Seeing 'The Last Dance' end this past Sunday was bittersweet. I wanted the docuseries about the 1990s Chicago Bulls to continue forever, but I know we are that much closer to sports returning to our daily lives. After reflecting on all ten episodes, here are my five key takeaways:
Becoming a Global Phenomenon Without Social Media Is So Impressive
Let's not forget that Michael Jordan was already very famous before 1998, even before his first championship in 1991. In 1985, nearly four million pairs of his first signature shoe -- the Jordan 1s -- were sold. Nike had expected to sell just 300,000.
But without the presence of social media during Jordan's rise to stardom, it is extremely impressive he was able to become the larger-than-life figure and cultural icon he was, and still is.
To put it in perspective, C.J. McCollum -- a top-50 active NBA player -- has ~1.7 million followers across his Twitter and Instagram accounts, meaning McCollum can interact and share information with 1.7 million people in a manner of seconds.
I'm not saying Michael would've been the most visible on social media, but it is now so much easier to reach a broader audience compared to the years Jordan was making a name for himself. Somehow, Michael still managed to make it look so easy.
MJ Is Arguably the Greatest Leader of All Time
You would be correct in saying Michael Jordan was not the nicest person in the world — he pissed off many of his teammates and instilled fear in those same teammates. However, he earned every single teammate’s respect.
In the ten-part docuseries, Phil Jackson said, “Michael forced the hand of a lot of the players to commit themselves.” Why was Michael able to do this? Because he led by example.
"Michael forced the hand of a lot of players to commit themselves."
- Phil Jackson during 'The Last Dance'
Jordan was one of the hardest working athletes ever. This character trait was best exemplified when he told his trainer Tim Grover that he would meet him to train the day after the Bulls lost to the Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. That was also the summer he would have ten-hour days shooting Space Jam between two-a-day workouts.
This work ethic, combined with his strong conviction and on-court talent, allowed Michael to drive his teammates as hard as he did. But, at the end of the day, the most important thing was winning and Michael led teams to plenty of that, allowing him to garner the respect of all those he played with.
The Buck Still Stops With Jerry -- And I'm Not Talking Krause
I’d like to first say that both the coaches and players of the ‘90s Bulls played their part in the downfall of the Bulls dynasty. Pippen and Jordan constantly ridiculed and insulted Jerry Krause. Phil Jackson was actually the one to say no to returning for the 1998-99 season.
That being said, Jerry Krause arguably had the biggest role to play as he let resentment and envy toward those who received more credit to fester inside him, which ultimately caused an untenable relationship with the greatest NBA coach of all time.
In addition, it is obvious that players and coaches did not like Krause even during the first three-peat. This was evident in the story of Pippen and Jordan targeting Toni Kukoc during the 1992 Olympics, only because Krause said he was a good player.
But ultimately, the buck stops with another Jerry, Mr. Reinsdorf. Yes, Phil Jackson does admit that Reinsdorf offered him another contract to come back after the ‘98 championship but by then, it was too late. The relationship between Jackson and Krause was past the point of no return and, at the end of the day, Reinsdorf chose Krause over Jackson by not letting Krause go.
You also have to ask yourself: Who has overseen an organization that has consistently shown friction and tension between front-office executives and head coaches? From John Paxson strangling Vinny Del Negro to the second greatest coach in Bulls' history being fired due to disagreements with Gar Forman, there has been continuous ineptitude displayed by the Bulls' front office, which has been overseen by one man: Jerry Reinsdorf.
Dennis Rodman May Not Be Human
North Korea and Kim Jong Un aside, Dennis Rodman is one of the more interesting players to play in the NBA. He is also a five-time champion and one of the greatest pound-for-pound rebounders of all time.
More impressively, THIS DUDE PARTIED. Forget the 48 hours in Las Vegas, the Carmen Electra stories, or the wild time at Wrestlemania -- listen to this story from Billy Corgan.
The Second 3-peat Was More Impressive Than the First
I'll offer up six reasons behind this sentiment -- one for every championship:
- Repeating anything in sports is much harder than doing it the first time.
- The greatest NBA team ever -- the 1995-96 Bulls -- came during the second three-peat.
- The supporting cast of the first three-peat had played with MJ and Scottie for multiple seasons before winning their first title in 1991. The second three-peat started during the first full season with MJ joined by Scottie, Dennis, and the rest of the cast.
- There were more off-the-court issues and tension to overcome during the last three-peat, especially in 1998.
- The toughest playoff opponent the Bulls had to face (post-Pistons) -- the 1998 Indiana Pacers -- occurred during the second three-peat.
- The toughest Finals opponent the Bulls had to face -- the 1998 Utah Jazz -- occurred during the second three-peat.
'The Last Dance' was epic. It brought back a lot of memories for a lot of people, including myself. But the ending of this great docuseries should signify the end of leaning on the successes of the Jordan-Pippen era, something the Bulls franchise has done for too long. It is time to focus on building a team that collects championship number seven. I hope Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley can do that.