ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’ shows Jordan’s first retirement and Pippen’s growth

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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 7 and 8 on Sunday night, May 10, on the ESPN network.

These latest episodes would focus on Jordan’s first retirement, the mid-90s Bulls led by Scottie Pippen and the start of the 1998 postseason.

The Bulls earned the first-ever three-peat in franchise history, and what came next was least expected and would shock fans around the world.

First, the murder of Jordan’s father:

James R. Jordan Sr. was the primary focus of episodes 7 and 8 of “The Last Dance.” Jordan’s father was murdered at the age of 56 on July 23, 1993, a month after the Bulls three-peat.

“When she got worried, we all got worried,” Michael said about his mother Deloris Jordan’s reaction when James went missing. “He was golfing,” she said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, James Jordan was driving from Wilmington to Charlotte in North Carolina when he pulled over on the side of the highway to nap in his car. While he slept, James was shot in the chest and killed during a botched robbery. Following the robbery, Mr. Jordan’s body was dumped in a swamp in McColl, South Carolina.

On August 13, 1993, James Jordan’s body was found in a creek between the border of North and South Carolina. It was one of the saddest days in sports history, which forced Jordan into retirement.

“If you want to understand how much his father’s tragic death affected Michael Jordan, fast forward to March 19, 1995 — the first time he was playing basketball since James Jordan’s senseless murder,” said sportswriter Jackie MacMullan. “The same superstar who was so meticulously dressed throughout “The Last Dance,” who, before every single game, painstakingly lined up his shoelaces so they matched exactly, was so overcome with emotion playing without James Jordan present, he actually took the court with his shorts on backwards.”

Second, Jordan pursues baseball: Although Jordan’s father’s death would push him into an early retirement from the game he loved the most “basketball,” he would resurrect a childhood dream of his and his father’s “baseball.” Mr. Jordan always wanted to see his son play baseball, but never had the opportunity to see his son play on a professional level.

Jordan started his short-lived baseball career with a 13-game hitting streak, and finished with three home runs and a .204 batting average prior to the 1995 MLB strike season.

Third, Pippen’s growth: While Jordan was rediscovering himself in the game of baseball, Scottie Pippen was trying to fill the shoes of the greatest player that ever played the game. During the 1993-94 season, the Bulls’ championship run would come to an end after suffering through a grueling seven/game series with their Eastern Conference rivals—the New York Knicks.

Although Pippen would shine throughout the New York Knicks series, he would make one mental mistake after sitting out with 1.8 seconds left in a crucial game. Pippen was the team’s star player at the time but refused to go in after coach Phil Jackson didn’t draw a play up for him. But on the ensuing play, Toni Kukoc would hit a game-winning shot against the Knicks.

The shot by Kukoc exposed Pippen’s leadership skills and hurt his chances of possibly leading the organization to its first-ever championship without Jordan.

Last, the 1996 historic season: After 18 months of playing baseball, Jordan would finally return to play the game he loved the most—basketball.

Jordan provided Pippen with the necessary resources that were needed, to help him overcome several leadership challenges he would face all season. And after losing to the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference Playoffs, Jordan would use the off season to get into basketball shape and lead his team to a historic 72-10 record and a fourth NBA championship.

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 aired again on Sunday night, May 17 (Part 9 and Part 10), 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.

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