SALT LAKE CITY — The more things change, the more they stay the same.

ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” which continued on Sunday night with episodes 7 and 8, has been developing two timelines in tandem: Jordan’s final Chicago Bulls season in 1997-98, and all of Jordan’s Bulls seasons that came before it. In Episode 7, we see the similarities between MJ’s first retirement in 1993 and his second retirement in 1998 — all the exhaustion, all the inter-team drama, all the intense media scrutiny. He knew what it took to win back-to-back-to-back championships. And the cost was high.

It was an emotionally charged few episodes on Sunday, as viewers learned more about the murder of Jordan’s father, James Sr., in 1993, Jordan’s subsequent stint in baseball (done partly in homage to his father), and the extent to which Jordan pushed his teammates during the Bulls’ fourth and fifth championship runs (1995-96 and 1996-97). 

Deseret News reporters Jody Genessy (sports) and Court Mann (entertainment) discuss the intriguing episodes 7 and 8 below.

Favorite single moment from episodes 7 and 8?

Jody Genessy: Yet again, I found myself thoroughly immersed into almost every storyline — from details about Jordan’s baseball career, the after-hours pickup games against top players on the “Space Jam” set, the infamous Steve Kerr-Michael Jordan mano-a-mano punch exchange, to the deep dive on what motivates MJ to be as great (and as tyrannic of a teammate) as he was. It’s all fascinating. But since you’re making me pick one single moment, it was touching to see James Jordan Sr.’s son win his fourth championship in honor of his dad. That’s quite the story arc right there. My dad passed away at about the same age as Michael Jordan’s dad, so it was a sweet moment to see MJ win the championship on a Father’s Day. My dad will have to settle for being proud of me winning a writing award or two.

Court Mann: Yeah, that footage of Jordan in the locker room after the Bulls won, and he’s on the ground not just crying, but sobbing and heaving, is really something. We often view Jordan as superhuman, but maybe that’s the wrong way to define him. Maybe it’s more accurate to call Jordan ultrahuman — a guy who worked harder and who maybe felt things more intensely than the average person normally does. 

Lots of people are starting to discuss the final shot from Episode 7, when the current-day Jordan gets really emotional explaining why he pushed his teammates so hard. Jordan even pushes himself to the verge of tears here, just talking about it. He’s riling himself up, and feeling that intense competitiveness, basically as a force of habit from his playing days. That moment was really fascinating. As for the more trivial/funny stuff — of which this series has no shortage — I’ve got to say, Jordan straight up fabricating a story about Washington Bullets player LaBradford Smith just to motivate himself for the next time they faced each other, that’s peak MJ. Hell hath no fury like Jordan scorned.

Genessy: There’s a great LaBradford Smith-like story about Bryon Russell that not many people know about. I’ll write about it this week. MJ thrives off of feeling slighted, whether real or fabricated. Long story short, a young B-Russ apparently joked with Jordan when he was retired and claimed he could beat him. I’m not sure if it will make this documentary, but it fired Jordan up.

‘The Last Dance’: Michael Jordan tears up while talking about competitive teammates

Other than basketball/Bulls/Jordan, what is this documentary about? 

Mann: “The Last Dance” has, from the very beginning, been so insightful about the news media. Whenever we see these old postgame media scrums around Jordan, or the ridiculous things reporters would write about him — especially in these episodes, with reporters suggesting his dad’s death was somehow connected to Michael’s gambling habit — it all feels like this prophetic peek into our current media landscape. We see Pat O’Brien, who used to be a legit journalist before basically becoming a gossip reporter for “Access Hollywood,” breaking the news about Jordan’s first retirement. If that’s not a microcosm of how the industry would change, I don’t know what is.

Genessy: One of the interesting media sidebars in this documentary is MJ’s tight relationship with Ahmad Rashad. They were buddies. I’ve developed some friendships over the years with pro athletes I’ve covered, but I can’t imagine having that kind of relationship where you’re hanging out at their house and going out to dinner. Speaking of media, holy cow, there were so many reporters and photographers at MJ’s first retirement press conference. That was wild. To me, the prevailing theme of this documentary is the competitive spirit and drive that burns deep inside of people who accomplish great things. You can’t achieve greatness on talent alone. If you look at any person who’s reached the pinnacle of their sport, art, professional field, whatever, they combine talent with hard work, focus, determination, persistence, a willingness to learn from failures and an unstoppable motivation. Michael Jordan epitomizes that. 

Michael Jordan in an episode of ESPN’s 10-part documentary series “The Last Dance.” | ESPN Films

Why are people so confused about Jordan’s first retirement?

Mann: I wanted to shake my TV in rage during Episode 7. (An episode I loved, by the way.) It lays out such a clear, understandable case for why Jordan walked away in ’93. The pressure, the ridiculous media scrutiny, his father dying, etc. Sure, this documentary is largely Jordan’s story from Jordan’s own perspective, so of course it’ll explain/justify his behavior. And I get why Jordan’s behavior in ’93 was atypical. But I’m still a little baffled why people didn’t understand Jordan’s thought process a little better. We see all the magazine covers and media stories from back then, and everyone is scratching their head like, “How could Jordan possibly do this?” Jordan ALWAYS did what he wanted. The idea of other people’s opinions of what Jordan should do actually influencing his decisions just seems crazy to me. A celebrity doesn’t owe you anything, and they don’t necessarily feel any obligation to you. Nor should they. Use your head, people! (Though, for the record, I think Jordan always knew he was going to come out of retirement. He just really, really needed a break.)

Genessy: I still remember Barry Sanders stepping away from the NFL in his prime, and it just seemed like such a waste. Phil Jackson even touched on that when Jordan approached him about retiring, saying he told Michael, “You’re denying a gift to society, but I understand.” Maybe that’s why people had such a hard time with it. MJ had worked so hard and overcome so much to become the GOAT, and then he decided to walk away after doing something Magic Johnson and Larry Bird never did by winning three straight championships. It was mentioned that people were connecting dots, so I think that was the easy path to take. No way somebody with as much competitive spirit as MJ would walk away that early, right? It had to be something else? Like you mentioned, he had so much weight on his shoulders at that time. That had to be a tremendous burden. I’m glad he returned, though. I still remember where I was when I found out the news. I was on my parents’ couch watching TV when they reported that MJ had just faxed over two words in perhaps the greatest unretirement announcement ever: “I’m back!”

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Note: All episodes of “The Last Dance” will be available on the ESPN app with a subscription, or with a cable login, immediately following the broadcast. For viewers outside the U.S., new episodes will show up on Netflix internationally every Monday at 12:01 a.m. PDT.