With the state of the entire sports world set to "capricious," it is revitalizing right now to get any good news. ESPN delivered that in spades by announcing they are moving up the release date for The Last Dance Michael Jordan documentary to April 19. The documentary, which was originally supposed to air in June around the NBA Finals, explores the final season, 1997-98, of Michael Jordan in a Chicago Bulls uniform. In honor of the great 23, these are the 23 things we want to see most over this 10-part documentary. Don't have ESPN? Click here to sign up for Sling.
Why did they blow up the team?
This is the central question as to why this documentary exists in the first place. When General Manager Jerry Krause saw the window closing on an aging Bulls lineup, he kicked off an era of trading star talent for picks. This would subsequently backfire for nearly a decade, until Derrick Rose was drafted first overall by the team in 2008. What motivated Krause more to blow up the team? Certainly, Jordan’s second retirement didn’t help...but what motivated Jordan to retire again? Even if it wasn’t MVP caliber, he obviously had more in the tank after he signed with the Washington Wizards. What was it a perfect storm or just the final straw that disbanded the greatest dynasty in sports history?
How did the looming lockout in effect the decisions and play of the Bulls dynasty?
The 1998-99 season was shortened to 50 games due to the third lockout in league history. In March of '98, owners wanted to change the league’s salary cap system. The players opposed and wanted raises. The lockout lasted just more than 200 days into January 1999. Ratings were down when the league resumed but players received the opportunity for max salaries. Did the looming labor strife motivate Bulls players since they knew this might be their last chance to play for a while? Or did some players want a chance to get paid somewhere where they’d have a bigger role after being on a team dominated by MJ? Maybe it was a bit of both.
Why was this documentary released in 2020? Why now?
According to Bill Simmons, this documentary is being released so MJ can maintain his status as the sport’s greatest over LeBron James. We'd like to hear how this documentary came together and why this was the best time to release it. Apparently, ESPN wanted to make a doc out of the last season's footage in 2009, but Jordan didn’t want any part of it. More than 10 years later, what changed?
How’d Space Jam effect MJ’s respect in the locker room?
Remember in Space Jam when the NBA season was shut down because of some unknown illness? Long before it became one of the greatest movies of all time, movies with NBA superstars weren’t exactly exalted. Think Shaq in Shazam (1996) or John Salley in...really anything. Several of Jordan’s teammates -- including Pippen, Steve Kerr and Luc Longley -- make brief cameos but they are never given the spotlight of others like Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing and others. Did Jordan's movie star mentality wear down the locker room?
How did the final three-peat effect Scottie Pippen’s relationship with the Bulls and Jordan?
Speaking of role playing, Pippen must have been tired of being cast as the Robin to Jordan’s Batman. He had his own team when Jordan retired the first time, but he didn’t have quite enough talent around him enough to get to Finals against the Shaq and Penny led Orlando Magic or Patrick Ewing and the Knicks. Scottie was traded to the Houston Rockets after the Bulls last Finals win against the Utah Jazz. He had the chance to team with Charles Barkley who took a pay cut so Pippen could sign and make four times the salary he got in his last season in Chicago. Was the breakup inevitable so Pippen could gain more of the recognition he deserves outside of Jordan and the Bulls?
How will our inflated perception of reality coincide with the behind the scenes Michael Jordan?
If you are someone who has a pulse and has spent more than a quarter century on this rock, most likely MJ has been some type of hero to you. His character and play are almost mythical in quality. We’ve all heard stories of how competitive Michael Jordan was (and still is). But how far does that passion go until it turns toxic? How will this change our perception of Jordan, if any? Some people say never meet your heroes. Will we be wishing we took that advice?
Which three-peat was more difficult to the players?
The first Bulls three-peat featured the team finally getting past their archrival Detroit Pistons and winning Finals against Magic and the Lakers, Clyde Drexler and the Blazers and Barkley and the Suns. The second featured the team getting past the Gary Payton led Sonics and Karl Malone and John Stockton duo of the Jazz. For Jordan, he played better during the first but three-peating again after retirement is one of the greatest feats in the history of any sport. For the Bulls players with six rings, it will be interesting to hear which was the more difficult accomplishment.
The second three-peat was also not nearly as contentious as the first. The Bulls lost seven games in the playoffs in 1996 and 1997. But in 1998, the Bulls took the Reggie Miller led Pacers seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls beat the Jazz in six games but that final game was anything but guaranteed. They easily could have lost that game pushing the series to seven (more on that later). In retrospect, this team’s “last dance” certainly looks like the most difficult one.
More crying memes please.
We love you MJ.
How did MJ’s intensity affect him outside the court?
With the possible exception of Kobe Bryant, Jordan’s intensity is unrivalled. That helped him become the greatest but how did that influence his personal relationships? How did it affect his gambling addiction? Where does that intensity come from and how is he able to channel it when there is no basketball in his life? Did another looming retirement after the ‘98 Finals make him even more intense and unapproachable? We know all the ways his intensity was positive, but what did it look like behind the scenes?
How does the final team in the Bulls dynasty compare to the final Jackson led Lakers dynasty?
The 2003-04 Lakers -- the last of the Kobe-Shaq era -- got owned by the defense of the Detroit Pistons. That Lakers team was so dysfunctional they won despite themselves. It led to the trade of Shaq to the Miami Heat and dismantled the Lakers into something we barely recognized. Apparently, the last season of the Bulls dynasty was no picnic either and it will be interesting to hear Phil Jackson talk about the differences between the two locker rooms and how he held both of these teams together for so long.
Steve Kerr’s side of the story
Michael Jordan punched Steve Kerr in the face during a practice. We’ve heard from MJ and how that’s the moment he came to respect Kerr, but how does the now Golden State Warriors coach feel about his former teammate? Kerr won five-championships and was a very good player for a long time, but as a player he never rose to the heights that Jordan did. Since then, Kerr turned into one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time and will certainly be in the Hall someday. With his new clout and newfound respect, here’s hoping Kerr doesn’t hold back and tells us really how he feels about MJ and the Bulls.
Behind the scenes
It seems like a privilege that we have hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage from one of the greatest teams all time (you know Bill Belichick would never let this kind of access into his locker rooms). First of all, it’d be nice to hear how they got this unmitigated access. Second, it will be fun to see how well this footage gels with our memories of what happened. Finally, we look forward to this being unfiltered. Imagine a televised game where we get to hear everything the players are saying on and off the court. It took more than 20 years, but we may finally have that chance.
What did the team really think about him playing baseball?
Will they even admit it? The excellent 30 for 30 ‘Jordan Rides the Bus’ details this really well but it will be nice to hear from more perspectives and if how his baseball career contributed to the inevitable demise of the Bulls.
This may be the last time we get to sit down with Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was formally inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, along with Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and others. No one inspired Kobe on the court more than Michael Jordan. What was their relationship like when Number 8 was a rookie? We are looking forward to hearing from the late great superstar and what it was like to enter the league at the height of Jordan mania.
Hearing from superfans like President Obama
From Justin Timberlake, to Carmen Electra and NaS -- just to name a few -- there are a whole list of celebrity cameos in this documentary. But it’s someone from the South Side of Chicago that we are especially looking forward to hearing from. Getting his start not too far from the House that Jordan Built, Barack Obama has a unique perspective. What was it like being there as a relatively unknown state senator? What was it like being in the city when the greatest teams in the history of Chicago’s rich sports history were at their heights?
Speaking of Chicago...
We also want to hear from the city of Chicago. The people of the city were a great support through thick and thin with this team. We want to see that devotion and passion coming from the everyday fans that were there before MJ. Before they finally got over the Detroit ‘Bad Boys’ Pistons, did the team feel the same adoration for the city of Chicago as they did for them? How did the Bulls influence the culture of Chicago sports for decades to come?
What about the other players?
We obviously want to hear from MJ, Scottie, Rodman and Kerr. But we also want to hear from the whole team. What about Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, Toni Kukoc, and, particularly, BJ Armstrong? As the first player chosen in the 1995 NBA Expansion Draft with the addition of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies, Armstrong had the unenviable task of picking up the slack when Jordan retired the first time. He refused to report to Toronto and was subsequently traded to the Warriors. How did Armstrong feel now that Jordan was back and that he wasn’t on the second three-peat teams? How do the other players feel about their contributions to the team and the amount of recognition they received?
What was Michael Jordan and the team’s motivation during their last season?
No one is competitive as Michael Jordan. But after five championships and every accolade imaginable, what well did he have to draw from for motivation in the 97-98 season? Jordan was just one person, how did the whole organization get motivated? Was setting the record for most wins in a season -- which Chicago did with 72 victories -- an important goal or just an added bonus? It’s hard to stay motivated in the best of times; how did this Bulls team maintain their excellence in the middle of such a tumultuous season?
What was Jordan’s relationship with Dennis Rodman?
Before you watch The Last Dance, make sure to watch Dennis Rodman’s 30 for 30 documentary ‘Rodman: For Better or Worse’. It is a great portrait of a misunderstood man who was the only one to rival Jordan’s fame in the late ‘90s. Rodman would party until his teammates woke up the next morning. How did this affect Jordan’s relationship with Rodman? The Bulls were about the only team that could sign Rodman at that time and somehow get productivity out of him. How did Rodman affect the toxicity of the clubhouse?
What would have happened if they didn’t blow up the team?
Would they have won more championships? Would they have been a good but not great team? Would they have sacrificed the future if they stayed together past their primes? It couldn’t have gotten much worse than it actually played out: a decade of irrelevance.
Could they have coaxed Doug Collins to come back and coach the team? There was a rumor that MJ would be willing to play for the coach who mentored him from 1986-89. How would MJ fare against Phil Jackson’s Kobe and Shaq teams? Would the Bulls have been more competitive against the three-peat Lakers than the Pacers, Sixers and Nets were? Would our perception of Jordan and the Bulls be tainted if they didn’t go out on top?
Would it have been possible for any coach besides Phil Jackson to hold this team together?
We are looking forward to hearing the hall of fame coach’s perspective on how he kept this final team together as long as he did. They don’t call Jackson the Zen Master for nothing. Jordan and Jackson both said they were gone after this year; Rodman and Pippen couldn’t stand each other; role players like Kukoc were complaining about playing time constantly; Jordan never liked GM Krause. How did Jackson meld all of these larger than life egos to win any championships, let alone six?
Charles Oakley and his relationship with MJ
Oakley got drafted by the Bulls the year after Michael did, providing protection for the Bulls on both sides of the court. After Horace Grant became an integral part of the first Bulls three-peat, Krause traded Oakley in 1988. But as a result, MJ’s trust of Krause is said to have deteriorated and the relationship never healed. Oakley played in New York until 1998 and became an integral part of the Knicks culture. If Oakley would have played in Chicago that long, would the team have been more harmonious? Would they have stayed together? We know one thing: Oakley would have had the championship that always eluded him.
Which MJ will we see? How will this affect the way we perceive Jordan and the Dynasty Bulls?
Will we see a softer side of the GOAT or will he stick to his ultra-competitive trash talking exterior? People who never even thought about watching basketball were converted when Michael Jordan was on the court. He may very well be the most important athlete of all-time. How will The Last Dance change our perception of one of our most iconic heroes? Thankfully, we don’t have to wait much longer to find out.
Watch the first two episodes of The Last Dance starting Sunday April 19th at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. The 10-part series will debut in pairs every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.