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6 key moments from 3rd night of MJ doc ‘The Last Dance’

What we learned from the fifth and sixth episodes of ESPN’s documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls.

Michael Jordan during a celebrity golf tournament in 1998. Corey Lowenstein/AP Photo – Raleigh News-Observer

The shifting timelines across “The Last Dance” began to inch closer together through the fifth and sixth episodes that aired Sunday night on ESPN. Many of the flashbacks shift to the early 90s, just years before Jordan would embark on a second three-peat that cemented his status as an NBA legend.

The early 90s were a conflicting time for Jordan and the Bulls: Just as the team took its place atop the league with its first championship run, the bad press surrounding MJ began to emerge.

From “The Jordan Rules” book to his reported gambling problems, which both get attention in the documentary, the image that Jordan had crafted and made global during the 1992 Olympics finally took some hits.

Jordan ultimately triumphs over Charles Barkley and the Suns during the 1993 NBA Finals, but the stage is set by the end of Episode 6 for his first retirement months later. Meanwhile in 1998, the team is just about to start its first-round playoff series against the Nets.

Here were six of the best moments from the third night of “The Last Dance.”

The Nike pitch

Jordan became a pitchman unlike any other before him, and to some degree, it turns out that was the plan all along. Agent David Falk explains in Episode 5 how he wanted to treat Jordan like a boxer or tennis player – an individual star – instead of how stars in team sports were typically marketed.

But Nike, the company that landed Jordan, never would’ve gotten a meeting if it weren’t for MJ’s mom, who convinced him to take the meeting.

“I go into that meeting not wanting to be there,” Jordan says in Episode 5. “Nike made this big pitch. And Falk was like, ‘You gotta be a fool if you’re not taking this deal. This is the best deal.’”

The Air Jordans were born.

“The Shrug”
Sun-Times

Magic and the Shrug

With the media hyping up his matchup with Portland’s Clyde Drexler, Jordan wanted to make a statement in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals. “Clyde was a threat. I’m not saying he wasn’t a threat. But me being compared to him, I took offense to that,” Jordan says.

And he told Magic Johnson what would happen the night before: “The night before Game 1, we’re at Michael’s house playing cards and he says, ‘You know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m gonna give it to this dude.”

“Michael didn’t want anybody to have nothing on him,” Johnson said.

Isiah Thomas left off the Dream Team

Since Thomas, then one of the most accomplished players in the NBA, was left off the Dream Team in 1992, it’s largely been attributed to his poor relationships with some of the players who made the roster, namely Jordan.

In Episode 5, Jordan says when he asked Rod Thorn, then the head of USA Basketball, who was playing, Thorn told him, “The guy you’re talking about, who you’re thinking about, he’s not gonna be playing.”

Jordan said he never specifically named Thomas as someone he didn’t want to play with, but it was for the best.

“The Dream Team, based on the environment and the camaraderie that happened on that team, it was best harmony,” Jordan said. “Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes.”

MJ on “Republicans buy sneakers, too”

One of Jordan’s biggest controversies came in 1990 when he refused to publicly support Democratic candidate Harvey Gantt over Jesse Helms, an incumbent Republican, in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race.

“I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player,” Jordan says in Episode 5. “I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focusing on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably.”

Jordan’s refusal to support Gantt became to him saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” which he says he shouldn’t need to apologize for because it was said “in jest.”

“The way that I go about my life is I set examples,” Jordan says. “And if it inspires you, great, I will continue to do that. If it doesn’t, then maybe I’m not the person you should be following.”

MJ’s gambling

From extended footage of Jordan betting $20 on pitching quarters at a wall with United Center security to anecdotes of big-money poker games on the Bulls’ plane, Jordan’s penchant for gambling is a key focus of Episode 6.

NBA commissioner David Stern in the doc: “Michael was betting on his golf game larger numbers than you or I might bet if we played golf together. But given Michael’s earnings and the like, it just never reached epic crisis levels.”

It’s not easy being Like Mike

By the spring of his final season with the Bulls, the grind of being Michael Jordan every day put a huge weight on his shoulders. The crowds and reporters were relentless at all hours, making it difficult for the 6-foot-6 star to find peace.

“This is not one of those lifestyles you envy, where you’re confined to this room,” Jordan says in 1998 footage from a hotel room. “... I’m ready for getting out of this life. You know when you get to that point? I’m there. With no reservations at all – I’m there.”