The fifth and sixth 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 V and VI:
Signing with Nike
• My oh my how different history could’ve been. Entering his rookie season, Michael Jordan was dead set on signing a shoe deal with Adidas. His mind was made up and there wasn’t anything that could sway him one way or the other. That was until Nike came calling and his mother, Deloris, insisted he take the meeting with the up-and-coming company. Jordan agreed to hear them out, although he did admit he went into the pitch not really caring what was said. He was sold on Adidas. But afterward, his dad told him he would be crazy not to sign with Nike after being informed of the plans they had to market him – which included his own shoe – and the $250,000 – more than double what others around the league were making – deal they put in front of him. He agreed to it and wound up selling $126 million of Air Jordan merchandise in his rookie season. And as they say: the rest is history.
Be Like Mike Gatorade commercial
• In Episode 5, it showed how Jordan’s popularity grew. Among the various avenues that helped lift him into superstar status away from the court were the commercials he was in. The infamous Be Like Mike Gatorade commercial that has him playing against kids of all ages while laughing and drinking the popular sports drink would have been right up my alley growing up. It originally aired in 1992 – before I was born – so I didn’t get the chance to see it on television in real-time, but have seen it numerous times over the years and have had the tune that plays throughout it stuck in my head for a few days now – just ask my wife. The message behind the commercial, that everyone wanted to be like Jordan, was fitting as fans flocked to the United Center in Chicago, as well as other venues around the country, to see No. 23 play. In fact, celebrities of all kinds – athletes, comedians, actors, musicians, models, etc. – delved out top dollar to see him suit up. Jerry Rice, the best wide receiver in NFL history, jokingly said on the docuseries that even he wanted to be like Mike.
• Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause deserves credit for finding Toni Kukoc overseas and drafting him in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft. But he went about trying to get him to sign with the team the wrong way. With the Bulls attempting to repeat as NBA champions during the 1992 season and the team’s second-best player, Scottie Pippen, trying to ink a contract extension, Krause was not around the team or the complex as often as he probably should have been. Instead, he was in Croatia watching Kukoc. That rubbed Jordan and Pippen the wrong way. And to get back at Krause, Jordan informed his 1992 Olympic Dream Team teammates that he wanted them to leave the young forward for him and Pippen when the United States took on Croatia. They went at him on both ends of the floor, holding him to four points and five assists while also forcing him to turn it over seven times. However, Kukoc earned their respect in the gold medal game when he showed his toughness by nearly dropping a double-double on them (16 points, nine assists). He came stateside for the 1993-94 NBA season and played a pivotal role in the Bulls’ second three-peat of the decade.
• Anyone that’s read stories on Jordan over the years probably knows about his gambling habits. The ultra-competitiveness in him always wanted to put something on the line. And it hasn’t stopped in his retirement years. On Tuesday night, professional golfer Brooks Koepka told a story to Scott Van Pelt on ESPN about different wagers he and Jordan made the last time they shared a golf course. But in Episode 6, it hit on it even more. It showed Jordan testifying in court regarding a gambling debt he had to Slim Bouler, as well as a few clips of Richard Esquinas, a golfing friend, alleging Jordan owed him $1.2 million from various bets made on the course. Jordan was also caught in Atlantic City alongside his father and some friends and family members on the eve of Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks. A report came out the next morning saying he didn’t get back to his hotel room until 2:30 a.m. Jordan denied that and said it was closer to midnight, but after the Bulls lost to the Knicks the next day and were put in a 2-0 series hole, questions about whether he had a gambling problem hovered over him and the team. He stopped speaking to the media – until doing a one-on-one sit down interview with Ahmad Rashad – and helped lead the Bulls to the NBA Finals with four straight wins, putting the gambling stories to bed.