It comes as no surprise that just about a month after government-imposed quarantine regulations were put in place that us sports fans have started hopelessly looking for a new source of entertainment. As a result of the coronavirus, we have missed out on arguably the most fun two weeks of the year in March Madness, the start of the NBA playoffs and the beginning of the Major League Baseball season. On Sunday night, it seemed like everyone who ever mattered in the sports world tuned into the first two parts of the 10-part sports film to relive the last championship year of the great Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Right off the bat, it was clear that this part of the documentary was going to focus on the self-absorbed and irascible nature of Jerry Krause, the late Bulls General Manager who was both the architect of the Bulls championship teams (although he did not draft Jordan himself), and the foil of Jordan and his superstar cohort, Scottie Pippen. The Last Dance vilified Krause in every sense of the word and implied that he was the main reason the Bulls split up after winning their sixth NBA championship in 1997-1998. From what I can tell, the criticism was much deserved. Although it seems a bit unfair that Krause isn’t here to defend himself (he passed away in 2017), many of his actions were both inexcusable and inexplicable. For example, he made clear that, even though Bulls’ head coach Phil Jackson had coached the team to five championships over the previous seven years, the 1997-1998 season would be the hall-of-fame coach’s last year: as Krause bluntly told Jackson, even if he went 82-0, he would not return as coach. And while Krause was blessed with perhaps the greatest player of all time, his attitude towards his players was dismissive. Indeed, he was fond to remark that “Players and coaches don’t win championships. Organizations do” — a direct shot to Jordan and the other Bulls who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into every game.
Furthermore, Krause’s stance on player contracts was unsettling if not downright disturbing, especially when compared to today’s NBA. He gave his players no power or respect despite their herculean efforts in the playoffs. This was never more obvious than in part two of the documentary where Pippen’s contract was discussed. Pippen was the second-best player on the Bulls and widely considered the greatest sidekick in not only the history of basketball but the history of sports. Unfortunately, he made the horrendous decision to sign a seven-year, $18 million contract in 1991 which dramatically undercompensated him: by 1997, Pippen was just the sixth highest paid player on the Bulls (behind the likes of the immortal Luc Longley) and the 122nd highest paid player in the NBA. Although Pippen was, after MJ, the most critical piece of the Bulls juggernaut, and was hugely responsible for the team’s value growing tenfold, Krause adamantly refused to renegotiate Pippen’s contract. Yes, I’m well aware that no one made Pippen sign that contract, but to not give the man who was responsible for your team’s success a fair contract is appalling.
While The Last Dance was sufficiently entertaining, the reaction around the sports globe was remarkable. As I scrolled through my Twitter feed, I noticed that countless NBA players and legends such as Damian Lillard, Dwayne Wade and Donovan Mitchell chimed in with their opinions and were all in utter awe of Jordan. As a result, I felt a sense of connection that I don’t think many of us have felt for a long time. People talking about and arguing over one thing that wasn’t a deadly virus seemed like a return to normalcy for a couple hours.
Once again, the narrative of “LeBron vs Jordan” made its way back into the spotlight and the forefront of sports news. Not only was social media on fire, but even I couldn’t help but engage in a couple of spirited debates with my dad just to feel alive again. Truth be told, there will always be a generational divide that prevents the public from settling the debate. Even if I did think Jordan was the greatest of all time, why would I want to admit that I never got to see the greatest play?
The Last Dance brought an overdue feeling of excitement to sports fans like myself and I cannot wait for parts three and four next week.