By Joseph Phillips, Crusader Sports Writer
The critically acclaimed documentary “The Last Dance,” the story of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan and the 1997-1998 World Champion Chicago Bulls, debuted episodes 5 and 6 on Sunday night, May 3, on the ESPN network.
These latest episodes focused on Jordan’s struggles to overcome his gambling habits, a tribute to Kobe Bryant, and extreme pressures of leading the 1992 and 1993 Chicago Bulls to their 2nd and 3rd NBA Championship in three seasons.
After years of speculation and controversy, Jordan would finally address a topic that most fans felt was a conspiracy all alone, “his gambling ha- bits.”
Books such as “The Jordan Rules” and “Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction—My Cry for Help!” featured a list of shady characters, whose names sounded like a list of criminals out of a Dick Tracy comic book.
According to Los Angeles Times reporter Broderick Turner, the NBA, which investigated Jordan’s gambling associates back in the early 90’s, said the league directly addressed the questions to Jordan as the player.
When asked by newscaster Connie Chung during the documentary if he had any gambling problems, Jordan answered. “No, because I can stop gambling. I have a competition problem; a competitive problem.”
In addition to addressing Jordan’s gambling habits during the documentary, the producers would also shine a bright light on someone who was very special to Jordan’s heart. His friend, his protegee, the recently deceased Kobe Bryant.
Jordan provided a perfect tribute to Bryant, as he would take NBA fans on a journey back to the 1998 NBA All Star game held in New York, where he and Bryant both competed for the game’s Most Valuable Player trophy. Although Jordan would go home with the trophy, Bryant would earn Jordan’s respect by competing hard as a young 19-year-old.
With Michael at the helm, the Bulls would finish off their first of two three-peats with wins over Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers in 1992 and Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in 1993.
During Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals, Jordan would display one of the greatest shooting performances of his NBA career and drain six consecutive three-pointers in the first half against the Trail Blazers. The game is known by NBA fans as “the Shrug Game,” after Jordan scored 35 points and would shrug his shoulders at the TV cameras in disbelief.
NBA legends Magic Johnson, Marv Albert and the NBC Broadcast team were all in shock, after witnessing one of the greatest shooting performances in NBA history.
Following Jordan and the Bulls championship win against the Trail Blazers, they would go on and win their third straight title against the Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals. Jordan averaged over 40 points per game against the Suns.
ESPN took us behind the scenes of a season that marked the end of an era. As coach Phil Jackson and Bulls’ ownership had already confirmed it would be the coach’s final season with the team, with Jackson even naming the run “The Last Dance.”
Jordan said he would not play for any other coach after management made the announcement. Thus, Jackson allowed cameras to follow the team around, documenting every move, every fight, and every ounce of drama throughout the 97-98 season.
ESPN’s 10-part documentary “The Last Dance,” which airs again on Sunday night, May 10 (Part 7 and Part 8), is expected to reveal everything you ever wanted to know about Jordan and the Bulls, who are arguably the greatest team in NBA history.
According to ESPN, “The Last Dance” was originally set to air this summer in June of 2020. However, due to the coronavirus and the coaxing of fans (including some big-name ones), ESPN decided to air the documentary early.
Spoiler Alert: The Bulls win the NBA title.