Night one of the highly-anticipated documentary series “The Last Dance” premiered Sunday night. The series tells the story of Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ quest for their sixth championship in eight years.
It will air on ESPN in the United States and Netflix internationally from April 19 to May 17.
The series shows the dichotomy between two eras in basketball history: the front-office era, where owners and general managers had total control, and today’s player-empowerment era, where a star player can have more control than the front office.
Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Bulls and villain of the story, is on a mission to unnecessarily rebuild the greatest basketball dynasty of all time. Krause informs Phil Jackson that the 1997-98 season will be his last as head coach of the team. He is also open to the media of his willingness to trade Scottie Pippen, a top-five player in the league.
The series presents Krause’s motivation for the rebuild as an ego trip, and it does so convincingly. Michael Jordan made it clear in a press conference that he would not play another game for the Bulls without Phil Jackson. Krause ignored Jordan, forcing him to retire.
This is significant in basketball lore because the Bulls could have contended for a seventh championship in nine seasons with Jordan and Pippen leading the way. The 1998-99 season was shortened due to a player strike, which could have meant more rest for the aging Jordan and the Bulls, and another playoff run with rested legs.
In today’s NBA, Jordan would have Krause fired immediately, as it is unthinkable for a general manager to stay in place of a superstar.
Pippen and Krause were at odds as Pippen refused to have surgery in the summer and instead selfishly rehabbed during the regular season. Pippen wanted a new contract, as he was the 122nd highest-paid player in the league and sixth on his team. He made $2.7 million a year in ‘98 with the Bulls.
Pippen foolishly signed a five-year extension in 1992 for $18 million right before the NBA became a television ratings juggernaut. For context, Michael Jordan earned $33 million in his last season with the Bulls. Pippen wanted to restructure his contract, but Jerry Reinsdorf, apathetic owner of the Bulls, would not renegotiate once a contract was signed. As a result, Pippen demanded a trade.
Pippen feared injury and made a major error; he acted like a role player, not a star. He could not predict the direction the NBA was moving. After all, even Jordan’s power was limited.
Together, Pippen and Jordan elevated the NBA to heights it had never seen before, so Pippen surely deserved more money. Without him, Jordan and the NBA would not have boomed as they did in the nineties.
The best part of night one was the display of Jordan’s values and character. As a sophomore, he refused to tank the season, which would have allowed them to wait until the next year to try and win. He believed they could win, and in doing so, they reached superstardom.
He led his team to the playoffs and scored 63 points against the Boston Celtics, one of the greatest teams ever assembled and future champions of the 1986 season.
“I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan,” said Larry Bird after the 63-point performance.
He demonstrated his willingness to be the best player he could possibly be. At the University of North Carolina, as a rookie in Chicago and throughout his whole career, he outworked everyone.
Night two of “The Last Dance” will air next Sunday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN in the U.S. and on Netflix internationally.