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‘The Last Dance’ Episode 4 synopsis/review: ‘Times are changing’

The Last Dance Jordan Pippen Rodman

Every episode of “The Last Dance” through its first four installments has had a core subject. Michael Jordan stood out in the first episode, as expected, followed by Scottie Pippen in the second and Dennis Rodman in the third. The fourth may seem a bit more ambiguous, but may be the most important piece of the entire puzzle.

Episode 4 starts and ends with the key coaching philosophies of the one and only Phil Jackson, the man who was at the helm for each of the Bulls’ six championship wins in the 1990s.

While it may not be as blatant of a focus as the first three hours of the docuseries, the Jackson connection sneaks in throughout the episode, and serves as the foundation for arguably the greatest dynasty the sports world has ever seen.

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The fourth hour of the 10-part series served as more of a history lesson in many of its parts, but a lot of important and original content could be found amid the game results, statistics, X’s and O’s.

Highlights include:

  • Episode 4 picks up right where the third left off, highlighting Dennis Rodman’s disappearance after asking Jackson and Jordan about taking a vacation during the 1997-1998 season.
    • Camera crews catch up with Carmen Electra, who experienced Rodman’s partying firsthand as the Bulls forward tore it up in Las Vegas during his break.
    • “It was definitely an occupational hazard to be Dennis’s girlfriend,” Electra said. “He had to escape, he liked to go out.”
    • What was supposed to be a 48-hour break turned into numerous days of partying for Rodman, forcing Jordan and company to take matters into their own hands.
    • “He didn’t come back on time,” Jordan said when describing the Rodman rescue mission.  “We had to go get his ass out of bed.”

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  •  While Steve Kerr mentioned the long “rope” that Rodman was given by Jackson and Jordan, the documentary revealed that there was more to the Rodman-Jackson relationship that met the eye.
    • Jackson worked in an “Indian Drill” to get Rodman back in shape after his vacation, which his teammates quickly tried to maneuver their ways around to avoid any extra conditioning.
    • Meanwhile, Rodman would continue to act as a loner, with a key friend in his corner: Jackson himself.
    • “Phil realized that I was different, man,” Rodman said. “That’s what was so cool about playing with that team.”
    • The two bonded with their common love of Native American culture, and Jackson had Rodman’s back through it all.
    • “He didn’t look at me as a basketball player, he looked at me as a great friend,” Rodman said.

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  • That relationship was used as a pivoting point for the production, transitioning into Jackson’s unique backstory.
    • Growing up in Montana, Jackson started learning about Native American culture, and grew up in a religious family that featured a pastor father and a minister mother.
    • “I would rather be playing sports than being on my knees praying,” Jackson said about his childhood.
    • The New York Knicks drafted Jackson in the second round of the NBA Draft, and he made the All-Rookie Team during his time in New York. Ironically, his skillset and personality is remembered as an earlier version of Rodman.
    • “Different from the NBA fraternity,” – Charles Rosen, a co-author on a book Jackson wrote entitled “Maverick,” said.
    • He coached in an aggressive league in Puerto Rico, before getting his start in the CBA in 1983 in New York. A year into his tenure, his team had already won a championship.
    • That success led to the Bulls and general manager Jerry Krause tracking him down for an interview, but his unique personality alarmed head coach Stan Albeck. Krause helped Jackson through the process when he got a second chance, and he was hired to be an assistant under new head coach Doug Collins.
    • The poor treatment of beloved assistant Tex Winter and his desired “Triangle Offense” soured the Bulls’ relationship with Collins, and helped to blossom Jackson’s head coaching career, along with the Bulls dynasty as a whole.

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  • While some Bulls players, like Michael Jordan himself, weren’t a fan of Jackson at first, he eventually gained the confidence of the team, and success followed.
    • “He was coming in to take the ball out of my hands,” Jordan explained. “Doug put the ball in my hands. Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball, but I didn’t want Bill Cartwright to have the ball with five seconds left. That’s not equal opportunity offense, that’s f—ing bulls—.”
    • Jordan would be told by an assistant coach that “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” to which “His Airness” would reply, “there’s an ‘I’ in win.”
    • Eventually, Jordan came around on the idea, and it helped to propel Scottie Pippen into a new role full of production in the Bulls offense. He made his All-Star Game debut in 1990 as a result, and successfully transitioned into a “point forward.”
      • “That’s a special thing to have happen,” Jackson said of Jordan’s change of heart, and understanding that he didn’t have to have the ball in his hands every possession.
    • The Bulls advanced to play the rival Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the “Scottie Migraine Game” led to a Game 7 loss to end their season.

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  • That loss propelled the Bulls into a more rigorous offseason training regimen, with Jordan and the team looking to add on muscle to defeat the Pistons the following season.
    • “We had to change something about ourselves or we weren’t going to beat them,” B.J. Armstrong said after the Game 7 loss.
    • “I was getting brutally beaten up, and I want to administer pain, I want to start fighting back,” Jordan said.

    • “My energy started to gear towards my teammates and pushing them to excel,” Jordan said, eventually leading into a closer relationship with Pippen, inevitably turning both into stars in the process.
    • “It was time for us to become the top team in the game,” Pippen said.
    • The Bulls did just that, sweeping the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals in convincing fashion. They won by 11 points in Game 1, eight in Game 2, and six in Game 3. Then, they dominated to finish the job.
    • “Their time had arrived, and ours was over,” Pistons guard Isiah Thomas said, before explaining that the Pistons wouldn’t even shake the Bulls’ hands after the loss.
    • Jordan expressed his displeasure for Detroit’s actions, and discredited Thomas’ comments about any potential regret, saying that the public backlash may have changed the Pistons’ initial perception. 

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  • The irony of some elements that followed the Pistons’ sweep added some great entertainment value to the docuseries’ fourth episode, knowing what fans know now.
    • Scottie Pippen and Jerry Krause were dancing together on the plane as the team celebrated the series’ win, showcasing a drastically-different world happening a few years before Pippen would eventually ask for a trade and berate the Bulls’ general manager.
      • “Go sit down, Jerry!” Pippen jokingly yelled on the plane.
    • The snarky “3-Peat?” shirt that Jordan was seen wearing as the team celebrated the win.
    • Jordan fighting the feelings from reporters and others around the league that he couldn’t win a championship, and finally having the chance to “get in the category of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.”
    • Magic Johnson saying that he “always wanted to play against Michael,” despite Jordan wanting the chance to get in Johnson’s league, per se.

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The end of Episode 4 showcased two completely different moments in time in the Bulls’ dynasty, starting with the 1991 NBA Finals against the Lakers.

While battling nerves and inexperience, the Bulls lost a sloppy Game 1 in Chicago by just two points. Somehow, the loss instilled even more confidence in the team, showing them that they still had a shot to beat some of the league’s best, even when they played at their worst.

From there, fans were treated to a Bulls’ highlight reel, topped off with some all-time Jordan moments, like the layup where he switched hands in mid-air. For younger fans, it solidified Jordan’s presence as arguably the greatest player of all time, and helped to put a “name to the face” in the sense of the stage that those all-time moments actually happened in NBA history.

The Bulls showed off why they were the best the Eastern Conference had to offer, defeating the Lakers by 21 in Chicago in Game 2 to even the series at one game apiece.

“Once we did that in Game 2, we never looked back,” Jordan said.

Chicago won by eight in overtime in Game 3, and followed that up with a 15-point win in Game 4 to set the stage for a potential series-clincher in Game 5.

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In the end, fans found out why this installment in “The Last Dance” was truly the “Phil Jackson Episode,” as his coaching tactics paved the way for the team to finish off the series on the road.

Jackson told Jordan to stop forcing shots and to start feeding the rock elsewhere, specifically in the direction of a wide-open John Paxson, to get their points where they can. While everybody expected Jordan to try and win it on his own, Jackson convinced Jordan to roll with a philosophy that Jordan himself wasn’t a fan of, and it inevitably won them the series, topping it all off with a 108-101 win in Los Angeles.

The documentary gave fans a look at the scene inside the locker room after the game, notoriously symbolized by Jordan hugging the Larry O’Brien Trophy and letting it all out in the process.

“When you get to that finish line and you know that you won, all those emotions…you can just kind of let go,” Jordan said.

“At last I fit somewhere in the category of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.”

Fast forward almost seven years to January of 1998, and Jordan is celebrating a different type of victory: a $100 bet won as a result of the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl XXXII win against the Green Bay Packers.

“The AFC finally won,” Jackson said on the plane. “Times are changing, might be changing in the NBA, too.”

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While the Bulls enjoy themselves on the team plane before a key game against the Utah Jazz, things down on the ground aren’t going so smoothly: Jerry Krause is alerting media members that Jackson won’t be back following the 1997-1998 season, and implies that Jordan would not have his preferred coach if he decides to return to the court the following year.

His choice, not ours,” Krause said. “Michael is going to have to play for someone else.”

On the other hand, Jordan expresses his intentions in his own, very clear way.

“If Phil’s not back, then certainly I’m not back,” the five-time NBA champion (at the time) said.

While the sports world reacts to the news, they get a potential NBA Finals preview as the Bulls and Jazz square off on February 4, 1998.

The Bulls dominate to start, taking a 23-point lead in the second quarter in what appears to be a rout at first. Then, the Jazz pull within eight points in the third quarter, and miraculously win by eight points. The Bulls head into the All-Star Break with a 34-15 record, and the media begins to wonder about a simple question.

“Is this the end of the Bulls as we know it?”

The fourth episode of “The Last Dance” serves as a true propeller for the series as a whole, as business truly starts to pick up in both stories being told.

Jordan and the Bulls are finally realizing their true potential at the start of the dynasty, taking down the Lakers to win their first NBA title. Meanwhile, the franchise is starting to crumble during the team’s final hurrah as a complete unit, and many start to think about what’s next in Chicago after such a successful decade.

The episode certainly provided a lot of historical context for those who are trying to see the full picture for the first time, similar to the first episode as it relates to Jordan’s career journey and road to the NBA.

But, it provides the perfect light-and-day look at everything that happened in such a short span of time for one of the best stretches you’ll ever see in sports. It showcases the rapid rise of Jordan and his teammates, and everything the franchise does to build the team up into a true powerhouse.

Then, it shows that same general manager doing everything he can to tear down all that he built, potentially out of sheer jealousy and a lack of recognition.

It provides the perfect base for everything that will happen over the course of the series’ final six episodes, and gets fans ready for the tail-end of the Bulls’ “Last Dance” in the process.

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