The ninth and tenth 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 IX and X:
Reggie Miller & the 1998 Indiana Pacers
• I’m going to start this by stating it’s coming from a completely biased viewpoint as I was, and still am, a huge Pacers fan. And growing up, Reggie was one of my guys. In fact, I tried my best to emulate him during neighborhood games in the driveway and street by sliding a wristband onto my left wrist and having a baby powder bottle waiting on the edge of a nearby mailbox for the time I got to the foul line – just as he did at the scorer’s table. The majority of episode nine features Miller and the 1997-98 Pacers – made up of Miller, Jalen Rose, Mark Jackson, Rik Smits, Antonio Davis, Dale Davis, and head coach Larry Bird – battling it out against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. After falling behind in the series 2-0, the Pacers fought back to even things up after Miller’s game-winning 3-pointer with seconds to spare in Game 4. It eventually went to a Game 7 that saw Indiana get out to an early double-digit lead. The Pacers maintained a slim advantage halfway through the fourth quarter, but a Steve Kerr 3-pointer tied it up and lit a Chicago fuse that became a blazing fire as the Bulls put the game away and moved onto the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan said other than the Detroit Pistons in the early 1990s, the Pacers were the toughest team for them to get past in the Eastern Conference. And Miller essentially echoed those sentiments, stating that he thought Indiana was the better team in the ’98 Conference Finals but noted the Bulls had the ‘championship DNA’ that was ultimately too tough to overcome. Either way, the Pacers deserve a lot of credit for pushing that great Bulls team to the brink of elimination.
• For years, Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz was known as the ‘Flu Game.’ But Jordan debunked that in Sunday night’s episodes by telling the story of what really took place the night before in Salt Lake City. Apparently, Jordan’s stomach grew hungry late that evening, so he had his trainer, Tim Grover, call around the city to get some food delivered to him. However, every restaurant he phoned was closed except for one local pizza place. Jordan gave it the go-ahead and Grover placed the order. But when five delivery guys showed up to Jordan’s hotel room to hand him the pie, Grover had a bad feeling about it. With his stomach growling, Jordan went ahead and downed the entire pizza by himself. Later that next morning, he became very ill and said it was because of food poisoning. Still, he played through it and put up an eye-popping stat line of 38 points (including 17 in the second quarter), seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, one block, and a clutch 3-pointer that gave Chicago a fourth-quarter lead it would never let go of.
• During the 1998 NBA Finals between the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls, Dennis Rodman pulled a stunt that did not go over well 22 years ago and would have been the craziest of all crazy stories in 2020. In between Games 3 and 4, Rodman was a no show at Bulls’ practice and a mandatory media session. Where did he go? Up to Detroit where he, going by the alter ego Rodzilla, starred alongside Hulk Hogan on WCW Monday Nitro. Smacking other wrestlers with chairs to help the Hulkster, Rodman was a hit. But waiting for him back in Chicago was tons and tons of media members. Upon his return, Chicago’s assistant media director orchestrated a plan to keep him from having to speak to the reporters and cameramen and women. Before opening up the locker room for the press to enter, they snuck Rodman out a back door where he took off sprinting up a few flights of stairs to a waiting pickup truck as his getaway car. Several of those flashing press passes spotted Rodman as he made his great escape and did their best to get a few shots – both video and still pictures – of him making a run for it. No one caught him, though, as he sped away in the passenger seat. Obviously, with social media and cameras on all the time, this stunt wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well as it did in 1998, but the unique thing about Rodman was he showed up to play on the court no matter what he did away from it. And that was no different in Game 4.