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"I don't think I'm gonna miss it"
Michael on basketball and me on this documentary. We're both wrong.
By now, you know the drill. Monday Mornin’ Cubbin’ Down is on hiatus until baseball comes back—well no, probably just until this doc is over—and we break down The Last Dance here every Monday instead.
Episode five starts with the 1998 All Star Game at Madison Square Garden where the big stories are Michael in what seemed like it would be his last All Star game and a 19 year old punk kid named Kobe Bryant.
The locker room scene before the game was really something. First, we saw the Eastern Conference All Stars pose for the team photo, and Jordan gets seated right in front of the guy who starred in Coming to America, Rik Smits!
Don’t believe me?
That’s the Dutchman while at Marist, dunking and running around awkwardly, “Yes! In the face!”
Then, Tim Hardaway gets a little run with analysis that was actually better than anything he gave ESPN in his terrible, short stint with them.
Tim: "That little Laker boy gonna take everybody on one on one."
MJ: "If I was his teammate, I would't pass him the fucking ball."
Wait, like an All-Star Game freeze out? That’s unheard of.
Then, Magic Johnson comes into the locker room to pay his respects to Michael, and Tim and MJ try to kick him out. They’re joking, mostly. And Magic starts to swear until he sees a camera. He ends up shortening “motherfucker” to “mugs” which sheds new light on what George Halas’ son’s name actually meant.
In March, Jordan returns for a final time to the Garden and makes a cool, but questionable decision to wear the Jordan Ones. As Michael would say later, shoe technology had come a long way in 14 years, and going back was a bad idea. Couldn’t Nike have created an up to date version for him?
Toni Kukoc was very excited, though. “Sweet. I played in those.” Jordan figures out Toni was 12 when the shoes were new.
The smell of sulfur fills your living room as David Falk appears on the screen in a puff to explain how he negotiated Jordan’s first shoe deal in 1984. First, they met with Converse, which would have meant Michael wore the Converse Weapons. A version of those shoes were still around when I was a freshman in high school and our team had to wear them. Thankfully, they decided not to extend the offer to freshmen that year and I did not have to wear shoes that weighed, conservatively, 17 pounds a piece.
MJ didn’t want to wear Converse (smart man) he wanted to wear adidas. Adidas decided they didn’t want a basketball player. Shrewd move. Only cost them like $120 billion dollars.
So, begrudgingly, Michael, his parents and Falk flew to Portland to meet some shoe company best known for making running shoes with an actual waffle maker. It seems crazy now, but for a good five years after Jordan signed with Nike, most people still pronounced the name wrong. They said it like it rhymed with Mike, not “ny-kee.”
Falk claims he was the one who came up with “Air Jordan.” There’s no way that’s not bullshit. No way.
Regardless, the Air Jordan line has had two logos, and both of them are awesome.
Going with Nike eventually led Jordan to working with the now iconic Weiden+Kennedy ad agency, who hooked him up with some punk New York filmmaker.
“Why you gotta leave me hangin’?”
The Nike deal led to Jordan’s eventual deals with McDonald’s and Gatorade and even somebody on a news broadcast to utter the very 80s line: "Michael Jordan is hot as a cabbage patch doll right now."
We go back to the Garden in 1998 and Michael has the Jordan Ones on and it’s an NBC game so have to endure Isiah doing the game. As Jordan starts torching the Knicks, Thomas says, "It MUST be the shoes." No. That’s not the line. That’s just soooooo Isiah.
Jordan does have a problem and it’s not the Knicks defense, it’s his shoes, "By halftime my feet are bleeding, but I'm having a good game and I don't want to take them off."
He went for more than 40.
"I couldn't take those shoes off fast enough. When I took the shoes off my socks were soaked in blood."
Now we zoom back to the 1992 Finals, where the Bulls were going for their second title, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Czar of the Telestrator, Mike Fratello sets the scene. "Two teams led by superstar players. All eyes will be on Jordan and Drexler."
Really? Michael doesn’t appreciate the equivalency. "Me being compared to [Clyde], I took offense to that."
Magic played cards with Jordan the night before game one, and Michael gave him a head’s up. "You know what's gonna happen tomorrow. I'm gonna give it to this dude."
That was the game when Michael made an NBA finals record six threes in the first half and did what used to be the most famous"shrug” in Bulls’ history.
Well, until tonight. After our now favorite Bulls’ security guy beat Jordan pitching quarters before a game at the United Center, he topped it.
Jordan replied, “Security! Come get security out of here.”
The Bulls somehow lost two games to the Blazers in the series, but finished it off in game six when Bobby Hansen and the bench guys started a big fourth quarter run to erase a Portland lead. Somewhere in Iowa, Hansen was throwing things at his TV last night when they glossed over his lone career highlight.
Then we delve into the Dream Team selection stuff, and we have to deal with Isiah one more time.
Rod Thorn says he called Jordan to ask him be on the team and Michael wanted to know who else had committed. Thorn said, "The guy you're thinking about is not playing."
The point that Kelly Dwyer and I made on the Pointless Exercise podcast last week (here’s a plug:) rings true again. Jordan didn’t want Isiah on the Dream Team, but neither did anybody else. Thomas didn’t just piss off Michael, he pissed off everybody. His coach, Chuck Daly, was the Dream Team coach, and even Chuck didn’t push that hard for him.
The fact that Isiah thinks MJ kept him off the team is good enough.
For more on the Dream Team, read Jack McCallum’s book, and watch this documentary, which includes a lot more footage from those Monte Carlo scrimmages.
(Well, not NOW, because it’s an hour, but come back to it after you finish reading this.)
There was some pretty great stuff in this episode about the scrimmage when Magic’s team got a lead on Jordan’s and Magic started trash talking. Jordan brought his team back all the way, causing Magic to throw a ball into the seats and start bitching about the refs. Jordan got in a pretty good burn.
"This is the '90s."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Magic asked.
"It's the '90s."
Your time is over, Magic.
Karl Malone was wearing LA Gear on the Dream Team on purpose? Oh, come on. I mean, it’s not Walter Payton wearing KangaROOS, but it’s close.
The ‘92 Olympics meant Michael and Scottie would come face to face with a future teammate, Toni Kukoc. They did not welcome Toni with open arms, mostly because Jerry Krause positively soiled himself with glee every time he talked about Kukoc.
Toni had been drafted by the Bulls in 1990 but was playing for Real Madrid because they paid more and, as Toni put in the most understated way possible, "The situation at home wasn't so great with the war and everything."
Yes, with THE WAR AND EVERYTHING! MJ and Pip were all pissed off at Krause and taking it out on a guy who was caught up in the middle of the Serbia-Croatian War.
"It wasn't any thing personally about Toni. But we were gonna do anything we could to make Jerry look bad,” Scottie said.
How you say "What the fuck?" in Croatian.
While they overwhelmed Toni in the first meeting, when Croatia and the US played in the gold medal game, Kukoc fared much better. As we know from his years in the NBA, Toni was really goddamned good.
At the start of episode six we head back to late in the 1998 regular season, the Bulls beat the Magic for their 60th win and clinch home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs (that would come in handy). After the game, the Bulls celebrate by hanging out drinking Miller Lite.
"When I first joined the team they were drinking beer at halftime and smoking cigarettes,” Jordan said. “And they were getting the cigarettes from the coaches!"
Sam Smith gets his 15 minutes as The Jordan Rules gets some run. Looking back now, it’s so cute what people's reaction to The Jordan Rules was. Wait, a great player was an asshole to his teammates?
MJ punched Will Perdue in practice? Wait until he does it to Steve Kerr!
I can honestly say that I devoured that book in college and it only made me love Michael Jordan more. Of course he was demanding. You could see it on the court. I had no idea why people thought it was news.
Phil’s main issue with the book was that he nearly had to endure Krause giving him the audiobook version of it. "Jerry had earmarked more than 25 quotations in the book and he wanted me to sit there while he read them."
Jordan says he didn’t talk to Sam for the book (which he certainly did, in one way another they all did.) "I didn't contribute to that, that was Horace. He was telling everything that was happening with the group."
"No, not one thing have I ever divulged to Sam Smith about my former teammates," Horace said. Wait, the only way this is true is if that was Harvey Grant, and not Horace.
‘90s Sam Smith looked like he should have been hanging out with Luigi and Princess Peach.
It’s a me, Sam!
Detroit had fallen off, but Pat Riley’s new team was in the way. Ahh, the Riley Knicks, better known as the Dime Store Bad Boys.
Riley, "You can't let them dunk on you."
The ‘92 Knicks took the Bulls to seven games, something that only happened to them twice in the six title runs. And then, in ‘93 the Knicks went up 2-0 with both wins at the Garden. But then, the worst possible thing happened to them. The New York papers pissed off MJ.
They made a big deal out of Jordan gambling in Atlantic City before the second game. His biggest sin, to them, seemed to be that he stayed out until 3 a.m. Even though Jordan claimed he was back at the hotel by 12:30 a.m., the reality is that athletes stay out late. I know, what a shocker.
Now, we get into all of the seedy gambling stuff.
"Slim Bouler was a golf hustler," Andrea Kraemer starts a report. That seems like a generous descriptor for Slim. But not as unnecessarily flattering as this courtroom sketch! And hey, Slim brought his clubs to court!
Remember Richard Esquinas’s book, with the classy title: “Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction...my cry for help!” Any title that has ellipses and an exclamation point in it? Guaranteed entry into the Library of Congress.
Wait, you mean guys who gamble large amounts on golf might not be scrupulous? Knock me over with a feather.
Anyway, after falling down 2-0 to the Knicks, Jordan gets pissed and the Bulls easily win games three and four in Chicago and head back for “the all important” game five. Charles Smith might want to look away.
“Smith, stripped, Smith, stopped, Smith, stopped again by Pippen, what a play by Scottie Pippen!”
In the ‘93 Finals the Bulls got Charles Barkley and the Suns.
"I was a little upset that I didn't get the MVP that year,” Jordan said. “It went to Charles Barkley. On the other hand, you can have that, I'll get this."
And Jordan, always looking for extra motivation decided he was going to torment Dan Majerle for the grievous sin that Krause thought Majerle was a good defender.
How you say “What the fuck?” in Traverse City-an.
The Bulls won both games in Phoenix, then lost in triple overtime in game three, won game four and while we all remember the dismal game five loss for Barkley joking that “we saved the city!” he had an even better quote.
The Chicago media was full of warnings to Bulls fans that after the team won game five they shouldn’t do fun, championship things like roll over cars, smash store windows or set couches on fire, and in fact, some businesses had boarded up their windows.
In the doc we get the far superior Barkley postgame quote.
“Take that shit off the windows, you don’t need it tonight!”
So, my current quarantine hair looks more like Bob Costas’ ‘93 hair than I’d like.
But, I guarantee if I try to give myself a haircut that it’ll look like ‘93 Danny Ainge. So I’m not going to.
Jordan was not amused by having to go back to Phoenix for game six and a potential game seven, so he told the guys, "I'm only packing one suit. I'm only going to play one game, I'm not going to play two."
When Jordan made the shot in the ‘98 Finals to beat the Jazz (sorry, spoiler alert) Costas gave that soliloquy about “if that’s the last shot he ever takes in his career…”
Jordan of course came back to play for the Wizards (though we can pretend he never did). But you know what player did win a championship with the last shot he ever took in the NBA?
"The ball was not supposed to come to me. But as a player, you're always ready."
This episode will be Bill Simmons’ favorite (which means we are all allowed to hate it) because it picks at the long debunked idea that Jordan’s gambling not only contributed to his first retirement, that it wasn’t really a retirement, but a double secret suspension by David Stern. Only morons continue to push that narrative, and I’m sure they’ll actually get into the retirement next week. But there was a telling scene at the end of this episode.
After beating the Suns in game six for their third straight title, an exhausted Jordan is shown wrapping up an interview. He’s sitting on a little stool in a little room, wearing the championship t-shirt and hat, and he takes a deep sigh, and says wearily, "Do I have to do anything else? Can I just sit here for a few minutes?"
He just wanted to sit alone in a little room for a few minutes, just a few more minutes after winning the title. He was worn out, worn down, and ready for a break. His father’s murder later that summer would lump yet another heap on things. That’s the part that makes the secret suspension theory completely disgusting.
But in this moment, before all that, he just wanted a little quiet.
And then somebody says, "You wanna call your wife?"and hands him a phone.
[Narrator: Michael did not want to call his wife.]
The episode ends on a rainy afternoon with MJ driving the NBC Sports sideline reporter to game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs (as one does). He and Ahmad Rashad are talking about the end of it all in just four more rounds.
"I don't think I'm gonna miss it."
Yeah, I really think you are. And so are we.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Bears chose not to exercise Mitch Trubisky’s fifth-year option. At first, it seems like an obvious decision. It’s $24 million. Nobody would pay Mitch $24 million to do anything, especially play quarterback. But, it’s not guaranteed. You can exercise it and still release him if you need to, and owe him nothing. Hell, the Bears just did it this offseason to Leonard Floyd. The only risk is that Mitch would get hurt and fail his physical next season and you’d have to pay him. That’s not a really big risk.
So here are the Bears, four years after trading up to pick Mitch second overall, admitting that he’s so terrible that they have a greater fear that he’d get hurt and they’d have to pay him, than they are confident that he can actually play well.
They picked him second, ahead of the current best player in the league and another really good young quarterback and now they have to admit he can’t do anything that would make him good enough to pay the equivalent of the transition tag.
The only real news here is that the failure is now nearly complete.
But hey, at least they have nine tight ends.