By Darius Thornton
A dynasty, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “a powerful group or family that maintains their position for a considerable time.” Historically, it was used to describe the lines of royalty and nobility, but the term has since made its way into the sports world. In this context, it essentially means the same thing: a time in which a person or team maintains a position of dominance at the top of their sport. There are numerous examples of this, such as baseball’s darlings: the New York Yankees of the 20s and 30s, the NBA’s Boston Celtics of the 50s and 60s, and the modern dynasty of the New England Patriots who have dominated the NFL for the last two decades. But when most sports fans think of a dynasty, they think of one name and one team. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 90s. A perfect six finals appearances, six championships, all in the space of just eight years. Two streaks of three straight titles. The 90s Bulls and their leader, Michael Jordan almost personified excellence and victory and seemed to almost carry an aura of invincibility with them. Even in their twilight, the 1997-98 season, they seemed invulnerable, stopping themselves from falling into the abyss of failure and willing themselves to their sixth title in picture-perfect fashion, cementing themselves as perhaps the greatest dynasty in American sports and furthering Jordan’s legacy as an icon. However, that final run was not as magical as our rose-tinted glasses would have us believe. And beginning on April 19th, thanks to a film crew and a documentary more than ten years in the making, the true story on the Bull’s last dance, will be released to the public. But what should we expect to see?
“The Last Dance” is an upcoming sports documentary, chronicling the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season, courtesy of an all-access film crew. The Sunday series will consist of ten hour-long parts starting April 19th. The series director, Jason Hehir, was granted access to more than 10,000 hours of footage not released to the public. More than hundreds of interviews with Bulls team members, opposing players, opposing coaches, and journalists were collected in the ten-year-long production. The sheer scope of the cast is massive, with everyone giving their own perspective on the season in question. From people who took to the hardwood, to people with more access to the team than anyone else. Expect to hear stories and conversations that you have never heard before or have heard only whispers of in the 22 years since that fateful year. The guests slated to speak range from Bulls legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to teammates such as Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman. You also will hear from the likes of Chance the Rapper, the late Kobe Bryant, and “Chicago resident”, Barack Obama. Everyone will get the chance to speak their piece.
It is decently well-documented that the ‘98 Bulls were not as much of a well-oiled machine as they had been in years past (despite their 62-20 record). Many assumed it was due to factors such as age and physical fatigue, with a lot of the team’s stars and key players having played deep into May and June for at least three straight seasons (in the case of Jordan and Pippen it was even longer than that.) Though something that goes understated is the mental toll those repeated runs took on the team. Athletes of various sports have come out and said that the reason it is so difficult to win consecutive titles is the strain it takes to remain “hungry” when you’ve already made it to the top. It’s easy to grow complacent after success, but when it’s success after success after success, it’s almost a certainty. They also received everyone’s best shot every night, as is natural with being the champion. Former Bulls guard Steve Kerr is on the record as saying, “We were really a 48 win team. Michael dragged us to 60 wins.” Expect to see a more tired, battered Bulls team making it by with the skin of their teeth, close to crumbling under the weight of their expectations as the greatest team ever. A team facing adversity, and for once, actually getting close to succumbing to it.
The notion that the Bulls were internally dysfunctional wasn’t exactly a secret either. The sudden and abrupt breakdown of the team following the season was evidence enough that something had to be amiss. However, the details about the rift between the front office and coaching staff are not really common knowledge. We will be getting more insight into the rift between then Chicago Bulls general manager, the late Jerry Krause, and then head coach, Phil Jackson. The entire reason Jackson called that season “the last dance” is because he knew Krause would essentially force him out of Chicago at year’s end. The exact reasoning for this rift has never been specifically known but has been chalked up to Krause feeling jealousy towards Jackson and Jordan for the amount of credit they received for the Bulls’ success, while feeling as if his own contributions were undervalued. To make matters even more complicated, Jordan had released a statement saying that he would not play for any coach other than Jackson, which means Krause forced him out of Chicago and into retirement as well. Then there’s friction between Jordan and Pippen that was never really elaborated on, centering around Pippen’s request for a trade during the season as he, too, was apparently tired of being in Jordan’s shadow. This tension hung over the entire season and was the reason for the sudden disbanding of the great dynasty, so it will be interesting to see the roots of the dysfunction that ended their reign.
Michael Jordan is not only a sports icon but an international one, standing as perhaps the most recognizable athletic figure in the world. Many consider Jordan to be the greatest player in NBA history, for his greatness on the court as a player cannot be disputed. However, off the court, it is a well-known fact that he was less than spectacular. From a rumored gambling addiction to reportedly being extremely arrogant and egotistical, to the famed incident where he punched teammate Steve Kerr in the face during practice, to the aforementioned feud with Scottie Pippen, it has long been said that MJ wasn’t the best person during his playing days. However, this series should allow us to see specific examples of this behind closed doors according to those who knew him best. What was he like in the locker room? During losing streaks? This would be a Jordan at the peak of his powers, revered by every major news outlet. You can only hear that you’re the best for so long before you begin to carry yourself that way. We know Jordan was so hyper-competitive that it was described as not only abrasive and sometimes off-putting, but borderline psychopathic by teammates. This gives us the chance to see that. This documentary offers us an uncensored look at both Michael Jordan the player and Michael Jordan the person. And while that might not be flattering, it is necessary.
“The Last Dance” will offer the public an introspective look at the last year of the Bulls dynasty. It will offer stories that were never heard, never before shared perspectives, unseen footage and much, much more. It will prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that there were chinks in the seemingly impenetrable armor that the team seemed to wear throughout the era. Everyone tends to look back with these rose-tinted glasses when talking about the Bulls like there was never any doubt they were unbeatable. Doing that is actually understating their greatness. The fact that those 15 men were able to endure and overcome all the issues and still reach the promised land is a testament to their greatness as a team. Starting April 19th, we will all see that while the last dance may not have been a graceful tango or waltz to the finish line, it was certainly one for the ages when the clock struck zero.