There was plenty to chew on in the first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The show debuted last night, giving sports-starved fans plenty to enjoy. For those of us who watched Jordan in his prime, it was a beautiful reflection. For a younger crowd—perhaps those who only heard of Air Jordan but never saw him in action—it was proof of his dominance in the NBA.
The show had plenty of cigar smoking. You see Jordan puffing after a championship, coach Phil Jackson celebrating with smoke, and more recent footage with Jordan lighting what appears to be an extra-long lancero. A cigar seems ever-present in the ashtray next to him as he speaks to the camera.
These first episodes were heavy on drama, showing the turmoil in the Bulls’ locker room after they won their fifth championship and set out on their 1997–98 season. Star Scottie Pippin, underpaid for his considerable talents, is in a suit rather than a uniform, sitting out as he recovers from a surgery management felt he should have done during the offseason. Everyone seems to be upset with general manager Jerry Krause, who had been quoted as saying management wins championships, not players.
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Perhaps the finest elements of these first episodes are the images and story of a young Jordan, who at one time wasn’t even the best basketball player in his family. He fought on (and off) the court with his older brother Larry. “I don’t think from a competitive standpoint I would be here without the confrontations with my brother,” Jordan says. “I always thought I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention.”
Jordan got taller, and he got better, and you see ridiculous footage of his early exploits on the college basketball court, at one point soaring so high and fast that he hits his head on the backboard. “When we drafted Michael,” said then-Bulls coach Kevin Loughery, “I did not know how good he was.”
Near the end of episode two, you see one of Jordan’s early moves as a superstar. In 1986, his second season with the Bulls, he wills his team—then without such backup stars as Pippen or Horace Grant—into the playoffs, where they faced the Boston Celtics.
Boston had a team filled with future Hall of Famers, with such talent as Larry Bird, Bill Walton and Kevin McHale. The Celtics won the series, and would go on to win the NBA championship, but in game two of the Bulls-Celtics series Jordan put on a clinic. He set an NBA record by scoring 63 points, a mark that hasn’t been beaten in 34 years.
“That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there,” said Bird in the documentary. “That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
Episodes three and four debut on Sunday, April 26.