When Michael Jordan’s right-hand man was out with an injury, he turned to Dennis Rodman to fill in and step up. The two bonded over a cigar.
Episodes 3 and 4 of “The Last Dance” debuted last night on ESPN, and the show began with Rodman in November 1997. He had just fouled out of a game, upsetting Jordan, who was depending on Rodman to loom large in the absence of an injured Scottie Pippin. Fouling out didn’t help matters.
“I’m livid,” Jordan said in the documentary, recalling the incident. That night back in ‘97, Rodman knocked on Jordan’s hotel room door, something he never did. He asked Jordan for a smoke. “You got an extra cigar?” he asked.
Rodman never apologized, but the move was his way of saying he was sorry, said Jordan. “From that point on, Dennis was straight as an arrow,” Jordan said. “We started to win.”
Rodman—he of the multicolored hair, over-the-top antics and moody outbursts—was a big part of the Bulls when he was a Jordan teammate. He had his own style and was an undeniable talent, a rebounder of uncanny ability who seemed to work harder than just about anybody to get a loose ball.
Before Rodman and Jordan shared a court, they were opponents: Rodman was a member of the Detroit Pistons, the hard playing bad boys who kept the Bulls from advancing to the NBA finals for several years.
Episodes three and four of “The Last Dance” focused heavily on the rivalry between the Bulls and the Pistons, flashing way back to the days before Jordan won his first title. That rivalry between the Bulls and Pistons hasn’t cooled over the decades.
“I hated them, and that hate carries to this day,” Jordan said on the show. The Detroit team that he faced played basketball like a hockey team, pounding opponents who ventured into the paint and fouling with gusto. They knocked the Bulls and Jordan out of the playoffs three years in a row, from 1988 to 1990. In those last two seasons, Detroit won the NBA championship.
Jordan began weight training after that 1990 loss, building up his body to better survive the scrum that he knew was going to come in the postseason when the two teams would meet again. For the 1990-91 season, things were different. The Bulls took down Detroit in four straight games, sweeping their longtime nemesis. In that final game, with time still left on the clock, most of the Detroit stars simply walked off the court, not shaking hands with Jordan and his Bulls.
Detroit star Isiah Thomas tried to explain the behavior in the documentary, saying that’s how things were done in those days. Jordan is asked to watch Thomas explain himself—but he remains visibly upset by the move.
“You can show me anything you want,” he says. “There’s no way you can’t convince me he wasn’t an asshole.”
The fire still burns strong, nearly 29 years later.
The show ends with Jordan’s first title, won against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. The clips of Jordan in his prime are amazing, stunning, a reminder of how great this man was when he was king of the court.
Episodes 5 and 6 debut next Sunday.