SALT LAKE CITY — “The Last Dance” wrapped two months ago. Somehow, it feels like way longer.
If you didn’t set your DVRs back then, the chance to rewatch “The Last Dance” is almost here. The 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, which first aired on ESPN, is available on Netflix beginning Sunday, July 19.
Deseret News reporter Jody Genessy and I covered the series every weekend when its episodes first aired. Looking at my notes from those five weeks, I’m getting excited. While I’m not ready to rewatch the entire series yet, I’m absolutely going to watch these nine specific moments again.
College MJ, meeting the backboard (Episode 1)
Bulls-era Jordan dominates our collective consciousness. It’s easy to overlook his college years. Episode 1 is a great reminder, though. It’s got some inspiring, at times stupefying, footage of Tar Heel Jordan — including him hitting his head against the backboard while soaring in for a block. Air Jordan indeed.
Getting misty about mom (Episode 1)
Yeah, he was captivating audiences in college, but Jordan was still a poor college student back then. In Episode 1, Jordan’s mom, Deloris, reads a letter that Michael sent her during his freshman year, asking her to send some money (for what I can’t remember; maybe groceries?). The documentary’s director, Jason Hehir, had Michael watch the video of Deloris reading his old letter. And Michael gets a little choked up.
Pippen’s origin story (Episode 2)
Scottie Pippen went through a lot — like, really a lot — in his childhood. He was the youngest of 12 kids, and grew up poor in rural Arkansas. His dad had a stroke when Pippen was still a kid, and Pippen’s oldest brother was paralyzed not long after. Episode 2 did a great job telling Pippen’s origin story, which truly was obstacle after obstacle.
Jordan’s messed up pointer fingers (Episode 3)
I’ve thought about this part more than almost any other from “The Last Dance.” (That says more about me than about “The Last Dance,” but I digress.) In a super brief moment from Episode 3, Jordan contorts his fingers in a truly bizarre manner while being interviewed. Fingers shouldn’t bend the way his fingers do here. It only happens for a split second, but it’s unmistakably weird. Excited to rewatch this in slow-mo.
The Triangle Offense, animated (Episode 4)
Tex Winter, the former Bulls assistant coach who pioneered the famed Triangle Offense, gets some shine in “The Last Dance.” (Phil Jackson is obsessed with the Triangle.) I had read explanations of the Triangle before — it’s basically a highly evolved motion offense — but “The Last Dance” gives the Triangle its best tutorial yet. Using camera footage from an old Bulls game, where a bird’s-eye camera is positioned above the top of the key, “The Last Dance” overlays an animation of the Triangle Offense. Watching its triangle formations expand, contract and rotate like some ever-shifting web was fascinating.
Jerry Seinfeld: X’s and O’s guy? (Episode 5)
Jerry Seinfeld was among the biggest cultural titans of the 1990s, but even he’s intimidated by Phil Jackson. While Seinfeld chats up Jordan in the Bulls locker room before a game, Jackson barks at Seinfeld to leave. A security guard escorts Seinfeld out, and as the comedian passes a whiteboard with a bunch of plays drawn up, he points to one and quips, “That’ll never work.”
Jordan, convincing no one about his gambling (Episode 6)
Jordan got a lot of flak — most of it undeserved — for visiting Atlantic City between games of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. That being said, how he addressed the issue publicly was a moment of high comedy. Jordan got his buddy, sportscaster Ahmad Rashād, to interview him about it. In itself, not a bad plan! Tackle the issue head-on. But Jordan wore sunglasses for the entire interview. I have no idea if Jordan was a gambling addict, but wearing sunglasses while saying things like “I don’t have a gambling problem, I have a competition problem” is, uh, exactly something a gambling addict would do.
The sob (Episode 8)
The footage of Jordan on the locker room floor, crying while holding a basketball after winning the 1996 NBA Finals, isn’t new. But the audio was. Until “The Last Dance,” most of us hadn’t heard the audio from that moment. It was Jordan’s first championship without his father, James, who was murdered in 1993. Hearing Jordan here, and his heaving, full-body sobs of true mourning, brought the power of that moment into sharp relief.
The ridiculous ‘poison pizza’ theory (Episode 9)
Jordan’s famous “Flu Game” had no shortage of lore. And “The Last Dance” gave us even more. Jordan and his entourage put forth a ridiculous theory here that pizza delivered to their hotel room the night before Game 5 of the ’97 NBA Finals was intentionally poisoned. Now, I wouldn’t put it past an idiotic Utah Jazz fan to poison the pizza — and Jordan getting normal, run-of-the-mill food poisoning is possible — but Jordan’s insistence that it was intentionally poisoned ignores some key facts — namely, that he ate the entire pizza himself, and did it really late at night. If you’re eating a whole delivery pizza at 2 a.m., you’re going to feel bad the next morning. Even if you’re the GOAT.