The Last Dance: A Championship Season of Disorder
This past Sunday, ESPN aired the first two episodes of the highly anticipated documentary titled The Last Dance, a 10-part series detailing Michael Jordan's life story and, specifically, his last year with the Chicago Bulls franchise.
This past Sunday, ESPN aired the first two episodes of the highly anticipated documentary titled The Last Dance, a 10-part series detailing Michael Jordan's life story and, specifically, his last year with the Chicago Bulls franchise. While Jordan himself had said that after watching this show, people will think he is a "horrible guy" due to his notorious competitiveness and intensity, fans were left surprised. Instead of vilifying Jordan's mentality, the opening episodes focused on the complete disconnect that existed between the Bulls' front office and members of the team across Jordan's career. The documentary demonstrated that Bulls General Manager (GM) Jerry Krause, Owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and the rest of the front office caused the divide that ultimately led to the drama of "The Last Dance" and the team's eventual breakup following the 1997-98 season. A championship-winning season might not be all that beautiful on the inside, but talents like Jordan can conceal that conflict with their performance.
In the beginning moments of Episode One, Krause was vividly described as being an ambitious man who wanted most, if not all, of the glory that came with the Bulls' huge stream of success under his tenure. However, Krause felt that fans and the media overlooked him in favor of the team's superstars at the time, Jordan and Scottie Pippen, as well as the team's head coach, Phil Jackson, who received a higher salary than Krause. Krause's animosity was clear, especially when he allegedly said in an interview that "Players and coaches don't win championships; organizations win championships." He acted on his blunt, bold statement when he approached Jackson and told him that regardless of how well the Bulls performed in the 97-98 season, he would not return as head coach, even if they went 82-0. For Krause, his actions were clearly deeper than an effort to "rebuild" an aged team, as he dubbed it. His malicious decision was done to prove to the world that he could restart the franchise and rebuild it over the span of a few years, in particular without Jordan or Jackson. To Jordan, this was unbelievably silly. In his eyes, Krause and the rest of the front office had no right to break up a team that was still winning.
Although the disconnect reached a climax in the 97-98 season, the Bulls front office had been a thorn in Jordan's side as early as his second season (1985-86) in the league. In the third game of his sophomore season, Jordan suffered a serious left foot fracture that left him sidelined for months. The team limited Jordan to a seven-minute per-half playing time restriction to protect the future health of its talented young player and to use that season as the means to attain a high lottery pick in that year's upcoming draft.
The Last Dance reveals that Jordan was furious with this decision, as it directly clashed with his relentlessly competitive nature. Modern basketball fans could never have suspected that, during Jordan's first couple of seasons, his mentality was at odds with some of the franchise's decisions on how to handle him. Jordan was a firm believer in playing basketball with only one objective in mind: winning. By insisting on an early form of "load management" for Jordan, the Bulls front office created an early divide between itself and its up-and-coming superstar. Despite all of this ongoing conflict, Jordan's ability to succeed at such a high level that season, such as breaking a playoff single-game scoring record with 63 points against the Boston Celtics, simply serves as a testament to his greatness. Jordan was able to perform at the highest level even amidst all this frustration and confusion. While the documentary still has eight episodes to reveal Jordan's uglier character traits as expected, the documentary's debut episodes surprisingly denounce the Bulls' management instead. Simply put, viewers are left grappling with how an organization with so much disorder managed to dominate.
The Bulls dynasty's end cannot simply be attributed to dissent between Jordan and the front office, however; Jordan's teammate and co-star Pippen had his own qualms about his contractual situation entering the 97-98 season. Even with the perpetuating frustration and hate Pippen felt towards the Bulls front office, Jordan still managed to carry the team to the playoffs and its sixth championship without his essential co-star on the court for a large part of the season. That season, everything seemed to go wrong for Jordan. In reality, the modern casual basketball fan looking at Jordan's tenure in Chicago only sees a career marked with consistent and cohesive success, even though internally, the team was far from united. His GM wanted to break up the team and forcefully alienated Jackson, his beloved coach, and his fellow teammate did not want to play. The Last Dance shows people what, for many, was a hidden truth: Jordan's undeniable greatness was cemented by managing to rise above all of the adversity of that season, making it end in glory.