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“THE LAST DANCE” REVIEWED - EPISODE 1

OK here we go. I’m just going to be dropping thoughts and associations that hit me as I watch this thing. I grew up watching Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the 1990’s Chicago Bulls. Like so many in that era, their story became a part of my DNA. It shaped my mentality as an athlete. It gave me a framework to approach challenges. It gave me an attitude that carried me through high school and college. They were my Beatles. It’s the documentary we’ve been waiting to be released for over 20 years. As Michael Jordan has become a kind of generalized global meme for dominance, I think it’s good to look back at the details. I have distinct memories of watching Jordan throughout his career, and this is gonna be a treasured walk down memory lane. “Mike”

As a long time Jordan fan, I remember an MJ that was simply called Mike. Before the statues. Before the weighty legacy. Before the championships. Just from an aesthetic standpoint, he was a guy who jumped off the screen and into your living room. A guy who froze time and demanded to be put up on your bedroom wall. He didn’t look like anyone else. And he sure didn’t move like anyone else. Sure, basketball is a fun game. But culturally, it felt on par or maybe even behind other major sports, until Jordan came along and did his thing. Sure he had influences and peers, but the combination of his swagger, tongue wave, killer shoes, baggy shorts and game high above the rim, transcended anything we had ever seen before. He was different. He was new. He was important. He reached into a rarefied level of our collective imaginations. It wasn’t just basketball. It wasn’t just a sport. It was somehow bigger. And we all bought into it. Carolina Air

This is a nice refresher seeing all of the North Carolina footage. His championship winning shot over Georgetown gets reposted so much, that you kind of forget just how damn springy he was back then. Soaring into the air to block centers out of nowhere. Finishing two handed alley-oops. His game is rawer and more based on instinct, but you can see all the athletic building blocks that he will just keep accumulating talent onto as we move forward.

The dynamic duo

I know this whole series is about the 97-98 Bulls, but I just have to recount how I remembered them. I watched most of their games. I saw them play in person. And I watched every single playoff game. This is what I remember thinking. Jordan AND Scottie Pippen are unstoppable. Within the triangle offense, they had the two-man game on lockdown. On both ends. They toyed with opponents. It was the most fearsome full-court double team press I’ve ever seen. I mean, that’s not even a thing in today’s NBA. The Bulls pulled out a trap whenever they needed to make a comeback. They made their opponents so jittery. Especially the young teams, who couldn’t stand up to the aura of the mighty Chicago Bulls. But it never, ever, ever felt like a one-man team. Jordan was the global icon and transcended the sport into being a cultural icon, but in basketball terms, Scottie Pippen was a legit, MVP, all-world talent on his own. Hell, he was the second best player on the vaunted 1992 Dream Team. Pippen alone nearly took the Bulls to the championship when Jordan bowed out to play baseball for a season. I think that’s partly what spurred Jordan back to the Bulls. The realization that, damn, they almost won without me. Scottie Pippen was scary good. And I think Jordan himself feared what would happen to his legacy if Pippen were to win a championship or two on his own. So, back to basketball Jordan came. 

Superman, Batman and Rodman

This time, after the dust of the first three championships had settled, the world sensed what they were missing, and the final three championships became a farewell tour for this legendary team.  The media savored everyone moment of it. Sure the Bulls were iconic before. But from 1996 to 1998 they were legit gods, live on tour. Throw in Rodman, for some insane rebounding skill, the dated Madonna backstory and a healthy dose of what the hell is that guy doing here. And the Bulls were off and running once again. This time with a fully expectant, global audience. The Beatles of basketball. There has been nothing as culturally magnetic in sports for that prolonged period of time ever since. Sure teams have piled up great records and won fistfuls of championships. But they haven’t had that intangible, mesmerizing factor that those late 90s Bulls teams did. Everyone else is playing a sport, and maybe at an elite level. But the Bulls were engaging with destiny and legend. Modern myths using 90 feet of hardwood as their stage. This was not X’s and O’s. This was cosmic stuff.

Oh boy, this series is gonna ruin me…

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