Many left Night 4 of “The Last Dance” claiming it was the best thus far.
It’s tough to argue with that notion.
Episodes seven and eight of ESPN’s 10-part documentary series largely were captivating from wire-to-wire, covering hardships Michael Jordan dealt with amid the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty, his brief basketball hiatus and his tenacious on-court demeanor.
There was no shortage of takeaways from the penultimate night of the series, but these were our favorite five.
Jordan is well-aware some might leave the documentary with a different view of him, perhaps even likening him to somewhat of a “tyrant.”
MJ, however, has no regrets about how he handled himself among his teammates.
To say Jordan was tough on his fellow Bulls would be an understatement. He would berate them and cuss them out in front of the whole team if he felt they weren’t performing up to standard. The peak of Jordan’s aggression, of course, came during a particularly high-wired practice in which he was kicked out for punching Steve Kerr in the face.
Could Jordan have dialed it back even just a tiny bit? Perhaps, but he was confident his approach would bear fruit in the end. And if anyone on the team couldn’t withstand the pressure, he knew they weren’t cut out to be on a championship-caliber team.
“If you don’t want to live (with) that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside me ’cause I’m gonna ridicule you until you get on the same level as me,” Jordan said. “If you don’t get on the same level, it’s gonna be hell for you.”
“This is for Dad”
Tragedy struck the Jordan family in the summer of 1993, just a few months after MJ and the Bulls won their third consecutive NBA title.
After Jordan’s father, James, had been missing for several weeks, his body was discovered in a North Carolina swamp in early August. James Jordan, who was driving back home from a funeral, was taking a nap in his car off a highway when he was shot to death by a pair of teenagers.
While James Jordan wasn’t physically there to see Chicago kickstart Phase 2 of its dynasty, his son is confident he was there in spirit. MJ and the Bulls won their fourth championship on Father’s Day 1996, with His Airness posting a team-high 22 points in the deciding Game 6 against the Seattle SuperSonics. Jordan dedicated the triumph to his father in an emotional postgame interview before breaking down in tears in the locker room.
Baseline to Batter’s Box
Jordan didn’t retire from basketball (the first time) to kick back and relax. Instead, he left The Association to chase a childhood dream.
MJ in 1994 signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox, who also are owned by Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Due to media demands, Jordan was forced to play at a higher level than he probably should have. While his lone season with the Double-A Birmingham Barons wasn’t exactly a success, it shouldn’t be chalked up as a complete failure either.
Jordan, who kicked off his professional baseball career with a 13-game hitting streak, batted .202 and knocked in 51 runs for the Barons. Again, those numbers are nothing to write home about, but they’re fairly impressive for someone who hadn’t played competitive baseball in decades.
In fact, Jordan’s short-time manager, current Cleveland Indians skipper Terry Francona, believes MJ could have had somewhat of a future in baseball had he stuck with it.
“In my opinion, with 1,500 at-bats, he’d have found a way to get to the Major Leagues,” Francona said.
Behind The Scenes
The summer of 1995 was a busy one for Jordan. Not only was he preparing for his first post-retirement NBA season, he also was working on his silver screen debut as a leading man.
Jordan was forced to balance training with the long hours of filming “Space Jam.” The powers that would be at Warner Bros. assisted MJ in these efforts, building what they referred to as the “Jordan Dome,” a makeshift arena that included both a basketball court and workout equipment.
Jordan, whose set call typically was 7 a.m., used the two-hour break he had from filming each day to hit the gym. Filming, as Jordan explained, usually would wrap for the day around 7 p.m., which is when his training would resume.
MJ hosted nightly pickup games featuring some of the best players of that era. The benefit of these exhibitions for Jordan was two-fold. Not only was his training fast-tracked due to high-level competition, he also was able to scout players he potentially could see in the playoffs.
Among Jordan’s most cerebral acts, this was some of his finest work.
As Jordan continued to rack up accolades, he was forced to find new ways to motivate himself.
Unfortunately for former Washington Bullets guard LaBradford Smith, this came at his expense in 1993.
Smith, a 1991 first-round pick who only lasted four seasons in the NBA, had the game of his life against the Bulls in which he scored 37 points. After Smith’s impressive performance, Jordan claimed the then-23-year-old sarcastically said, “Nice game, Mike,” as he made his way off the court.
The Bulls and Bullets met soon after for the second leg of a home-and-home series, and Jordan made a point to make Smith eat his words. MJ went after his counterpart early and often and scored 36 (!) points in the first half.
One might say Smith had it coming to him, but he really didn’t. It was revealed years later Jordan made it all up and Smith never actually took a verbal jab at MJ.
But hey, at least Smith now has a fun story to tell.
This Sunday marks the final night of “The Last Dance,” beginning at 9 p.m. ET with episode nine.