After setting the scene for the start and the end of the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in the first drop of The Last Dance, this week’s episodes have given us one of the most bizarre NBA players of all time and taken us to the mountaintop for the first time.
Starting with Dennis Rodman and taking us through the battles with the Detroit Pistons, to the Bulls’ first NBA championship in 1991, we started to see more of the all-conquering Michael Jordan that we’re used to in episodes three and four of The Last Dance.
The latest drop gave us more coaching turmoil, tales of Phil Jackson dropping acid in the 70s, tales of Rodman doing God knows what in the 90s, and may have laid the groundwork for the next instalment to look at Jordan’s borderline degenerate gambling.
So, with ESPN and Netflix giving the people what they want by accelerating the release date (after a campaign from #NBATwitter), over the next few weeks we’ll be here to walk you through each drop, ep by ep, handing out some awards along the way.
Episode 3 – The Worm Arrives
In the first two episodes we got an insight into Jordan and his number two, Scottie Pippen, but episode three came with a heaping helping of maybe the most interesting member of the team and unofficial US ambassador to North Korea, Dennis ‘Worm’ Rodman.
From a basketball sense, his journey from literally living on the street, to being drafted late in the first round, to two-time champ with Detroit, to three-time champ in Chicago, to hall-of-famer makes him worthy of an episode. But he’s also got his own feature-length ESPN documentary and you don’t get those just for being the “third wheel” on a championship team.
This episode also dives into the heated and often dangerous rivalry with the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons teams of the late 80s and early 90s — a grudge so strong that Jordan admits he still hates them.
MVP – Dennis Rodman
At one point in this episode, someone casually mentions that Rodman entered a season with dyed blonde hair because he had seen Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man in the summer, and it’s about the ninth-craziest thing that is mentioned about him in this episode.
It includes really serious stuff like him being kicked out of home and living on the street when he was just 18 and serious struggles with mental health, to wild times like him being granted “a 48-hour vacation” (it ended up being a fair bit longer) in the middle of the 98 championship run to go to Las Vegas and recharge his batteries.
He says in the episode he would happily “play the game for free, [but] you get paid for the bullshit [off the court]”, and while he definitely enjoyed some of the trappings of NBA stardom, it did take a toll.
He clearly struggled with the mental side of the game at times. He was found asleep in his truck at the Detroit Pistons’ home court in 1993, reportedly with a rifle in the car with him.
But Rodman was a pivotal member of two of the greatest teams in NBA history and is often credited for making it possible for NBA players to get paid major dollars to just be defenders and rebounders.
LVP – Doug Collins
This one’s harsh, because it’s not really his fault. And Doug Collins is a perfectly good coach who clearly got on well with Jordan, but just wasn’t the hero Chicago needed at the time.
Not only did general manager Jerry Krause hire experienced offensive mind Tex Winter to advise him, he also brought in Phil Jackson, who would ultimately take his place as head coach and lead the team to glory.
Who knows if Collins could have gotten the team over that eastern-conference hump, but the fact of the matter is he was either incapable or unwilling to put in place Winter’s triangle offence, which Jackson implemented with the Bulls and later the LA Lakers en route to 11 championships.
It was not the only reason those teams won, but it was clearly a system that worked after Collins’ “get the ball to Michael, everybody get the f*** out of the way” style didn’t quite take them far enough.
Getting Jordan to include the whole team was definitely the way to go and the philosophy holds true to this day, as we watch iso-superstar James Harden struggle to get over the hump with the Houston Rockets
Rookie/Most Improved of the episode
This award will go to the subject who bursts onto the scene in each episode after nil, minimal or underwhelming involvement in past editions.
Jordan’s rivalry with Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons was so intense that Jumpman even allegedly stopped the 12-time All Star from being included on the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics. So this episode was always one to look forward to.
They didn’t really matter in the first two episodes, when the Bulls weren’t good enough to meet them at the pointy end of the season, but the 1989, 1990 and 1991 Eastern Conference Finals are legendary for the brutality and quality on display throughout. Not to mention their match-ups with the Boston Celtics, over which Larry Bird still holds a grudge against Bill Laimbeer.
Everyone outside Detroit hated the Pistons, and they were fine with it.
“We knew how important to the NBA it was to get Michael to go to the next level. The blueprint was Larry [Bird], Magic [Johnson], then Michael,” Pistons forward John Salley says.
He’s right. Legendary Celtics and Lakers sides won eight of nine championships leading up to 1989, and the Bulls won six of eight from 1991, but in between those dynasties sits a group of bruisers, led by a tiny point guard who would knock seven shades of manure through you and smile as they did it.
Not only that, the city loves doing it so much that another rag-tag squad got in the way of more dynasties 15 years later, taking down Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in 2004 to become the only non-Lakers or San Antonio Spurs team with a trophy from 1999 to 2005.
The Michael Jordan ‘Horrible Guy’ award
While doing press for The Last Dance, Jordan said people would think he was “a horrible guy” after they watched it. Let’s test that theory.
We have heard and will hear a lot about scrimmages involving Jordan in the series. He was a famously hellacious trainer and could no doubt be a nightmare to play with.
But storming out of a practice because he thought Collins was cheating with the scoring? C’mon, MJ. That’s some schoolyard nonsense.
Shaqtin’ A Fool award
This will be handed out weekly to the funniest moment in each episode, ideally in GIF form.
This week it goes to this security guard who was feeling himself so hard after getting dapped up by Rodman after a game that he went for one too many and got completely fresh-aired.
The best (?) 90s fashion moment
It’s no doubt this Rodman blinder in an interview with Barbara Walters, where for some reason they’re sitting on the ground in front of a couch.
It defies description and any attempt made simply wouldn’t do it justice. But it is worth mentioning that saggy, baggy thing on his head is hiding pink hair.
Quote of the episode
Defensive great Gary Payton, who we’ll hear more from when the Bulls reach the 1996 Finals against the Seattle Supersonics, on Rodman’s ability to destroy the other team’s offensive schemes:
Episode 4: To The Mountaintop
The episode squeezes in a little extra Rodman mayhem — Jordan ending the vacation by knocking on his hotel door and dragging him out of bed with Carmen Electra to come to practice — before looking into the mind of the Zen master, Jackson.
It starts with his playing days as a Rodman-esque pest on the glass for the New York Knicks, to his time coaching in a Puerto Rican league where one opponent would smear chicken blood on their rivals’ bench, through to his arrival in Chicago to become the most decorated coach in NBA history.
Jackson coached the Bulls to all six of their championships and it’s in no small part down to his ability to get polar opposite guys like Jordan, Pippen and Rodman (and later Shaq and Kobe) to coalesce and become something even better than the sum of their already impressive parts.
MVP — Michael Jordan
In saying all that, good grief was Michael Jordan a beast.
It can be easy to get flippant about just how great he was, but watching him get tenderised by those Pistons in 89 and 90, acknowledge they were better than him, then spend his off-season pumping iron so he can not only take the punishment but throw some of his own weight around makes for compelling viewing.
Not only did he lead the Bulls back from those devastating losses to beat Detroit, they did it in a sweep. 4-0.
Gone were the days of the mid 80s when he would drop 49 and 63 in successive playoff losses to Boston; this time he had a squad he trusted and he just did a bit of everything as the Bulls stunned the two-time defending champions before beating Johnson and the Lakers four straight times to win the title in five games.
Even five-time champ Johnson had to admit there was no shame in being thwarted by His Airness.
“If you got to lose, you’re gonna lose to them, I’m gonna lose to Michael. That’s the way it should be,” he said after the 4-1 series.
LVP — The Detroit Pistons
When you talk about disliked sporting teams, there is often a bit of mustard added to things to make them sound worse than they were, but the Pistons were seriously dangerous.
They genuinely, by their own admission, tried to hurt opposition players. And not just knocking the hell out of them when they tried a layup or dunk, which was sort of par for the course at the time, but sliding their feet into the landing zone of jump shooters and causing major damage.
Thomas was an all-time great, and maybe being the meanest dirtbags in town was the only way they could compete with the giants, but there’s a reason Bird and Jordan both famously still despise these guys.
After beating the Bulls every which way for three straight years, to walk off the court, past the Chicago bench, with eight seconds left in the last game of a sweep was pretty pathetic behaviour.
And Thomas’s attempt to justify it by saying the Celtics had done it to them in the past wasn’t really an excuse, considering Jordan had been so gracious even after weathering those dirty tactics in previous years.
Rookie/Most Improved award
He got a couple of mentions in the first week, but Chicago forward Horace Grant‘s arrival on the scene in episode four was a delight.
For starters, look at the size of this rig …
And second, he gave us one of the best lines of the episode when he described the Pistons as “straight-up bitches” for their 1991 exit.
The Michael Jordan ‘Horrible Guy’ award
The Pistons deserve this because of the way they played the game, but since we’ve already spoken about their chicanery, let’s have a look at some of the things MJ did in this episode.
He described a teammate having the ball in his hands with five seconds left on the clock as “f***ing bullshit”, he described his centre as the “highest-paid media man in the world”, and offered up the classic line: “There’s no ‘I’ in team, [but] there’s an ‘I’ in win”.
The good news is, he learned the value of trusting his teammates and it allowed them to win their first title — even if that was portrayed a little bit too neatly to be real life.
Shaqtin’ A Fool award
There may be no easier race to call for the entire series than this. The award goes to this moment when GM Jerry Krause is cutting shapes after taking down Detroit.
The best (?) 90s fashion moment
Jordan looking sad in rainforest camo after another loss to the Pistons.
Quote of the episode
The last word this week goes to Jordan, who was shown Thomas’s description of the events in 1991, made the face you see above, and said the words you see below:
We’ll be back next Tuesday to wrap up episodes 5 and 6 of The Last Dance.