Well, "The Last Dance," the 10-part documentary chronicling Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, has. This thing is huge, as we knew it would be when ESPN and Netflix (for those outside the U.S.) pushed up the release with everyone stuck at home looking for things to watch during the coronavirus pandemic.
The first four episodes have given us some great moments.on this particular depiction of the story, and he takes a few more beatings in Episodes 5 and 6, which also gets into, among other things, , the , the release of "The Jordan Rules" and his so-called gambling "problem."
Here are our big takeaways from Sunday:
1. From Jordan to Kobe
Episode 5 begins at the 1998 All-Star Game, where Kobe Bryant was making his first appearance and Jordan, it was speculated at the time, was making his last. It's a particularly nostalgic, and in many ways jarring moment given Bryant's recent passing. On the short list of young players to be saddled with the unfair and impossible "next Jordan" tag, Kobe came the closest.
Jordan jokes all the time about how Kobe stole all his moves, which is equally parts true and incredible; imagine being talented enough to paint with enough resemblance to the strokes of Picasso that you might be considered his copycat. But it wasn't just the way Kobe played that reminded us of Jordan, it was the way he thought, the way he approached the game mentally, and that's the part of the equation that "The Last Dance" captures.
Kobe, though he wasn't a true star yet (he wasn't even a starter for the Lakers in his second season), had everyone's attention by 1998, including Jordan, who's seen making a handful of comments about young Kobe in the locker room.
"That little Laker boy's gonna take everybody one on one," Jordan says. "... He don't let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it. He just go out there and take it. 'I'm gonna make this s--- happen. I'm going to make this a one-on-one game.' ... If I was his teammate, I wouldn't pass him the f--ing ball. You want this ball again brother, you better rebound."
It's a rich taste of irony to hear Jordan, of all people, cracking on Kobe's youthful instinct to take matters into his own hands rather than relying on teammates. In earlier episodes of the documentary, Jordan was clear that he initially didn't want Phil Jackson to take over as Chicago's coach in 1989 because was going to "take the ball out of my hands." In his third season, Jordan took 28 shots per game. He called any offense that put the ball in Bill Cartwright's hands in the final five seconds of the shot clock -- or any player's hands besides Jordan really -- "bulls---."
There is nothing wrong with this, by the way. Jordan is the greatest scorer in history, and in those days, playing one-on-one basketball was an easier thing to do before the illegal-defense rules changed. It's just funny to hear Jordan, for lack of a better term, mock Kobe's approach to the game. It's sort of like if Brett Favre were to be in the locker room knocking some young gunslinger quarterback on the other team who makes risky passes.
2. Mama knows best
One of the great "what if" scenarios in sports and business history is presented early in Episode 5, with Jordan admitting that he wanted to sign with Adidas instead of Nike, which is described by Jordan's agent, David Falk, as an "upstart" company in 1984. Back then, Converse was the big dog. They had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius Erving, and Jordan recalls the Converse people telling him they couldn't envision him being bigger than any of those guys, and Adidas wasn't prepared to give Jordan his own shoe.
Still, Falk says he "couldn't even get [Jordan] to get on the damn plane" to go visit with Nike. His mind was made up. So Falk called Jordan's mom, Deloris, who talked some sense into her son.
"My mother said, 'you're going to go listen. You may not like it, but you're going to go listen,'" Jordan recalls. She made me get on that plane and go listen."
Nike proceeded to make an offer Jordan couldn't refuse, giving Jordan in the neighborhood of $250,000 -- more than double what any other established star player was getting from his shoe deal -- as well as his own signature shoe, the "Air Jordan," which was seen as a huge reach at the time for a rookie who hadn't proved anything.
"Nike's expectation when we signed the deal was that at the end of Year 4, they hoped to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans," Falk said. "In Year 1, we sold $126 million."
For the record, Nike's Jordan Brand generated $3.14 billion over a 12-month period ending in May 2019. That's one year, people, and just off that Jordan's cut was estimated at $130 million, per Forbes. Again, that's one year. That's how Jordan, who made less than $90 million in salary over his NBA career, is now worth over $2 billion. It was indeed the shoes, Money.
And it wouldn't have happened without his mom.
3. Jordan haunts Blazers with familiar theme
When the Trail Blazers passed on drafting Michael Jordan in 1984, part of the rationale was that they already had Clyde Drexler, who played the same position as Jordan. But he wasn't the same player as Jordan, who wanted to make that fact crystal clear when Chicago and Portland met in the 1992 Finals.
"Clyde was a threat. I'm not saying he wasn't a threat," Jordan says in the doc. "But me being compared to him, I took offense to that. ... Based on the way I was playing at that time, it wasn't even close. So I attacked him every night."
Game 1 was the famous "shrug game" in which Jordan, a career 32 percent 3-point shooter, canned six triples en route to 35 first-half points, but what most people outside of Portland probably don't remember is that the Blazers, despite that Game 1 onslaught, had that series tied 2-2. It rings a familiar bell in Jordan's career.
Many of the series Chicago won over the years were much tighter affairs than Bulls and Jordan nostalgia suggests. In 1992 alone, the Bulls were tied 2-2 against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals; same thing against the Cavaliers in the conference finals. This is where Jordan separated from his competition. When it was all on the line.
In Game 5 against the Knicks, Jordan scored 37 points to Patrick Ewing's 14. In Game 5 against the Cavs, he scored 37 again. In the 1993 conference finals, the Knicks had the Bulls down 2-0, then 2-1. Jordan scored 54 in Game 4, and the Bulls won in six. This pattern continued to play out throughout Jordan's career.
In the 1997 Finals, the Bulls were tied with the Jazz 2-2 when Jordan, in the famous "flu game" in which he looked like he was going to pass out at any moment, went for 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and one block, and he hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with less than a minute to play.
In the 1998 Finals, the Bulls lost Game 1 to the Jazz, who would've taken control of the series with a win in Game 2. Instead, Jordan score 37 points to Karl Malone's 16. Still, the Bulls were less than six seconds away from having to play Game 7 that year on Utah's home court before Jordan hit the famous hanging-follow-through game-winner to seal the sixth championship. One round before that, it was the Pacers who had the Bulls tied 2-2 when Jordan went for 29 in Game 5 to Reggie Miller's 14, and the Bulls went on to win in seven.
In the 1993 Finals, Jordan again rescued Chicago from what was a much closer call than a lot of people probably remember. The Suns -- who eventually got within a last-second John Paxson 3-pointer of forcing a Game 7 -- were down 2-1 in the series when they got a monster Game 4 out of Charles Barkley, who went for 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. If Phoenix wins that game, the series is 2-2 and who knows what happens. But Jordan didn't let it get that far. He went for 55. When it came down to it, Chicago's star was just better than any other team's star.
That included the Blazers and Drexler, who had 16 points against Jordan's 39 in Game 1. When the series was tied 2-2 and Portland had a shot to take a pivotal Game 5, Drexler played well. Had 30 points and 10 boards. But Jordan had 46. The Bulls won the game and shortly thereafter the series.
And so it went. Jordan's Bulls, for the most part, did not cruise to titles. It's just that every time some team was hanging around and eventually found itself with a chance to back Chicago against the ropes, Jordan decided it was time to stop dancing around and land a haymaker. And it was over.
4. Jordan denies keeping Isiah off Dream Team
Since this documentary came out, two of the top talking points have been Jordan's hate for Jerry Krause and. The 1992 Dream Team illustrated both. First, Jordan was unequivocal that he didn't personally keep Isiah off that Olympic team, and that furthermore he believes Isiah to be one of the two best point guards ever.
The shady part that Jordan recalls is that when he was approached about playing on the Olympic team, he asked who else was going to play. Rod Thorn, the GM who drafted Jordan in Chicago and who was part of the committee putting the 1992 Olympic roster together, cut Jordan off and said the guy he was insinuating, presumably Isiah Thomas,.
"I respect Isiah Thomas' talent. To me, the best point guard of all time is Magic Johnson, and right behind him is Isiah Thomas," Jordan said. "No matter how much I hate him, I respect his game. It was insinuated I was asking about him, but I never threw his name in there."
Take that for whatever it's worth to you. Whether Jordan said the words or not, it was clearly understood that he didn't want to play with Isiah Thomas and the selection committee certainly wasn't going to do anything to dissuade Jordan from playing. It's been said that the true definition of power is not having to use it, and to me, this applies here. Jordan didn't have to say a word. Yes, there were other players who had beefs with Isiah, but Jordan was King. And his power was virtually limitless.
5. Jerry Krause takes another beating
In the above section, I mentioned two of Jordan's main rivalries were a part of the Dream Team story. The first was Isiah Thomas, and the second was Jerry Krause, who has been a constant villain in this particular depiction of the Bulls' story. What did Krause have to do with the 1992 Olympics? Well, ask Toni Kukoc. As the story goes, Krause loved Kukoc, who was starring for the Croatian team in 1992 and whom the Bulls drafted in the second round in 1990.
Kukoc didn't initially come to Chicago when he was drafted because he wasn't ready to leave his home country, which was in the midst of a terrible civil war. But the Bulls players knew about him. Specifically Scottie Pippen, who saw Krause trying to woo Kukoc from Europe for reportedly tens of millions of dollars when he wouldn't renegotiate Pippen's contract after multiple championships; by 1994, Kukoc had a new contract with Chicago for six years, $24 million, and annually he was out-earning Pippen and was right on par with Jordan when he first came back from playing baseball.
"Jerry was fawning over Toni so much while our team here was winning championships, and it rubbed a lot of the players the wrong way," former Bulls assistant GM Jim Stack recalls. "Krause was willing to put someone before his actual kids, who had given him everything that we could give him," Jordan said.
So Pippen and Jordan set out to make a point, not because they disliked Kukoc, whom they didn't even know, but because they hated Krause, and they wanted to prove that his little pet project was, frankly, a joke. Kukoc -- who, to be fair, redeemed himself in the Gold Medal Game and eventually became a really solid player for the Bulls -- got absolutely baptized in that first group-play matchup against the Americans. Jordan and Pippen harassed him all over the court, all game long, no let up.
"I didn't play a good game," Kukoc said. "I got surprised by how strict they played defense. I didn't expect somebody to be next to me literally the whole game."
Pippen and Jordan, the latter of whom reportedly instructed his Olympic teammates before the game to leave the Kukoc defensive assignment to the Bulls' duo -- held Kukoc to four points while forcing him into seven turnovers. And to think, it wasn't even about Kukoc. He found himself in the middle of an internal beef he knew nothing about.
"Jerry paved the way for a lot of hell for Toni Kukoc," Pippen said. "Not only was it just me and Michael, but every guy on that Olympic team looked at that kid and felt like he may not even think about coming to the NBA after he played against us. It wasn't anything personal about Toni. But we were going to do everything we could to make Jerry look bad."
Fast forward to the sixth episode, in which we see the aforementioned Bulls-Suns Finals. What was Jordan's motivation in that particular series? Of course, to win a third straight championship, he also says he didn't like the fact that the media had given that season's MVP award to Charles Barkley. But also ...
"I knew that Jerry Krause loved Dan Majerle," Jordan said of the Phoenix All-Star who was assigned to defend him in the series. "And just because Krause liked him was enough for me. 'You think he's a great defensive player?' OK, fine. I'm gonna show you that he's not."
Jordan averaged -- averaged -- 41 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists in that series. Between Jordan competing against himself and Jerry Krause and whatever media member had most recently said something he didn't like, you sometimes wonder if it really ever mattered that much who he was actually playing against on the court.
6. Gambling, fame and ... Kevin Durant?
Jordan's gambling has long been a thorn in his reputation, and back in 1993 it became front-page news when he was seen at an Atlantic City casino the night before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Knicks. Jordan hadn't played well in Chicago's Game 1 loss, and then in Game 2, after the casino visit, he burned out down the stretch as the Knicks took a 2-0 lead in the series.
The media connected the dots. Jordan must've been tired from an all-nighter in AC. It wasn't the first time a gambling headline had hovered over Jordan, who had previously paid a debt of $57,000 to a drug dealer/money launderer whom he later wound up testifying against in court. Of course, this must have meant that Jordan had a gambling problem.
This, to me, was a ridiculous assertion back then, and it's a ridiculous assertion now. If you want to argue that Jordan gambling in the middle of a playoff series wasn't appropriate from an optics standpoint, go for it. But this dude, even at that point, was beyond rich. And he's competitive as hell. Gambling is something millions of people love to do, and as long as you're doing it within the confines of what you can afford and it's not screwing up your life, you'll never convince me that it's a problem.
Now, what was a problem for Jordan was the perception that he wasn't perfect. He was, like anyone else, a flawed human, a difficult teammate who got some special treatment and now had a public vice, if that's what you want to call it.
These were the types of things revealed in Sam Smith's book, "The Jordan Rules." That book was not a hatchet job. It was merely a behind-the-curtain look at the real Michael Jordan, rather than the squeaky-clean hero in the "Be Like Mike" Gatorade commercials.
See, Jordan wasn't used to anything that even resembled negative press. He had good relationships with reporters, who were so dependent on access to him that they couldn't afford to rub him the wrong way, and with no social media back then, and a carefully crafted brand image, Jordan had been able to shape and color his own reputation. And when that reputation started to suffer a few hits, he didn't react well.
Which brings me to Kevin Durant, another all-time great player who is also, to say the least, quite touchy about the things people say about him. Difference is, social media is around now, so all these things Durant hears and is insecure about -- that he's not a great teammate, that he's sensitive to what people think about him and what the media writes about him, that he takes offense to what he perceives to be inferior players getting more attention and credit than him -- are out there for the world to see.
All these things Jordan was privately stewing about (that anyone would dare to think Drexler was on his level, that he initially didn't like the offense his coach was running, so on and so forth), Durant is posting them on Twitter and Instagram. In turn, people take shots back at him. He gets even more defensive. And round and round we go.
"My fame, it was good at the beginning," Jordan is seen saying in the doc. "Any time people talk about you in a positive way, it's great to hear those comments. But now that you're on a pedestal, it's not just the positive talk you're hearing; you hear some people taking shots at you, and that really changes the whole idea of being out there for people to see you."
Who else does this sound like? Durant got so tired of taking what he perceived to be jabs at his game and personality that he infamously went on a media strike, and then he got killed for that. Jordan did the same thing. Flat out quit talking to reporters when he finally got fed up with, again, what he perceived to be constant criticism.
Again, the visibility is the main difference between Jordan and Durant. They both were, or are, insecure -- which, it's important to point out, doesn't have to be some fatal flaw. It's a pretty normal emotion, really. Anyone who says they don't harbor any insecurity is a liar. It's all about how you channel it. We don't associate Jordan, the ultimate alpha, with insecurity, but he was. He heard every comment. He hated that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were considered greater "winners" than he was, same as Durant is known to be insecure about his standing among the game's greats.
We give Durant hell for being miffed about the attention Steph Curry got when the two were teammates, but can you imagine if there were people suggesting Pippen was a better player than Jordan back in the Bulls' heyday? Rightfully, Jordan would've been livid.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss recently published "The Victory Machine" in which the behind-the-curtain Durant -- the teammate, the guy who reads and hears everything and takes offense to every slight -- is revealed. It's a modern-day "Jordan Rules" in many ways, with, again, the only difference being we didn't need a book to know Durant was a certain brand of insecure and a certain kind of teammate. That's been out there. Social media has taken care of that. Back in the '90s, people didn't know that kind of stuff about Jordan, who finally got a taste of what Durant deals with every time he turns on his computer.
In the end, was Jordan really that much different than a guy like Durant, an all-time great player who takes in slights and turns them into fuel? Durant was so motivated by the idea that the world considered LeBron James better than him that he went out and, by almost any standard, outplayed James in winning back-to-back Finals MVPs. We call him insecure because he's miffed about still being seen as inferior to James, but ask yourself what Jordan would feel like if he beat Magic Johnson in the 1991 Finals but people still said Magic was better than him.
You can bet if Twitter was around in 1991, plenty of Lakers fans would've still been arguing for Johnson. You think Jordan would've just laughed it off had he had access to a keyboard and a platform? You can say Durant causes his own problems by willingly posting things on social media and arguing with fans, but seriously, do you really believe an athlete as competitive as Jordan, a guy so obsessed with going at his enemies that he still, to this day, is taking jabs at Jerry Krause and Isiah Thomas, wouldn't have responded to a few of the million idiots on Twitter saying stupid stuff about him? The man punched his own teammate, multiple times.
None of this, by the way, is a knock on Jordan. It's a defense of Durant, who has been painted with an entirely different brush than Jordan despite the two having a lot of similarities.
Though I will say, when Jordan lost to the Pistons in the conference finals, he didn't join them the next year.