If you watched the first two episodes of ‘‘The Last Dance’’ documentary about Michael Jordan and the Bulls on Sunday on ESPN, you likely had a lot of thoughts, reflections and emotions stirred up.
But here’s the takeaway that, when the screen went dark and your pondering set in, had to hit you like a hammer between the eyes: ‘‘Why was this the last dance?’’
Why was this the end?
What in the world?
The Jordan-led Bulls were on their way to winning their sixth NBA championship in eight seasons, and it had been stated before the first game was played that this would be the end of the road for the whole shebang.
General manager Jerry Krause had declared coach Phil Jackson was out. Because of that, Jordan was out. Scottie Pippen hated Krause so much by the end that he was more gone than gone. Loose-screw rebounding genius Dennis Rodman would have no value on a decimated team, so he was gone. So were Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, even Jud Buechler. It was surprising that Benny the Bull wasn’t sent packing, giant bags of popcorn in tow.
Think about it.
Here was Jordan, the greatest player in the history of the game, with the most dominant team of the modern era (I don’t include the old Bill Russell/Red Auerbach Celtics because of salaries, fewer teams, draft issues, etc.), yet the decision had been made to play one more season and cast it all to the wind.
The powers that be were essentially tired of winning. Or, more precisely, they had put a price on that continued success — a price they were unwilling to pay.
Even Bulls fans seemed to have grown oddly sated or, maybe predictably, bored with the sameness that came with being the best.
I remember this well, and I never will forget it: There were hosts on Chicago sports radio talking about how fun and exciting a rebuild would be. They were tired of the soap opera that came with the dynamic of being the best team anywhere.
There was an element of reason to this, to which any critic can say: So how has that rebuild worked out some two decades later?
There are lessons here for all of us. What would you think now if the Bulls dumped a Hall of Fame coach, such as Jackson, for an untested college coach who liked to fish with the GM? Might there be an insurrection? Might fans question the sanity of management? Back then, however, there wasn’t that much resistance.
Six championships in eight years can do that to you. Viewing is passive. But to keep winning, Jordan had to live in a fury.
Of course, he was tired of the pressure. Of course, he had enemies (Krause being No. 1). Of course, he was aging. He would turn 35 during the 1997-98 season, the same age LeBron James is now. (Think James is done?) And remember, too, that he got so itchy for the game that he came back at 38 and played two more seasons for the Wizards.
Wouldn’t Chicagoans have preferred to see the nucleus of Jackson, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and Kerr fade slowly into the sunset rather than detonate?
Maybe. Maybe not.
It will take all 10 episodes of ‘‘The Last Dance’’ to explain how and why this happened. Some viewers might say that it had to happen, that a certain critical mass of destructiveness had been achieved and that this ending was more like a lit fuse reaching its payload than an offloading of talent.
If you pay attention, you will see the breakup of the dynasty ultimately comes down to the ever-so-human issues of respect, will, power, anger, greed, vindictiveness and, above all, pride.
Great playwrights and novelists would have loved this assembled cast. Who needs King Lear when you’ve got Jerry Reinsdorf? Luke Skywalker when you have Jordan? Gollum when you have Krause?
We can look back and marvel. We can see the greatness on display and the sadness of the end drawing near. As with a mirror, what we see finally will be ourselves, reflected darkly.