Tonight was the final two episodes of “The Last Dance” which was a 10 part series documenting the career of Michael Jordan and culminating in the 1998 season which was referred prior to the season beginning as “The Last Dance.” The episode started tonight with the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls where Reggie Miller had stated that he was “going to retire Michael Jordan.” That was not the case as the Bulls dug deep and won a hard fought series in 7 games to lead them to the finals where they met the Utah Jazz for the second consecutive year. We then got some more insight about the “Flu Game” which Jordan claims was actually a severe case of food poisoning when 5 men brought a pizza up to his hotel room the night before game 5 of the 1997 Finals. Michael ate the whole pizza and was throwing up into the early hours of the morning to the point where his mother told him not to play. Nothing is going to stop Michael Jordan from playing though as he finished with 38 points to lead the team to a crucial game 5 victory in one of his most iconic games.
Following this, the episode took a very serious turn as it went over the life and career of Steve Kerr who like Michael was stricken by tragedy as his father had passed away at a young age. I think was the most impactful part of the episode because it shows how much the relationship between Steve and his father meant to him as he talks about how he was not well recruited to play college ball and accepted a scholarship to Arizona without seeing the campus. While in Arizona, his father went to Beirut where a civil war was taking place in hopes of educating the students to find more peaceful measures and be more accepting. Unfortunately, his father was killed by two gunmen posing to be students in his classrom. Steve said that he never talked to Michael about both of them losing their fathers at a relatively young age but that he had gained the trust of Michael to make the critical jumper in game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals in a nod to John Paxton from the 1993 Finals.
We then jump back to the 1998 season and see Jordan having to overcome the challenge of the Utah Jazz for a second consecutive year. This was seen as the most difficult challenge for the Bulls as they had to go on the road for 4 games if it reached game 7. Utah won a gutsy game 1 in overtime at home and the Bulls got it right back in game 2. In game 3 back in Chicago, the Bulls routed the Jazz 96-54 and Dennis Rodman perhaps thinking the series was in hand decided to go to WCW Monday Nitro and wrestle with Hulk Hogan prior to game 4. This drew the ire of Phil Jackson who knew that this season was a wrap and he was rightfully irritated with Rodman’s actions. The Bulls win game 4 to go up 3-1 on the series and for most that is just a formality; however, the Jazz fought back behind a monster game from Karl Malone to force the Bulls to go to Utah for game 6 and potentially game 7.
In a career full of highlights, perhaps no game solidifies the greatness of Michael Jordan more than game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. I vividly remember watching the Bulls from 1996-1998 as a child and that game always has stuck in my head. The game opens up and Scottie Pippen dunks the ball but tweaks his back so for the rest of the game he gives what he can but it’s not a lot. He wasn’t out on the floor much during the first half but Michael wanted him out there during the second half to at least act as a decoy and Pippen was visibly laboring up and down the court in pain. Rather than attack Scottie every possession you can, the Jazz seemed to settle with many contested shots but did have a 3 point lead with 44 seconds following a huge 3 from John Stockon. What followed shows the greatness of Michael Jordan as he glides to the hoop for an easy lay-up then proceeds to strip Karl Malone on a double team and rather than call timeout, Phil Jackson lets Mike be Mike and he hits the dagger over Byron Russell to give the Bulls a 1 point lead and Stockon’s last second 3 bounces off the rim and Michael goes 6-6 in the NBA Finals.
The documentary ends on a somber note because you can tell that Michael wanted to bring the team back together for one final run even though age was catching up to all of them. The problem was once Phil was notified that it didn’t matter if they went 82-0, he refused to come back for another year and deep down I’m pretty sure the team knew that as well. It all just ended for the Bulls follwing that 1998 season until they drafted Derrick Rose who did all he could to put the team on his back but injuries and subsequently more management turmoil led to the end of that era of the Bulls as we are back to another rebuild. Perhaps the Bulls will never see those highs ever again but for 13 years, the city of Chicago had the greatest basketball player ever to play the game and at least the world now got a chance to witness it as well.
Thank You Michael.