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On Sunday night, ESPN will premiere the first two episodes of the much-hyped Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance. The 10-episode docuseries tells the story of the Jordan Bulls using the arc of the 1997-98 season, his last in Chicago. If you’re wondering just how much new material could be in a documentary two decades after the fact, rest assured that ESPN went deep:
“The Bulls allowed an NBA Entertainment crew to follow the team around for that entire season, and some of that never-before-seen footage will be featured in the documentary. In addition, ESPN spoke to more than 100 people close to the team and personalities who experienced the run, exploring all angles of the Jordan phenomenon.”
Considering the depth of the material and the fact that Jordan himself willingly participated with what is reported to be a considerable amount of candor and unvarnished self-reflection, this is a chance to pull back the curtain and see this legend, this team and this era of basketball for what it really was. We won’t hear everything we want to hear, but here are a few questions I’m hoping we get answers to in some form:
Did Jordan feel as omnipotent as he looked?
As a young basketball fan, the Jordan of this era felt utterly inevitable, like he could manifest anything on the court with will alone. Rooting against him was a desperate act for us Pacers’ fans, and I imagine fans of any other team who had the misfortune of seeing him in a playoff series. It was like rooting against a sunset. You could almost convince yourself that the immutable laws of nature were in play, but deep down you knew that nervous optimism wasn’t for anything real.
I know how it felt to root against Jordan but what did it feel like on his side of the divide? Did he ever really feel like his fate was an unknown? Or, once he figured out how to fully flex his basketball power, was he just acting out a play that he always knew the ending to?
How miserable was it being teammates with Michael Jordan?
Jordan certainly made a career out of inspiring/helping/pulling/cajoling/bullying/terrifying teammates into being the best versions of themselves. He doesn’t win six titles without those role players stepping up and making big plays and there are certainly reasons, besides dumb luck, those players made those plays in Chicago and didn’t make them in the same way or with the same frequency for other teams.
Jordan’s leadership style was legendarily abrasive at times. How ugly did it really get and what did it feel like to be on the other end of his ire, disappointment or frustration?
What was the Michael Jordan – Dennis Rodman relationship really like?
Rodman was an integral part of those final three Bulls’ championship teams, leading the league in rebounding all three seasons and providing versatile, stout and antagonistic defensive in an era where opposing bigs were still seen as the silver bullet to defeating Chicago. The role Rodman played was an essential one but the flamboyance he brought to it was unbelievably striking set against the seething, determined fury of Jordan and the rest of the roster.
Rodman got away with plenty because he was so important but how much did his style really grate on Jordan and the rest of his teammates? Off the court, how much did they really tolerate in the name of increasing championship odds?
Will Michael Jordan admit he pushed Byron Russell?
Watch it again. There was no way Russell was getting a call there and reasonable people can disagree about whether one was actually warranted. But he did give Russell a push to help his momentum carry him out of the frame and that push did open the space for Jordan to hit what was arguably his most iconic shot. All these years later, what’s the story Jordan tells himself about this possession?
Did Michael Jordan really get a secret gambling suspension?
This is one of those great and absurd sports conspiracy theories — that Jordan’s baseball hiatus was secretly a suspension from David Stern because of gambling indiscretions, with both parties agreeing to keep it quiet because the stakes were so high. We’re almost certainly not going to hear about this and even if we do the answer is almost certainly “no” but I still hope the filmmakers ask. Let’s get all the cards out on the table.
NBA Draft nerds often get derided for their obsession with players below the radar of mainstream media. They loved Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke last season and had him ranked as a top lottery prospect, only to see him fall to the Grizzlies at No. 21. They were right about Clarke though — a spectacular rookie season had him showing everything he was capable of, and more.
Cole Anthony’s NBA draft stock plummeted with a difficult season at UNC. However, a different role in the NBA could let him thrive.
If you’re hungry for more draft prep, Kevin O’Connor and the team at The Ringer have released their 2020 NBA Draft Guide which is loaded with insight (and very easy on the eyes).
The WNBA Draft is Friday, Apr. 17 and a huge trade is already shaking up the league’s power structure and shape of the draft. The Washington Mystics now have Tina Charles, and the New York Liberty now have the No. 1 pick and five of the first 15 selections. At High Post Hoops, Howard Megdal has you covered with an updated mock draft.