All week long, I was wondering how "The Last Dance" was going to end. Michael Jordan hitting "The Shot" in Utah seemed like a logical sign off, but you knew there was going to be some kind of reflective dialogue to frame what we had just watched. Honestly, I didn't think anything terribly memorable would come from the final moments. I thought that box had been checked when Jordan got emotional talking about his leadership style in Episode 7.
I was wrong.
At the end of Episode 10, Jordan confirmed that he did not want to retire after his sixth championship in 1998. I won't claim to be a Bulls historian, so perhaps he's said this somewhere before. But I've never heard it. And Jordan himself said on the documentary he'd never heard Jerry Reinsdorf's explanation for why the team was ultimately broken apart. For a series that didn't necessarily reveal much new information, this was quite an eye-opening walk-off as Jordan was handed the iPad to listen to the Bulls owner's comments.
"After the sixth championship things were beyond our control," said Reinsdorf, who said he went to Phil Jackson and offered him the opportunity to come back the following season. "At that point it would've been suicidal, at that point in their careers, to bring back [Scottie] Pippen, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, their market value individually was going to be too high. They weren't going to be worth the money they were going to get in the market."
Jordan then gave one of his instant-meme faces, and gave his side of the story.
"If you ask all the guys who won in '98, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, blah blah blah, we give you a one-year contract to try for a seventh, you think they would have signed them? Yes, they would have signed them," Jordan said. "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, Dennis [Rodman] was gonna be there, if M.J. was gonna be there, to win our seventh? Pip is not gonna miss out on that."
Jordan was then asked if he feels a certain satisfaction that he was at least able to go out on top, or if it was maddening that he wasn't able to defend his title, and in some sense his legacy, one more time.
"It's maddening," Jordan said. "Because I felt like we could have won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just not to be able to try, that's something that, you know, I just can't accept. For whatever reason, I just can't accept it."
To me, this was the right taste to leave on the audience's tongue, because it perfectly encapsulates who Michael Jordan was as an athlete and competitor. The man has six championships, and he's still haunted by the fact that he didn't get a chance to go for another one. His past never motivated him. It was always "what's next?" Or "who's next?" For Jordan, he couldn't stand the idea of someone thinking he couldn't do something, and by retiring, there was an implicit admission that he was done. But he didn't feel that way. And that clearly burns him to this day.
A few weeks back, I wrote that Jordan didn't retire just because of Jerry Krause, who I felt -- and still feel -- this documentary disproportionately vilified. Yes, Krause had gone on record saying Jackson was not coming back, and Jordan has also stated that he would not play for any coach other than Jackson. But he also talked about how much the fame and lifestyle was wearing him down, and even went so far as to say he didn't think he would miss playing.
So he clearly had, and still has, mixed emotions, but Reinsdorf needs to take some heat here, too. He says he went to Jackson and offered him the chance to come back for the 1998-99 season, but he also said he wasn't going to pay most of the players they would've needed to make another championship run, and since Jackson wasn't into a rebuild, that was it.
Jordan, presumably, is right to suggest all those players would've taken one-year deals to make one last run together, and I would tend to agree that Pippen would've wanted in as well. We'll never know for sure. What we do know is Jordan wanted that chance, even after everything he'd already accomplished. Nothing was ever good enough for this guy, which, in the end, is what made him what he was.