An icon immortalized: Reflecting on “The Last Dance”

The final two episodes of ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary air Sunday night to conclude the 10-part series.
Michael Jordan hits the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

It’s crazy to think about how the world of basketball has already frozen twice this year.

It froze once on March 11, when Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test put a stop to the 2020 NBA season. It froze a second time on April 19, when the entire sports world came together to watch the introductory episodes of “The Last Dance” documentary series.

We already know how the story will end tonight: Michael Jordan will hit the iconic shot that is game six of the 1998 NBA Finals and win the Bulls’ sixth title in eight years, defeating the Jazz.

That shot is immortalized on my bedroom wall, as it is for countless basketball fans.

Looking back, that shot marked the end of the Bulls’ dynasty. However, no one had the full story. During these past four weeks, we as a sports audience have watched every moment, heard every opinion and felt every emotion.

Every moment, from Dennis Rodman’s decision to leave the team in the middle of the season to go party in Las Vegas to Scottie Pippen’s request for a trade, was documented. They had clips from the Eastern Conference All-Star team’s locker room laughing at the insane mentality that a young Kobe Bryant displayed. Pippen refused to check into a game because the play wasn’t drawn up for him and Phil Jackson locked Jerry Krause out of the player’s locker room — it was all there.

Every opinion, from Isiah Thomas’s lament over not being selected for the Dream Team to Jordan’s two-word-long press release, was voiced. Former president and former Chicago resident Barack Obama discussed the political implications behind some of Michael’s actions. Carmen Electra talked about how she hid behind the couch in a Vegas hotel room when Jordan came to get teammate Dennis Rodman. We heard Horace Grant call the 1991 Detroit Pistons “straight-up b–es” after they walked off in defeat without handshakes. Every voice, from Justin Timberlake to Pat Riley — was all there.

Every emotion, from laughter as security personnel hustled Jordan out of some money during a penny-pitching game to exasperation pretty much any time Jerry Krause opened his mouth, was felt. I felt bad for Toni Kukoc when Pippen and Jordan made it a personal mission to embarrass him during the Olympics — simply because Krause liked the kid.

Finally, we heard the stories from the man himself.

We heard Jordan take us through countless games and watched him torch every player who thought they had a right to breathe the same air he did. We heard the story of the infamous Dream Team practice in Monte Carlo. We heard about the gambling, and we heard about the fight with Steve Kerr during a practice. We heard about his experiences with baseball, his struggles coming back to the game after retirement and the stories of how he had to act like he was fine when he was in pain after the tragic loss of his father.

That last one hit home quite a bit for me.

My father isn’t on Earth anymore. He passed in April 2011, when I was nine years old. When Jordan sat there and cried, I cried with him. I cried with him, not because I felt bad, but because I felt the same pain. When Jordan retired from basketball to play baseball, I understood that. I felt angry listening to the conspiracy theories of Jordan being “suspended” from basketball.

I understood his search for a sense of normalcy or to be “one of the guys,” as he called it, in relation to his AA baseball career. I understood his need to act like he had moved on in public and that everything was okay when, inside, he couldn’t feel any worse.

That’s a feeling that just about every human has felt. He had to put on a brave face and act like everything was okay when, in reality, there was a sense of brokenness inside. He did it day after day after day.

Before this documentary, I would argue with anyone who would listen that LeBron James is a better basketball player than Michael Jordan was. After watching this documentary, I don’t know if I want to be right anymore. This 10-part series showed us a new Michael Jordan. Not only the competitive, do-anything-to-win Jordan that we are all accustomed to — we saw Michael Jordan the human. We’ve seen the story and the necessary context behind the 1998 Chicago Bulls.

And tonight, at 8 p.m., we’ll turn to ESPN and see how the story ends. We’ll watch Michael Jordan hit the iconic shot that is Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals and win the Bulls’ sixth title in eight years, defeating the Jazz.

Finally, we’ll have the full story.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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