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The Last F***ing Dance and some final NFL Draft Thoughts
The f-bombs flew gloriously in episodes 3 and 4
Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson took their turns in the spotlight in two gloriously profane episodes of The Last Dance.
I’m tempted to just list the best quotes of these two episodes, but even an e-newsletter has a character limit somewhere.
Episode III starts with Dennis summing up his post-Pistons trade Demolition Man persona that started in, of all places, San Antonio, but flourished in Chicago. "I created this monster. But nobody can say anything bad about me as a teammate. I want to go out and get my nose broke, get cut. Something to bring out the pain. I want to feel that."
That sounds like fake tough guy bravado, but being tough is not one of Dennis’ fake things.
David Aldridge says, "Dennis Rodman' the best on ball defender I've seen. In 30 years."
That sounds great, but on the 1996-1998 Bulls, Dennis wasn’t even the second best on ball defender on his own team.
Like last week’s episodes this one flashes back and forth from 1997-98 to the past, and we pick up the ‘97 season with the Bulls falling to 8-7 to start the season.
"Dennis got thrown out for some shit. Left me out there on my own. Scottie wasn't playing."
Dennis knew he had screwed up and cost the Bulls a game, and that night Michael heard a knock on his hotel room door and there was Dennis, asking him if he had an extra cigar. But sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar. (Ask the “former Arkansas governor” from episode two—wait, no, don’t.)
"He didn't apologize. But coming to my room, I knew. He fucked up. After that, Dennis was straight as an arrow." Well, as straight as Dennis could be.
The Bulls won 10 of the next 12, and Rodman was enjoying his time as the guy Michael was most reliant on. It’s a perfect summation of Dennis’ three years with the Bulls. Crazy shit happened all the time, but he was always there when they really needed him.
Dennis didn’t exactly cut a testimonial for his alma mater. He went to Southeast Oklahoma State, with the awesome nickname of The Savages. (You’ll be shocked to know they had to change the nickname. The are now The Savage Storm.) Anyway, it’s not that Dennis doesn’t have fond memories of his time in college, it’s that he doesn’t even seem to be sure that he went.
"Somebody from some school asked me if I wanted to play, and I said yeah."
So you might think that Dennis talking about how he knew where players misses would bounce after they hit the rim was bullshit, but he really knew. As shots went up and every other player looked up he would run to a spot on the floor, and Dennis would miraculously end up in the right spot. Routinely. He'd also do it in pregame every night. Well, not every night. Sometimes he was just wandering around the floor with no shoes on, but you put those kinds of smarts with a guy who would also jump three times faster than other guys would jump twice and his insane rebound numbers were no joke.
Now we get to the other theme of these episodes, the Pistons.
Rod Thorn: "The Pistons were the epitome of the physical, tough, hard nosed brand of half court basketball."
Then he’s asked by the off camera interviewer, “Were they threatening the safety of the league's top players?”
"I don't think they cared."
Isiah Thomas: "We weren't the league's favorite."
Let me just say that the way the league let the Pistons play was just bullshit. It wasn’t basketball. It wasn’t remotely fun to watch. Why the NBA let it go on as long as they did was insane. Because it didn’t stop with the Pistons. Then we got the Pat Riley Knicks, and the Pat Riley Heat, and other awful imitations. But the idea that the “Bad Boys” were fun for anybody but people too dumb to live anywhere but Detroit is a damned lie.
Stan Albeck and his beautiful perm were fired after Celtics swept the Bulls in the 1986 playoffs, and Stan was replaced by Benton, Illinois’ own Doug Collins, and his perm. But wait, did Michael call him something other than Doug?
"Dougie was a breath of fresh air."
Dougie. Oh that’s perfect. Collins was, and still is, wound a little too tight, much like his hair. It undoubtedly made him the great player that he was (he was the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft in 1973 out of friggin’ ISU.) But there’s a reason his successful coaching career only consisted of short stints at places. His first ever game was at MSG against the Knicks and Dougie tells the story about how wound up he was, sweating through his suit and with dried gum all over his face. Huh? Anyway, in a close game, during a timeout MJ told him, "Coach take a drink of water, wash that stuff off around your mouth, I'm not going to let you lose your first game."
He wasn’t lying. Jordan led the Bulls to the win and his 50 points were a then Garden record for points by an opposing player.
The best part about his episode is that Granville Waiters’ enormous bald head is getting a fair amount of screen time.
In the ‘87 playoffs the Bulls got the Cavs in round one. The most boring good team ever, with boring players like Mark Price and Brad Daugherty and boring Lenny Wilkens as coach. They’d beaten the Bulls all SIX times during the regular season, and the beat reporters in the Chicago papers all picked Cleveland. Lacy J. Banks took the Cavs in three, Kent McDill took them in four, and Sam Smith had Cavs in five. MJ saw the three of them before game five and said:
"We took care of you. We took care of you. And we take care of you today."
After Jordan gave the Bulls a lead with less than 10 second left, Craig Ehlo scored on a layup but there were three seconds left, and we all know what happened.
Jordan thought Cleveland would put Ron Harper on him, but they didn’t. "They had Ehlo on me, which, honestly was a mistake."
Harp: "I got MJ, I got MJ. Coach puts Ehlo on MJ. Yeah, OK, whatever. Fuck this bullshit."
After MJ made The Shot he had a few choice words for his critics. Words to live by to this day. "Whoever's not with us, all you fuckers go to hell."
After another Jordan game winner, this time against the Pistons, Dougie was asked, “what was your call on that final play?”
His infamous answer, "That was get the ball to Michael and everybody else get the fuck out of the way."
That was about the time Detroit developed their famous Jordan Rules. It was a supposedly intricate set of strategies to limit the greatest player on the planet. Former Pistons assistant Brendan Malone spends a few moments describing them in great detail, but then Dennis cuts to the chase of what they really were:
"If [Jordan] goes in the air, knock him the fuck down."
Seems about right.
After a scary episode where Dennis was found asleep in his truck with a gun in The Palace parking lot, he was traded to the Spurs. Chuck Daly was gone, and new coach Ron Rothstein had neither the rapport or the desire to deal with Rodman.
While in San Antonio, Dennis started dying his hair blonde to emulate Wesley Snipes in the movie Demolition Man. Lots of people took notice, including Madonna.
As John Salley explained it, Madonna was the one who convinced Dennis to be what he wanted to be instead of what he thought people wanted him to be. Man, Madonna was Dennis' life coach?
Here’s a shot of Dennis during an interview with Barbara Walters from about that time. You know, that’s pretty much my quarantine look.
Jordan had returned from baseball, and the Bulls had lost to the Magic in the playoffs with Horace Grant rudely reminding them that Larry Krystowiak was no replacement for Horace Grant. The Bulls needed an upgrade.
Jim Stack had to work to convince Jerry Krause that they could get Rodman for cheap (Will Perdue) and that he was the perfect fit. Krause didn’t want anything to do with it until Stack convinced him that Michael and Scottie could handle Dennis, and that Phil was the perfect guy to coach him.
When the second episode ended last week, Scottie was saying he’d never play for the team again. We knew that wasn’t true, and this week we find out why. Scottie came back on January 10 against the Warriors and said he knew if he kept sitting out they’d just fine him, and he was already underpaid, so he couldn’t afford it. Hey, whatever works.
Scottie’s return created a little bit of a crisis for Rodman. He had enjoyed being second fiddle, but now he was back to third. In the weight room he was talking about how hard it is to be a pro basketball player. "I play the game for free. But you get paid for the bullshit after we leave the floor."
He was plotting a little R&R time, and he asked Phil for something, but the real boss needed to weigh in.
"Phil says Dennis wants to tell me something,” Jordan said. “I knew when Dennis wants to tell me something, it's not something I fucking want to hear."
He really didn’t want to hear that Dennis was asking for a 48 hour vacation to go to Vegas. Phil said Dennis was tired. Michael basically said that if anybody needed a vacation it was him. Tough to argue with that. But Dennis got his 48 hour pass.
So, Michael. Did Dennis come back on time?
"No, we had to go get his ass out of bed."
Carmen Electra (seriously) explained that one morning somebody was banging on their door she hid behind the couch (presumably naked). It was Michael who had arrived to take Dennis back to work.
He’d stretched his vacation from two days to eight, but now he was back and it was time to get back to winning.
You know, everybody said that Dennis is the weird one, but just look at Luc Longley's shoes!
The vacation is a pretty clear example of how deftly Phil handled Dennis. Rodman said of Jackson, "He didn't look at me as a basketball player, he looks at me as a great friend."
The background on Jackson hits some familiar notes, like his upbringing in Montana where his parents were very religious while Phil was more interested in Indian culture (wink, wink, peyote) and basketball. And man, was he bony. His bones had bones, and that didn’t change in 11 seasons with the Knicks. Phil in a jersey looked like somebody was drying a tank top on a crucifix.
Phil coached in Puerto Rico with his pal and former Rockford Lighting coach Charley Rosen. Charley says things were…uh…different in the Puerto Rican Superior League.
"They would kill a chicken in a graveyard and pour the blood on the visiting team's bench." Umm, OK.
Phil coach at Quebradillas where the owner shot an official in the leg. His punishment was not being able to attend any more home games. Oh, sure.
Phil won a CBA championship with the Albany Patroons (hey, I guess he’s got 14 rings!) Jerry Krause wanted Albeck to hire Phil as an assistant, but Stan wouldn’t because Phil dressed like a slob at the interview.
A couple years later Phil wore pants to his interview with Dougie and got the job. Collins had a familiar coaching staff with Phil, Tex Winter and Johnny Bach, and Jerry thought Tex could mentor Doug. Tex, of course, wanted Doug to run the triangle, but Doug refused. Tex was so adamant that Doug banned him from the bench during games. Basically, given Krause’s admiration of Tex, Doug had fired himself that day, even though he finished the season.
MJ’s reaction when Jerry told him that he was planning on firing Dougie for Phil.
"It's gonna take some fucking balls to fire a guy who just took him to the Eastern Conference Finals."
But it couldn’t have been a real shock to Jordan. One night he was playing cards with some other NBA players and they were all bitching about their coaches. Jordan finally just said, “You think you’ve got it bad. My guy cries all the time.”
One guy who was not upset to see Dougie go was Scottie.
"Doug's approach was more catered to Michael, and Phil's approach was more catered to the team."
The triangle came in, and Phil explained to Michael that it would open up the offense, make life easier on him and get more shots for his teammates.
"Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball,” Jordan said. “But I didn't want Bill Cartwright to have the ball with five seconds left. That's not equal opportunity offense, it's fucking bullshit."
"There is no ‘I’ in team, but there's one in win."
Even with a more diverse offense, the Bulls got knocked out in the conference finals, again, by the Pistons. Game seven was the Pippen migraine game. Even 30 years later, Michael doesn’t seem convinced that Scottie’s headache was that bad. But consider that last week Jordan said he’d take a pill to cure a headache even with a 10 percent chance the cure would kill him, so there’s that. As the Bulls left he court, they saw this sign:
Yeah, well, it should have said, “Maybe six of next eight years, Michael.”
BJ Armstrong (who still looks 12 years old) said the Bulls’ reaction to that loss wasn’t to go on vacation. It was to start working out for the next season. Jordan bulked up because he was tired of getting hit. “I want to administer pain.”
And the 1990-91 Bulls showed up for the season ready to kick everybody’s ass. And, with 61 wins, they did. Jordan took a particular interest in his two best teammates’ response to the Pistons inevitably trying to bully them again.
"The thing about Pip is that if you stand next to him you make him stronger. I'll fight with you, just fight.”
"Horace would get beaten up and he'd come back whining. I said, don't fucking whine, that's when they know they got you.”
The Bulls and Pistons met for the third straight year the conference finals, and this time, it was no contest. The Bulls won the first three games, and ready to close it out in game four in Detroit they knew the Pistons would try some shit.
Dennis cheapshotted Scottie and threw threw him into the stands. "When Scottie didn't respond to that at all,” Michael said. “There was nothing they could do to beat us."
Salley knew it was all over, too. "Scottie didn't even want a band-aid."
We all remember the Pistons response as the game wound down, and you’d think we’d heard everything to be said on the matter. Oh, were we wrong.
Rodman: "We weren't shaking hands, we just walked off the court. Thank you guys for kicking our ass."
Horace: "Straight up bitches, that's what they walked off like."
Isiah tried to make the case that the Celtics did the same thing and that’s “just how it was done back then.” But when a producer tried to show Jordan a clip of Isiah’s comments, Jordan begrudgingly took the iPad to look at it. "Well, I know it's all bullshit. There's no way you can convince me he's not an asshole."
I then stood up and applauded my TV. I have never lived Michael more.
The shots of the Bulls celebrating on the plane back to Chicago are epic. They include Jerry Krause dancing (just as bad as you’d imagine), and Jordan wearing a t-shirt he had somebody pick up for him in Detroit. Remember the Pistons had won the two previous titles.
“Three-peat ?” Classic.
The Bulls got the Lakers in the Finals, and didn’t play well in game one and lost home court when Sam Perkins threw in a three late in the game. But, the tone was reset in game two with Scottie guarding Magic. “Pip never let him get started,” Michael said. And the Bulls hammered the Lakers.
The Bulls won game three in LA and Jordan fucked up his big toe. I thought maybe they’d tell this story. The Bulls’ trainers cut a hole in his shoe so his toe wouldn’t rub on it in game four. HE PLAYED WITH A HOLE IN HIS SHOE AND HIS TOE HANGING OUT ON PURPOSE!
Back to 1998 the Bulls were flying to Utah the day after the Broncos beat the Packers in the Super Bowl and MJ was making the rounds collecting his winnings from his teammates. You have to respect him for betting against the Packers. It was the second scene of the night of the Bulls gambling with piles of cash on an airplane floor. It’s maritime law in the sky, or something, right?
With Krause doing a newspaper interview about how they wanted Michael back but if he insisted on playing for Phil that wouldn’t happen, the Bulls blew a big lead against the Jazz leading to the question that ended the episode.
“Is this the end of the Bulls as we know them?”
Ooh, I don’t know! Maybe we’ll find out next week?
The Bears had a great draft. They went into the weekend hoping to get the best Trevis, Arlington and Lachavious available and they got all three! Amazing work. The Visor celebrated by wallpapering another room in his play sheets.
Coming into the draft the Bears spent $20MM in free agency on Jimmy Graham, Artie Burns and Germaine Ifedi. Then they used four of their seven picks on players at those same positions.
Now, you can say that you never have enough depth at offensive line or cornerback, so doubling (or tripling) up isn't just a big deal, it's prudent.
But drafting Cole Kmet from Barrington Hills, St. Viator and Notre Dame gave the team (looks it up, double checks, triple checks) TEN tight ends on their 80 man roster. TEN! You know the old saying that if you have two quarterbacks you don't have any? Well, if you have ten tight ends you are just, plain, fucking up your roster.
Yes, I know they'll cut it down to a more manageable number before training camp (if there ever is one) and they'll probably only carry four on the 53-man roster, but come on, how do you ever get in a position where 13 percent of your roster is tight ends? You have to wonder if they're still carrying Cap Boso, James Manness and Chris Gedney.
The big news from the first round was made by teams at opposite ends of the round taking quarterbacks. The Dolphins did the smart thing and took Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick. Yes he's been injury prone in college, yes they had to shove his leg back into his hip socket just a few months ago, but when he's healthy he's really, really good. He'd have been the first pick in the draft if he hadn't gotten hurt and the Dolphins had three first rounders. If you can't take one shot at greatness in that situation, when can you ever?
Then, down at pick 26 the Packers took Utah State QB Jordan Love. Their thinking, apparently, is that 15 years ago they had a 35 year old Hall of Fame quarterback and they drafted his eventual successor at pick 24. Now, that guy, Aaron Rodgers is a 36 year old Hall of Fame quarterback, so why not do it again?
Well, because it's just not that simple. One reason is how the salary cap works now is vastly different than it was then. The great thing about drafting a good young quarterback is that if you hit, you have a cheap contract at your most important position, and you can afford to either keep your really good players who you otherwise might be getting priced out of, or you can acquire more good players because you have cap room. But, if you draft the good, young QB and sit him for two or three years, by the time you know if he really is good he's expensive. The Patriots had this idea when they took Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014. They figured that then 36 year old Tom Brady would play a couple more years then they'd try to make the transition to Jimmy.
The "problem" was that Brady had no plans to quit at 38, or 40. So, as Jimmy was half a season from his own free agency the Pats could either trade him, keep him and franchise tag him (and pay him MORE than Brady--which Tom would have just loved) or let him leave as a free agent. They traded him to the Niners who had to pay him a shitload of money to keep him from free agency, and New England only got a second rounder. Now, granted they could have gotten more. The Bears had offered Belichick a one and a two just before the 2017 draft, but he didn't want to send Jimmy to play for John Fox. The Bears ended up drafting Mitch. Ugh.
But this plan is really fraught with peril for the Packers. Nobody gets pissed off easier than Rodgers, and at some point he's going to try to force his way out. Second, scouts are pretty divided on how good Love is in the first place.
The Packers seem convinced that since this worked in 2005 it'll work again. But the odds of going from a Hall of Fame QB to another Hall of Fame QB to yet another great QB are pretty slim, if not non-existent. If all it took was to follow the same plan you did to get your last one, the Bears could just draft a Jewish kid from Columbia and have another Sid Luckman.
The most likely scenario for the Packers is that Rodgers plays until Love is ready to leave. So, instead of drafting an actual receiver that Rodgers could use now, they're drafting a guy who they'll only get use out of if Rodgers gets hurt again, and whenever that happens they always have been, and always will be, screwed, anyway.
You hate to see it. (Nah, you really don’t.)