“The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ run to their sixth championship, came to its thrilling conclusion Sunday night with a finish worthy of one of the greatest teams in history.
The final two episodes turned focus primarily to the 1997 NBA Finals and the end of the 1998 playoff run, which included a vicious seven-game series against the Pacers. Reggie Miller at his peak was no pushover, and the same goes for the Karl Malone-John Stockton era Jazz.
But this was ultimately a story about Jordan and the Bulls’ final triumph before their breakup, and it was incredible to watch.
Here were six of the best moments from the final night of “The Last Dance.”
Flu Pizza Game
Everyone knows the story: After coming down with “the flu” before Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan went out and scored 38 points to will the Bulls to victory. However, it turns out that “The Flu Game” wasn’t the flu at all – it was food poisoning from a very suspicious pizza.
In the doc, Jordan and his personal trainer, Tim Grover, tell of how they ordered pizza from a late-night joint in Utah and five guys showed up to deliver it. Jordan, desperate for some grub, ate the pizza by himself, only to fall ill hours later.
Lesson learned for the NBA’s young stars:
Bulls-Pacers Game 7
Jordan says early in Episode 7 that, other than the late ‘80s Pistons, no Eastern Conference team gave the Bulls more problems than the Pacers. They weren’t intimidated by the Bulls’ aura:
But when it came down to a Game 7 in 1998, the Bulls reminded the Pacers why they were the defending champions. “It was like we were a ninth-grade JV team that had no shot,” Jalen Rose says of the Bulls’ fourth-quarter run to a 88-83 win.
Miller: “We had the better team ... but championship DNA, and championship experience, really rose to the forefront in Game 7 for Chicago.”
One of the most personal sequences in the entire 10-part documentary comes in Episode 9 when Steve Kerr and his mother, Ann, discuss the the murder of his father, Malcolm, by gunmen in Beirut, Lebanon. “We all react differently to these things. Steve reacted by throwing himself even more deeply into playing basketball,” Ann says.
“I used to think about it all the time when I was playing,” Kerr says of his father’s death. “During the national anthem when I would always think about my dad, think, ‘He would love this right now. He wouldn’t even believe it. He would love this.’”
Kerr would go on to hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals, a series that he had struggled badly in leading up to that point. But Jordan believed Kerr would deliver – and he did. “The ultimate trust from Michael comes in the playoffs, if you come through,” Kerr says. “I think he respected me because he knew I fought.”
Jordan’s final shot (as a Bull)
After Jordan stole the ball away from Malone in the final moments of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, what was Pippen thinking? “Get the hell out of the way,” he says in Episode 10.
“I didn’t have to do s--t. All I had to do was plant myself right down there, and I knew he’s gonna shoot this f--ker,” Rodman says of MJ bringing the ball up the court. “He’s not going to pass this f--kin’ ball ... this is his turn.”
And after Jordan waited for the right time to attack, well, you know.
“Everybody says I pushed off,” Jordan says. “Bullshit. His energy was going that way. I didn’t have to push him that way.”
Bob Costas had an even better line, as relayed below by Cavs star Kevin Love:
Late in Episode 10, the filmmakers hand Jordan a tablet with video of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf explaining that the team needed to be broken up because it was cost prohibitive to pay for all their salary increases.
“Things were beyond our control,” Reinsdorf says. “... it just came to an end on its own.”
When Reinsdorf says he believes that had Jordan returned, Krause could’ve rebuilt a contender in a couple years, Jordan rolls his eyes.
“If you ask all the guys who won in ‘98 ... we’d give you one-year contracts to try for seven. You think they would’ve signed? Yes, they would’ve signed. Would’ve I have signed for one year? Yes I would’ve signed,” Jordan says.
Bulls fans just love to hear that.
A poetic breakup
Before the ‘97-98 Bulls split up after the championship celebration, they met together one last time to “put things to rest,” as Phil Jackson put it. The coach had each player write something to read aloud about what it meant being apart of the team before all the notes would be ceremonially burned.
Jordan wrote a poem.
“We saw him as this bully sometimes. But that day he showed his passion and his empathy for all of us,” Kerr says of Jordan’s poem.