Night two of the ESPN and Netflix documentary series “The Last Dance” premiered on Sunday. The focal points of the episodes were Dennis Rodman’s eccentricity, Phil Jackson’s leadership and Michael Jordan’s growth into a champion.
The third episode began with an insight into who Rodman is as a person. He was kicked out of his home at 18 and had to live on the streets for two years. Rodman claims he could have turned to drugs but never did; instead, he said he focused on playing basketball. This gave him a future he never thought he could have: a career in the NBA.
Rodman was the third star of the Chicago Bulls’ big three. The Hall of Famer was an undersized power forward for his era, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in determination and work ethic. He’s not only known for his infuriating defense and tireless rebounding ability, but also for his unconventional spirit.
Before his stint with the Bulls, he was notably drafted by the Detroit Pistons during the Bad Boys era, and won two championships in both the 1989 and 1990 seasons. The Pistons later became the rival to young Michael Jordan, and fueled the fire for Jordan’s eventual championship glory.
Rodman’s arc is mainly about how misunderstood and sensitive he is, and how he needs a gentle hand. Chuck Daly, the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, and Phil Jackson, the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, both understood and emotionally connected with Rodman, and as a result, Rodman thrived.
For half of the ‘98 season, all-star forward Scottie Pippen did not play due to a contract dispute and a late foot surgery. Jackson believed in Rodman’s ability to fill Pippen’s role as the second-best player on the team, and when Pippen came back, Rodman was reluctant to return to his original role.
And so, Rodman needed a vacation, leading to the best part of night two: the Vegas story. Rodman told Jackson he needed some time away from basketball, and that he wanted to go to Las Vegas in the middle of the season. In spite of the fact that it would be unthinkable in any other working environment, Jackson obliged in a meeting with Jordan, and gave Rodman 48 hours in Vegas. Jordan was skeptical that the team would ever see Rodman again.
“I’m looking at Phil like, you ain’t gonna get that dude back in 48 hours, I don’t care what you say,” Jordan said in the documentary.
Rodman left immediately and continuously partied. He’s seen in the documentary dancing with women and drinking round the clock. It was unfathomable then, and is even more so now, but to Jackson’s credit, he understood that Rodman needed to reboot his system.
Of course, he did not come back in two days, and Jordan flew to Vegas to personally pick up a hungover Rodman. Rodman showed up to practice in pajama pants and slippers.
In 2020, it wouldn’t be possible for a coach to allow a player to take a quick sabbatical. Aside from the constant news coverage of sports, there is now social media to be concerned with. Every person has a phone with a camera, and in turn, every athlete is one second away from being the lead story on TMZ. By the time Rodman made it to TSA, he’d be on Twitter and it would have a million interactions.
Jackson, who is the mentor, is the through-line of night two. He teaches Jordan that in order to win championships, he must trust his teammates. Alongside assistant coach Tex Winter, Jackson changed the offense and took the ball out of Jordan’s hands and put it back into the team’s. Jackson coached the Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers for a combined 11 championships, which is why he’s considered one of the greatest coaches of all time
A highlight of night two was Jordan versus the Detroit Pistons, and the infamous Jordan Rules. Jordan battled against one of the greatest teams ever assembled, which was labeled as the Bad Boys because of their highly physical and oftentimes cheap basketball philosophy. They came up with a defensive set in order to handle Jordan during games, which were called the Jordan Rules.
The rules were: make him go left, trap him in the post, and for the love of God, don’t let him drive baseline, but this is Michael Jordan, and he’s only defensible for so long. He would get to the baseline and then proceed to dunk on everyone. That’s when the Jordan Rules went from good defense to violent attacks. Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer knocked Jordan down in mid-air, oftentimes finding a way to hit him on the way down as well.
Jordan hates the Detroit Pistons for the way they played basketball and how they handled themselves in defeat. But, Jordan’s experience with both the Pistons and Phil Jackson taught him how to become a champion.