Episode 5 of “The Last Dance” is a haunting one, as it takes us back to the NBA All-Star game in 1998 where the legendary Michael Jordan faced the new kid on the block, Kobe Bryant, who was only 19 years old.
Before the game in the locker room, Jordan is talking to his Eastern Conference teammates about the upstart newcomer. “That little Laker boy is going to take everybody one-on-one,” he says. “He don’t let the game come to him.”
Next, you see a mature Kobe, reflecting about the game. It’s shocking, seeing this face from the grave, a Laker star who died in January in a helicopter crash.
“It was a rough couple of years for me to come into the league because at the time the league was much older. It’s not as young as it is today. Nobody was thinking much of me,” says Bryant. He reveals that Jordan, despite his early criticism, became a trusted and valued mentor. “Michael provided a lot of guidance for me,” he says. “He’s like my big brother.”
Jordan lorded over the young Bryant in that game. At the end, he was gracious, telling him on the court: “I’ll see you down the road.”
Episodes 5 and 6 of “The Last Dance” were rich with insights on Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. We are taken back to the beginning of brand Jordan, finding out that Converse and Adidas were pitched before Nike, and somehow a young Jordan had to be talked into meeting with the sneaker company that would put untold millions into his pocket. His agent, David Faulk, had to get Jordan’s mother to convince him to fly to the meeting with Nike.
“She made me go on that plane and go listen,” says Jordan. Air Jordan was born, and was an immediate hit. Faulk says in the show that Nike was hoping to sell $3 million of the shoes by year four—and instead sold $126 million worth in year one.
The Dream Team footage of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, made up of some of the best to ever play in the NBA, is perhaps the most exciting part of this episode. We see the intensity of the practice, where the team of legends was divided and Jordan’s squad took down Magic Johnson’s group in an incredibly competitive game.
There’s also plenty of footage of Jordan smoking his beloved cigars. We see Jordan and the Bulls puffing away in the locker room after winning the 1992 championship over the Portland Trailblazers, see him firing up a Cohiba on the golf course and also see him relaxing in a hotel room, smoking a Cohiba Esplendido. There’s also footage of him puffing in his car, smoking as he drives to a game, a ritual he revealed to Marvin R. Shanken in his first interview with Cigar Aficionado magazine.
After a brutal series with the New York Knicks, Jordan and the Bulls go on to the 1993 NBA championship, aiming to complete their three-peat. They face the Phoenix Suns and Charles Barkley. Barkley had been named league MVP that year, and that motivated Jordan to step up his game, a series that featured a battle of NBA superstars who would both later grace the cover of Cigar Aficionado.
Jordan scored 33 points in the final game, and secured the win for Chicago.
“Losing to Michael—there’s no shame in that,” says Barkley.
Episode 6 wraps up after the victory. Jordan talks about being exhausted, hinting at the changes to come. The next episodes should cover the time when Jordan temporarily said farewell to basketball and tried his hand at pro baseball, and when he had to deal with his toughest test, losing his father.