After a drama-filled fifth episode, “The Last Dance” gets into the nitty-gritty in its sixth installment as the production starts to dive in on the mental toll Jordan’s success and worldwide admiration had on him.
The episode started with a key quote from Jordan himself during an interview in the 1990s, as Jordan details his thoughts on everyone trying to “Be Like Mike.” He talks about everyone wanting to switch roles with him for a day, a week or even a month, but offers some sound advice for those who really want to live in the spotlight.
“Let them try to be Michael Jordan for a year, see if they like it,” he said, adding “it’s no fun” being Michael Jordan.
That mental anguish is highlighted by some all-access footage from Jordan’s hotel room in the 1990s, as the Bulls star lays back and smokes a cigar on his couch during his minimal alone time.
“This is it, lay back and watch TV all day,” he explained. “Peaceful until you guys come up in here.”
It’s a fascinating start to the episode, and immediately goes against the “Be Like Mike” mentality that acted as the center of the docuseries’ fifth episode. The beginning stands out as a highlight of the whole installment, but plenty of other things captivated audiences throughout the second hour of the documentary’s third night.
- As the details of Jordan’s day-to-day schedule get explained, so do the thoughts and concerns that the Bulls legend had throughout the tail-end of his tenure in Chicago.
- A Bulls representative highlights how busy Jordan was on game days, talking about his visits with terminally ill children, his media responsibilities, his general interactions with fans before and after games, and the busyness of a simple walk from his hotel room to a car or from the locker room to the bus.
- “On top of all of that, he had to perform.”
- “This isn’t one of those lifestyles that you envy,” Jordan explained during his run. “I’m ready for getting out of this life. You know when you get to that point, I’m there.”
- As the stress built up, so did the focus on Jordan’s extreme interest in competition and gambling.
- In March of 1998, cameras catch a glimpse at the Bulls’ locker room. Dennis Rodman is getting treated on the trainers’ table, while Toni Kukoc is watching hockey on TV. Meanwhile, Jordan is holed up in his own room, gambling on a coin game with his security team.
- “Michael was competitive at everything,” former Bulls center Will Perdue said. “His life was just one big competition.”
- Teammates explained that he would be playing cards for “major money” on the team plane, but would still want to walk up to the front of the plane to play his teammates who were only betting a dollar a hand. “I want to say I got your money in my pocket,” Jordan would tell his teammates.
- After Jordan and the Bulls took home their second title in 1992, they started their campaign for a three-peat in November of the same year. However, a book entitled “The Jordan Rules: The Inside Story of a Turbulent Season with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls” by reporter Sam Smith detailed conflicts inside of the team, and Jordan’s presence as a tough guy with teammates.
- “I was shocked when [the book] exploded as much as it did,” Smith said, as reporters talking about Jordan allegedly punching Perdue during practice, and Jordan not wanting teammates to pass the ball to certain players in crunch time. At the same time, it highlighted Jordan’s alleged desire to get general manager Jerry Krause fired from the Bulls.
- While Smith went “under siege” when the book came out and received death threats, Jordan and Phil Jackson focused on not letting a book knock number 23 and the team off of their pedestal.
- The Bulls dominated throughout the 1992-1993 season, and looked to become the third NBA franchise to ever three-peat.
- “Isiah won two straight, Magic won two, but none won three,” David Aldridge said. “You win three, you’re on Mount Rushmore.”
- While all of this happened, the New York Knicks jumped into the role as the Bulls’ new rival, and looked to thwart the Bulls’ plans.
- “They were on the come up,” Scottie Pippen said. “They were trying to be the next Chicago Bulls as we were to the Pistons.”
- When we’re playing at our best and they’re playing at their best, we’re the better team,” Jordan said.
- “We got tested in that playoffs by the Knicks,” Phil Jackson said. “They had the same defense that we had to overcome vs. Detroit. That was a tremendous battle.”
- Amid the battle and a 2-0 series deficit against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan’s gambling entered the main stage, as a trip to Atlantic City with his father led to newspaper headlines and a media frenzy.
- “When Michael spends all night in Atlantic City, it became a very public issue,” Aldridge said. “Is this signs of some kind of problem with him?”
- The drama escalated with a book called “Michael & Me” by Richard Esquinas,” which highlighted the extreme gambling debts Jordan would incur.
- “I never bet on games, I only bet on myself,” Jordan said. “That was golf. The league did call me and ask questions about it and I told them exactly what was happening.”
- “It just never reached epic crisis levels in my view,” former NBA Commissioner David Stern said.
- “I have a competition problem, a competitive problem,” Jordan said when asked about a potential gambling problem.
- As all of this went on, the media scrutiny began to get to the Bulls star, and he refused to talk to media members, instead letting his father do the talking.
- “The Price to pay was how tedious this all became for Michael to have to answer these questions,” Andrea Kremer said. “When you’re answering these questions over and over again and feel like you have to defend yourself, it’s exhausting.”
- “I remember Magic Johnson saying, ‘You guys are going to drive him out of this game if you keep this up,'” David Aldridge said.
- “People build you up to tear you down,” Ahmad Rashad explained, nailing the point on the head.
- Unfortunately for the Knicks, Jordan used the incident as motivation, and the winning the series in six games, winning four straight after their initial 2-0 deficit.
- “Michael had to respond, and respond he did,” Jackson said.
- In the latter part of Episode 6, doubts start to creep into everyone’s minds as it relates to Jordan’s career. The unique part? They’re showing up during the Bulls’ initial three-peat in June of 1993 before Jordan’s first hiatus, and during the playoffs in 1998 before what would turn into his second.
- A fun part of the episode comes as Jordan won’t let Pippen talk to reporters as the team leaves their facility ahead of the playoffs, with Jordan saying that he has a tee time to make. As he looks to disrupt things further, he hops behind the wheel of the team bus to honk the horn and make the interviews impossible for Pippen and reporters.
- The fun continues for Jordan on the course, making side bets on different holes with his fellow golfers as he works on improving his drives and putts throughout the day.
- “Young coaches, it would probably be a practice day today,” Jordan said when talking about Jackson.
- Back to 1993, the Bulls prepare for league MVP Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. Before Game 1 of the series, however, Jordan breaks his media silence to discuss the gambling fiasco in an interview with Ahmad Rashad.
- “I enjoy it, it’s a hobby,” Jordan said of his recent activity. “If I had a problem, I’d be starving. I do not have a problem, I enjoy gambling. The media has taken it far greater than it is.”
- During the interview, Jordan subtly mentions the potential of his career coming to an end sooner than later. “Could soon be after this year?” Rashad asks. “Could be,” Jordan replies.
- Back to the action on the court, Jordan explains his resentment towards Barkley winning MVP that year, and uses it as motivation to drive himself and the Bulls throughout the Finals.
- “You can have that, I’m gonna get this,” Jordan said.
- More motivation came when Suns guard Dan Majerle, a favorite of Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, was assigned to Jordan defensively. “I knew that Krause loved Majerle,” Jordan said. “Just because Krause liked him was enough for me.”
- The Bulls would go on to win Game 1 by eight points after a 31-point night from Jordan. Many believed the nerves got to Barkley and the Suns, and the reigning MVP bounced back with a stellar performance in Game 2. However, it just wasn’t enough.
- “Michael just outplayed me,” Barkley said about the Bulls’ three-point win in Game 2. “That was probably the first time that I felt like there was a better basketball player in the world than me to be honest with you.”
- The Suns didn’t go down without a fight, however, taking Game 3 in a triple-overtime, eight-point win to make it a 2-1 series lead for the Bulls. Then, the Bulls took Game 4 with a six-point win, and looked to clinch the series at home in Game 5. However, the Suns spoiled the celebration, sending the series back to Phoenix for Game 6.
- “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m only packing one suit,” Jordan said about the trip out west, explaining that they’d only be playing one more game in the series in their search for the three-peat.
- Jordan’s confidence worked out, as the team overcame a four-point deficit in the game’s final 40 seconds to clinch the title. Ironically, it was the trust in the sharpshooting John Paxson that gave the Bulls the lead with less than five seconds to go.
- “Michael had the ability where he was not going to let them lose,” Barkley said. “Sports are like a gunfight and we lost to the fastest gun.”
>>RELATED: Pick-Six: Best NBA video games of all time
The first three-peat didn’t bring the same emotions for Jordan and the Bulls, however, as the pressure and mental toll began to show their respective effects.
“There was more like relief than true joy,” Paxson explained when discussing the win over the Suns.
That thought echoed throughout the Bulls’ locker room, which is surprising to hear when discussing such a successful and dominant franchise during such a unique run.
“The aftermath, you kind of feel like, ‘Phew,'” Jackson said. “This has been a very hard and trying time. This has been a tough year.”
That tough year weighed on Jordan especially, and those same thoughts showed back up after the dynasty’s second three-peat in the 1997-1998 season, the “last dance.”
While most fans know what happens at the end of the “rainbow” as Jordan called it in the series’ fifth episode, it’s still interesting to hear his thought-process as it relates to his decision to leave the game for a second time following yet another historic three-peat.
“I want to walk off the court,” Jordan said to Rashad in the car in 1998. “I’m not sure if I’m gonna miss it. I don’t think I’m gonna miss it.”
The episode, and third night of the documentary as a whole, plays it all perfectly. It still shows off the success Jordan had throughout his career, and the epic run-ins he had on the court with talented players like Barkley, Clyde Drexler, members of the Knicks and the “Dream Team” and everything in between, while throwing in the wrenches that turned Jordan’s journey into such a hectic situation.
The reason fans want to watch the series as a whole is for insight and footage that they’ve never seen before, and they’re getting it all, and then some, throughout the numerous parts of the docuseries. They get to see the massive star power Jordan had in his heyday, and the enormous toll it had on him physically and mentally.
At the same time, it lets people ponder about what many modern NBA stars must feel when they’re surrounded by fans and media members on an almost-daily basis, alongside the presence of mobile phones and social media galore. Then, it gives those same athletes a sense of what the arguable greatest of all time felt during his own time in the spotlight.
“If I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d never want to be considered a role mode,” Jordan said. “It’s like a game that’s stacked against me, there’s no way I can win.”
It was a picture-perfect episode for “The Last Dance,” and sets the stage for what will surely be an intense implosion of the Bulls’ dynasty over the span of the documentary’s final four episodes.