The third and fourth episodes of The Last Dance, the ESPN and Netflix 10-part docuseries, are in the rearview mirror.
And with this column coming out in the Friday edition of The Brazil Times, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for whoever may be reading my thoughts (if you haven’t watched the first two episodes yet, fold the paper up or minimize your browser, watch them on whichever streaming network you have and then come back to it).
Listed below are my takeaways from Episode III and IV:
• A lot of Sunday’s episodes center around the player, and character, Dennis Rodman was during his time with the Chicago Bulls. Away from the floor, Rodman is mostly known for his facial piercings, unique hairstyles, and his friendships with interesting people. Those were all touched upon. But among the topics that were highlighted on Sunday was when Rodman, in the middle of 1997-98 regular season, asked head coach Phil Jackson for a vacation. Jackson allowed it, but only for 48 hours. And so, Rodman, along with then-girlfriend Carmen Electra, went to Las Vegas. It went well past the 48-hour mark Jackson agreed to, though, forcing the coach to send the star of the team, Michael Jordan, to go out and get him. (Could you imagine something like that happening today during the world of social media? It would be talked about all day, every day.)
• Jordan went to Vegas and pulled Rodman out of bed and brought him to practice. Jackson, looking to punish Rodman – and the rest of the team for that matter – issued an ‘Indian Run’ conditioning drill. Jordan, less than pleased that he, along with the rest of the Bulls, had to partake in the running of laps around the practice court on behalf of Rodman taking a multi-day bender in Sin City, told his teammates to jog during it. Rodman, however, sprinted through it like he hadn’t spent a second out west partying, showing just how special of an athlete he was.
• If Jordan’s description wasn’t enough to inform you of the type of athlete Rodman was, surely the start of Episode 3 did the trick. Rodman told a story about how he would bring a few of his friends into the practice facility in the wee hours of the morning and have them shoot for him. He was working on his rebounding skills and learning the rotation of the ball when it bounced off the rim. He later stated he knew how several player’s – all of which are Hall of Famers – shots would come off the hoop and therefore, he would be in a position to snatch them out of the air when they missed. Rebounding is a skill on the basketball court. And with his motor, tenacity, and IQ, Rodman perfected that craft.
• Phil Jackson is one of the best coaches the NBA has ever seen. I don’t think that’s arguable. To different generations, he’s known for three different roles: Chicago Bulls head coach, Los Angeles Lakers head coach, and New York Knicks President of Basketball Operations. In Sunday’s episodes, it delves into his playing career (he was drafted by and played for the Knicks), the early years of his coaching career and how Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause found him and hired him to Doug Collins’ staff. Once Krause made the call to fire Collins – after the Bulls had reached the Eastern Conference Finals – and hire Jackson to fill the open head coaching position, the triangle offense, which Jackson is famous for running everywhere he’s been, came to the forefront. And while his ability to draw up plays and make in-game decisions were imperative to helping the Bulls reach their ceiling, the way he managed and massaged the personalities and egos of the players was by far the most important. He knew the best way to get the most out of each of them, which included coaching Jordan extremely hard and getting to know the quirkiness of Rodman.
Detroit ‘Bad Boys’ Pistons
• When the NBA’s top 10 teams of all-time are being discussed, the Detroit Pistons of the 1980s and 1990s are – and should be – brought up. Episodes 3 and 4 showcases just how great these teams were and what they did to become as good as they were. They would do anything to win. If that meant bludgeoning up the opposition, the Pistons would. And they did. In Sunday’s episodes, the “Jordan Rules” were told. To assistant coach Brendan Malone, that meant doubling Jordan when he caught the ball in the post or pushing him out to the wings. To the players, it was much different. If Jordan were to get past his defender and into the painted area, the Piston big men – John Salley, Bill Lambeer, Dennis Rodman and Rich Mahorn – would knock him out of the air. “Every time he go to the (expletive) basket, put him on the ground,” Rodman said.
• Once the Pistons knocked off the Larry Bird led Boston Celtics, they became a fire-breathing dragon that took every team out that crossed their path. That included Chicago for several seasons. And after every series loss, the Bulls would congratulate them with handshakes and pats on the back. But in 1991, when Jordan, Pippen and the rest of the Bulls finally slayed the Detroit dragon and got the monkey off their back once and for all, the Pistons didn’t reciprocate the same sportsmanship. Instead, Lambeer told Isiah Thomas and the rest of his Detroit teammates that they weren’t shaking hands. So, what did they do? Walked off the court – and directly in front of Jordan and the Bulls’ bench – with 7.9 seconds left in Game 4, pulling one of the most immature moves in the history of season-ending losses. The disgust written all over Jordan’s face as they passed him said it all.