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“THE LAST DANCE” REVIEWED - EPISODE 3

Dennis the Menace

Finally, we get the full on Roman episode. Based on him getting a whole episode, you can tell that Jordan loves the guy. His colorful antics, and hair, easily distracted people from the immense talent he had. But watching Jordan, Pippen and Phil Jackson talk about what Roman gave to those teams, you can see how valued his skills were.

The second three-peat Bulls were so beautiful to watch. They all knew the triangle offense and the ball zipped freely around court until it ended up in the hands of whoever had the open shot. It was an offense full of savvy, high IQ ball players, and it literally ran like clockwork. But, sometimes, the shots just weren’t falling. Sometimes MJ or Pippen were spent. 

That’s when Dennis would step in.

You could feel Roman turn it on when his team needed it. When the energy just wasn’t there. He would find a way to get under the opponents skin, in a way that sparked the whole game. His elbows or flops or theatrics of the night would really fire up what ever pour soul he was guarding. Suddenly a humdrum game transformed into something electric. Sometimes it was as simple as Roman jumping over the scorer’s table to track down a loose ball. Whatever his tactic was, the team responded. The fuel tanks got refilled. The crowd level raised. Suddenly Michael and Scottie would enter stage right and go back into being Superman and Batman or whatever dynamic duo you want to call them. But Roman was always right there in the mix when it counted.

I liked the little subtext of Pippen returning to the Bulls after Jordan had formed a bond with Rodman. It’s almost like Scottie didn’t want to be left out. When he came back, the team gelled. Weird Dennis had been tamed enough, and repented enough from his Bad Boy Piston days. It seemed like it would be an obviously dysfunctional relationship, but it ended up being a highly functioning one.

I don’t think the Bulls are guaranteed to win three titles in a row without Rodman. He had to guard the biggest and best scorers on the other side. He waged mortal battle with Shawn Kemp, who was at the height of his powers, to get that first title in 96. Then he fought Karl Malone, twice. Look up the highlights on YouTube—Rodman played a pivotal role in how he shut down those guys. They got their numbers, but you could tell his psychological relentlessness grated on them. He created an edge and filed it down over the course of a series into a razor’s point.

I think this documentary is going to help secure Rodman into the Bulls legacy. Right where he should be. The Bad Boys

In Rodman’s first act, he was a part of the notorious Detroit Pistons. They dispatched my beloved Portland Trailblazers in 1990, so I had a strong rooting interest for Jordan to bring their dynasty to an end in 1991. For Jordan, it was the culmination of three years of futile agony. He finally slayed his dragon, and in the process, Detroit create an absolute monster of the ages.

Without the Pistons thuggery, I don’t know what becomes of Michael Jordan. He probably wins a title or two—but without those disturbing runs through the depths of basketball hell, I don’t think Jordan ends up with the massive psychological chip on his shoulder. I mean look at the guy talking about the Pistons 30 years later. He’s that affected by what those guys did to him! 

Jordan needed revenge. And in the process, vengeance became the defining trait of his competitive drive. It wasn’t enough to win. There had to be stakes. There had to be humiliation on the line. And as Jordan says, he wanted to “administer pain.” His wounded psyche from failing against the Pistons in the late 80s, left an imprint that would go on to haunt the basketball world in the 90s.

I respect the Pistons. I don’t condone what they did, but it’s impressive how they were able to carve a unique and feared identity. They didn’t try to compete with the Hollywood slickness of Magic Johnson and the Lakers. They didn’t try to play old school ball like the Boston Celtics. They acted like a street gang. They played like thugs. And they had enough talent and charisma and shamelessness to play that way long enough to carve out their own dynasty. In the theater of basketball, Jordan fans everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to those Bad Boys for making Jordan’s trials as compelling as they did. It was good versus evil. It was air versus crowbars. 

When the Bulls finally vanquished the Pistons, who else could possibly stand in their way? The Knicks and various Finals challengers from the west would make their token efforts. But no one ever owned the Bulls, and Jordan’s ego, like the Pistons. When Jordan slayed his dragon, he was gifted a decade of dominance. Well earned. Hard fought. And apparently still a set of demons he is still wrestling with to this very day.

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