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Episodes 9 and 10 of 'The Last Dance' cap an extraordinary run for Bulls and ESPN

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan holds the Most Valuable

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan holds the Most Valuable Player trophy and coach Phil Jackson holds the NBA Championship trophy after the Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz, 87-86, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 14, 1998. Credit: AP/JACK SMITH

Spoiler alert: “The Last Dance” ended on Sunday night with the Bulls winning the 1997-98 NBA championship, capping an extraordinary run in the 1990s and an extraordinary run for ESPN in the spring of 2020.

Episodes 9 and 10, the only ones not made available to journalists before the series started, were highlights-heavy looks back at the 1997 and ’98 playoffs that tied a predictable but enjoyable bow on the series.

What no one associated with the documentary could have foreseen when it was being developed was what it became for many of us: a welcome bit of appointment sports programming in a time without sports.

The fact that it ended after five consecutive Sunday nights as the sports world is beginning to stir to life after two months of COVID-19-induced inaction seems appropriate.

Sports media outlets of every stripe have been living off the past since mid-March, feeding fans a steady diet of old stories and old games, and that has started to get really old.

“Time to go,” Phil Jackson says near the end of Episode 10, referring to the breakup of those Bulls.

But that also could serve as a message about the sports world in general as Memorial Day approaches — with the proper safety precautions, of course.

Anyway, back to Sunday night — and to 1998.

The last two episodes of “The Last Dance” had their memorable moments.

There was Reggie Miller recalling an early lesson about not talking trash to Michael Jordan.

And Jordan talking about young Bryon Russell unwisely talking trash to him during his baseball hiatus in 1994, landing Russell a place on Jordan’s naughty “list,” which would come back to haunt him in 1997 and ’98.

And that bad Utah pizza in the wee hours before Game 5 in 1997 that led to Jordan’s “flu” game.

And Steve Kerr recalling the murder of his father, and how he and Jordan never discussed that shared experience.

And Larry Bird and Jordan sharing an expletive-punctuated embrace after the 1998 Eastern Conference finals.

And the chaos at the hotel where the Bulls celebrated winning the 1998 Finals, with an ecstatic Jordan playing the piano and holding court, recalling his exaggerated follow-through after making the winning shot over Russell.

Director Jason Hehir did a fine job of setting up that shot, with Scottie Pippen recalling he just “wanted to get the hell of the way” of Jordan and Dennis Rodman doing the same, thinking, “He is not going to pass this [expletive] ball.”

He didn’t, and the rest is basketball history.

On the final night, the documentary seemed to go out of its way to praise both Pippen and general manager Jerry Krause, two figures whose treatment in early episodes had been criticized in some quarters.

There were some notable things missing from the final two episodes, though, including interviews with Russell or Jazz star Karl Malone — who is seen visiting the Bulls' bus and hugging Jordan after Game 6 in ‘98.

Also, there was no mention of Jordan’s two post-Bulls seasons with the Wizards.

Most peculiar of all was that even though there were brief snippets of interviews with his three adult children in Episode 10, Jordan’s personal life was not explored in any significant way.

His two marriages and five children need not have been a major plot point in the series, but over the course of 10 hours, it certainly deserved more than it got, which was nothing.

Anyway, the ride was fun, and let’s hope people too young to remember that era enjoyed learning about it as much as those of us who lived it enjoyed looking back on it.

It beat the heck out of 99.9% of the rest of sports television since mid-March.

And it is good to know that Jordan never has and never will change, forever fueled by grudges and competitive fire.

While Jackson looks back and recalls 1998 as “time to go,” Jordan says he left unsatisfied. He would have been happy to get the gang back together — on one-year contracts — and go for ring No. 7.

“We may not have [won], but man, just not to be able to try, that’s something I can’t accept,” he said. “For whatever reason, I can’t accept it.”


 

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