game, I went to go wrestle. If I did this, I go over here. If I do that, I gotta go do this. They’re gonna get 100 percent when I’m on that court.”
Toughing It Out
Scottie Pippen probably shouldn’t have taken the floor in the deciding game of the 1998 Finals.
The star forward was dealing with immense back pain leading up to the contest, and it only grew worse once the ball was tipped.
“I started the game and the first play of the game I went for a dunk and it jammed my back,” Pippen said. “I was done after that. Like, I’m telling MJ I can’t go no more. Like, dude, I’m done.”
From there, Pippen worked with trainers throughout the game in order to play in spurts. As Jordan explained to his wingman, Pippen’s presence alone made an impact for Chicago.
“I was a decoy that whole game, but they didn’t know it,” Pippen said. “Michael said, ‘Just stay out here and do what you can do. You’re better being out here than in the locker room.’ So I gutted myself through that game.”
Pippen finished the game with eight points over 26 minutes. The Bulls’ team trainer, Chip Schaefer, was taken aback by the swingman’s resiliency.
“Anyone that would have a notion that Scottie Pippen was a soft player is patently absurd,” Schafer said. “He’s as tough a player and intense of a competitor as anybody that I’ve worked with. What he did in Game 6 was extraordinary. I know so many players that would have tapped out without hesitation in that situation. He was gonna throw it out there and finish it no matter what.”
What Could Have Been
To this day, Jordan still is unsure why the 1997-98 season had to be the last dance for those Bulls.
In fact, MJ believes Chicago would have been able to get the band back together had the front office swallowed its pride and put the rebuild on hold.
“They could have nixed all of it at the beginning of ’98,” Jordan said. “Why say that statement at the beginning of ’98? If you ask all the guys who won in ’98 — Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, blah, blah, blah — ‘We give you one-year contracts to try for a seventh.’ You think they would have signed? Yes. They would have signed. Would I have signed for one year? Yes, I would have signed for one year. I’d been signing one-year contracts up to that. Would Phil have done it? Yes. Now, Pip, you would have had to do some convincing, but if Phil was gonna be there, if Dennis was gonna be there, if MJ was gonna be there to win our seventh, Pip is not gonna miss out on that.”
“It’s maddening because I felt like we could’ve won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but, man, just not to be able to try, that’s just something I can’t accept for whatever reason. I just can’t accept it.”