In the last seconds of the last episode of The Last Dance, we got our biggest nugget of information from the whole 10-hour endeavour.
Having watched the team overcome the toughest challengers of their run — the 1998 conference finalist Indiana Pacers and the Utah Jazz, who lost to the Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 Finals — Jordan is shown footage of team owner Jerry Reinsdorf saying that the 1998 title was the natural end point of Chicago’s dynasty.
“Things were out of our control,” Reinsdorf says, detailing a roster that would have been too expensive and that coach Phil Jackson didn’t want to be part of a rebuild.
While all of that certainly rings true — Jackson has always been drawn to teams with superstars, Scottie Pippen wanted more money, Dennis Rodman was Dennis Rodman and already eyeing a pro wrestling career — Jordan wasn’t buying it.
“If you ask all the guys who won in ’98 … ‘We’ll give you a one-year contract to try for a seventh’, you think they would’ve signed? Yes, they would’ve signed,” he says.
But Jordan says general manager Jerry Krause’s desire to ditch Jackson (“I don’t care if it’s 82-0 this year, you’re f***ing gone.”) was too strong and the coach was the glue.
He describes that last trophy as an exhibition in “craftsmanship”.
That he managed to stay hungry and find ways to win even as fatigue wearied him and his athleticism faded, he says made the 1998 championship “much better than any of the other years”.
Perhaps more sobering than the notion that we missed out on seeing Jordan go for number seven is that he admits he’s never spoken to Reinsdorf about the break-up.
“I’ve never understood. We’ve never had any dialogue about why. I made my own assumptions why,” he says.
“We may not have, but to not even be able to try, that’s something I just can’t accept. For whatever reason, I just can’t accept it.”
None of us can, MJ. But it’s made even worse by the fact that we did get another Michael Jordan season, and it was a pale imitation.
Jordan had the perfect farewell, but he couldn’t leave well enough alone
Game six of the 1998 NBA Finals should have been the perfect goodbye for Jordan.
With Pippen hobbled, MJ poured in 45 of his team’s 87 points, including the last two with a clutch jumper to win the game and the series.
That shot came after the Bulls were down three with 37 seconds left and he drove to the basket for a layup, then stole the ball from Karl Malone at the other end, getting revenge for Malone daring to win the 1997 MVP award, which Jordan unsurprisingly took personally.
Legendary broadcaster Bob Costas describes the layup-steal-jumper passage of play as “one of the most perfect sequences you’ll ever see in any sport”.
While calling the game, Costas said of that famous shot over Bryon Russell: “If that’s the last image of Michael Jordan, how magnificent is it?”
It was almost as if he was willing that to be the poetic end. But it wasn’t.
Jordan was true to his word and didn’t come back to play for the Bulls when Jackson wasn’t hired for the 1999 season, despite the fact Reinsdorf says he asked him to come back on the night of their last championship parade.
Jordan announced his retirement for the second time just before the end of labour strike that delayed the start of the 1998/99 season. Rodman was released and point guard Steve Kerr was traded a week later. Pippen was gone the next day and Aussie centre Luc Longley was traded the day after that.
The season started about 10 days later, but most of the championship core was gone as Krause committed to a swift demolition of a six-time champion and rebuilding on the ruins.
While Krause was doing that, Jordan immediately moved into team ownership and management, buying part of the recently rebranded Washington Wizards and taking a place as president of basketball operations.
But like Michael Corleone, he couldn’t stay out of the game and was pulled back in before too long.
And if the first three titles were The Godfather: Part I and the ’96-’98 run was the arguably better Godfather: Part II, then the Wizards stint and everything that came after it was very much The Godfather: Part III. On its own, probably fine, but nothing compared to what came before it.
We’d all rather forget the Wizards, Hornets and *that* Hall of Fame speech
Just before the 2001/02 season, Jordan announced he would be returning to the hardwood for the first time in more than three years and donating his salary to a September 11 relief fund.
It sounds like a feel-good tour full of philanthropy and low-stakes basketball at the bottom of the eastern conference standings, but Jordan had done that in the ’80s and he wasn’t looking to go back to that.
He started 120 of the 142 games he played over two 37-win seasons with the Wizards and put up decent raw numbers, averaging a tick over 20 points, six rebounds and four assists per game.
Those years included occasional throwback efforts like 44 points against Utah in his ninth game back, but also more losses than wins and public sniping at teammates like Kwame Brown, who turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NBA history after Jordan took him with the first pick in the 2001 draft.
That’s like entering your pet pug into race five at Dapto and then yelling at it for losing.
After retiring for the third and final time after the 2002/03 season, Jordan took up a role as president of the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets) where he has maintained a record of drafting players and then saying he could beat them one-on-one, apparently failing to realise how much of an indictment that is on his ability as a talent scout.
He also remains one of the most petty men in world sport, using his induction speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame to throw shade at Utah’s Bryon Russell and anyone else who thought they could guard him.
That speech, when he was being celebrated as one of sport’s greatest winners, has ironically made him the face of losing for a generation, with the advent of the Crying Jordan meme.
If only he had called time after that 1998 shot.
Or, as the goosebump-inducing lyrics to Pearl Jam’s Present Tense suggested as the credits rolled on The Last Dance…
… maybe we should just be grateful for what we got.
Jordan gave us everything when he was playing — a hero, a villain, a movie star, a cultural icon — and more than two decades later, these 10 hours of Netflix viewing have given us a welcome distraction from a world turned upside down.