By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Just how many of the 1990’s Chicago Bulls do you need to tell the story of the dominant franchise of that NBA decade?
As we see ESPN’s involving docu-series “The Last Dance,” it would seem the answer to that is only a few. Granted, the main few have all been essential and rather obvious — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong have gotten the most air time as players — with a scattering of role players like Will Perdue, Bill Wennington, Ron Harper and Scott Burrell added to the mix when needed.
But that would assume that the mission of the series is to tell the story of the entire team, when in actuality the series is more of an intense focus into the mind and motivations of Jordan as he painted his championship masterpieces in the 90’s and had to say premature goodbyes twice in those 10 years due to tragedies off the court and in the Bulls’ front office.
To tell that story how much do we honestly need of the likes of Cliff Levingston, Scott Williams or even Stacy King, who’s kept a high Bulls profile as an announcer for the team in years since?
How about the sharpshooter Craig Hodges? A member of both the ’91 and ’92 championship teams and a three-time league leader in 3-point percentage in his 10-year career, the Park Forest native accomplished the too-rare feat of playing at the highest level for a legendary team that he already grew up rooting for.
It could be argued that Hodges could have offered a level of perspective and personal insight that would have enriched “The Last Ride,” even in spare doses. It is something that certainly has been noticed by a vocal selection of viewers of the series.
A lot of those vocal critics of “The Last Dance” putting Hodges to the side exist in the media, and they’ve emboldened Hodges to speak up on some issues he’s had with the series as well. Not that the author of “Long Shot,” and long-established “NBA freedom fighter” is ever afraid to speak his mind.
Recently, Hodges has gone on record with the “Odd Couple” podcast from Fox Sports, expressing disappointment in his former teammate Jordan for his comments portraying fellow former teammates Scottie Pippen as “selfish” in regards to his handling of his surgery and subsequent time off in 1997 while clashing with the Bulls over his contract. The same treatment was given for Jordan in airing out Horace Grant for leaking out information that arguably fueled the “Jordan Rules” book as well as what Jordan spoke regarding his early Bulls teams, which were depicted by some media then as a “traveling cocaine circus.”
It could be easy to establish Hodges, who never played with Jordan or in the NBA period after 1992, as having some beef with the still-reigning King of Basketball, but Hodges recently made it known to WARR Media that while he hasn’t talked to MJ in years, he has no beef with His Airness, calling him his “baby brother.”
“[MJ] is my brother, however, some things have unfolded in life that we have to speak upon especially if you take the position that I’m taking in as far as my whole life is concerned with human rights,” Hodges said in a phone interview earlier this month.
“As a teammate of Horace and Scottie and anybody else that he brings out, if I was on the squad and I find an indifference that what I experience with my teammates, I’m going to speak on it. But let it not be thought that I’m dissing my brother in a manner of which I’m trying to hurt him, his family or bread.”
Hodges was already a league veteran and journeyman when he became Jordan’s teammate in 1988. Playing out the remainder of his pro career in Chicago, Hodges established himself as an elder brother on the squad and played a key role as one of the league’s most reliable 3-point specialists in the league and representing the rising franchise consistently at all-star break as a 3-point contest competitor and winner.
But there was a more intricate role Hodges played in MJ’s growth as a player and person both during his time in the same locker room and since the likely alienation he endured after choosing to make a pointed political statement during the Bulls’ White House trip following the ’91 championship, leaving Hodges career prematurely at an end but making him a sacrificed hero to progressive and politically-minded NBA followers.
Unfortunately, not much about “The Last Dance” is about political action and resistance, which makes sense given its main subject. Jordan was willing to allow the series to frankly deal with his controversial “republicans buy sneakers, too,” statement, but the present-day statements on the subject were mostly made by Jordan himself, with no one (save a little bit from President Barack Obama) to speak on Jordan’s history of overall ambivalence regarding social issues from a more objective view, something Hodges wouldn’t have been afraid to do.
While it couldn’t be expected for Hodges to get equal time as the former President, it would be nice if he was given somewhere near the amount of space that Obama is to express a point-of-view that is both knowing of Jordan and analytic beyond the court and locker room.
“I know the impact I had on [MJ] when he hit the shot against Cleveland. I know the impact I had on the team in Game 6 when Detroit beat us and he had 18 points and I had 19 points. So I understand the impact from a statistical end, a historical end and more importantly, the spiritual end.”
One of the highlights from “The Last Dance” came in Episode 5, which highlighted the relationship between MJ and Kobe Bryant. Very few people can express in depth knowledge regarding both icons in regards to their competitive approaches and preparation, Hodges is among those people, having served as the Lakers shooting coach for five seasons, including Bryant’s final two championship runs in 2009 and 2010.
“When you are looking at Kobe Bryant, you are actually looking at Dr. J. and when you look at Dr. J you are looking at Connie Hawkins, so Connie Hawkins was to Dr. J as Dr. J was to Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan was to Kobe,” Hodges said, extending the high-flying lineage of Bryant and Jordan back to the 1960s.
“Understanding the historical connection between them all, you have to have those models in front of you in order for you to get better. As far as Kobe and MJ is concerned, it’s almost one of those things where MJ handed the baton to Kobe personally on a spiritual level from the standpoint of Kobe being able to watch MJ play the game a certain way and be able to immolate that from a distance and take it to a higher level.”
Hodges states that he isn’t affected by the short thrift this big-time television event is giving to his involvement in the time it covers. That’s not hard to believe, but lets not let any of Hodges’ pride get in our way of speaking up for him because he deserves that much and more after decades of standing up for the rights of athletes and the poor and disenfranchised no matter what they do.
More from Craig Hodges:
On the Covid-19 pandemic and sport’s role in coming back:
“It’s wishful thinking. If you look at the longevity of this situation, it is going to be a lot longer [to get back to normal] than they are telling us. It is going to take awhile for people to unwind and get back to sitting next to each other in stadiums.”
“If you push baseball to potentially Thanksgiving or Christmas for the World Series, where do you fit in basketball? You’re not going to have multi-million dollar investors start hooping. There has to be a certain training camp/period put in place so that players can get in some form of conditioning.”
“This [pandemic] is bigger than us now. We have made our beds and we now have to lie in them. The legacy of our ancestors gave us that foundation of critical thinking, and we have to continue that vain of critical thinking, especially now. We should come out even sharper from a mental state with solution based programs, partnerships, economic relations that are bolder and more comprehensive than before we went into this lockdown.”
On playing for the Bulls: “[It] was a dream come true. Coming to Chicago, I wanted to make sure I was part of making us a successful in winning and we were able to do that. To be the only player from Chicago when we won that first championship means something not just to me but to the city. And to be able to play with perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game and definitely the greatest player to ever play the game in Chicago in MJ, it was cool.”
On MJ’s evolution into a champion: “You can get 35 a night but are you going to win and how are you going to understand the impact of being a well-rounded teammate not just a player. Those are the qualities Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas had that Michael didn’t have until he submitted to the fact that he couldn’t do it by himself and he had to allow coaching to allow my teammates to be effective and compete.”
On Jordan’s relationship with his father James: “To see MJ and his father after the first championship, his father putting his arm around MJ while Jordan is in tears and to know how cool Poppa J was, you see the impact he had on MJ’s life to keep him grounded, you see how far MJ has come as a player and see how he maintained that father-son relationship. As a father, that was cool for me.”
On how opponents tried to compete with the champion Bulls: “When I watch those games [in 1991], teams came out and gave away games. They wouldn’t change their tactics and teams knew they were about to get their butts whooped. The mystique took over many teams. Even when I was playing, after we won the first title we knew that teams needed to have 12-point lead with two minutes left to beat us, otherwise we can give the ball to MJ and he’ll get us 12 buckets.”
On who he really thinks is the GOAT: “MJ took the game to another level, but it is all about winning, so the greatest of all time is Bill Russell. We don’t give Bill his due. People want to talk about competition, well look at what Bill played against and what he did for the game. He played against Wilt Chamberlain and some caliber centers that truly played center…he allowed us to be in the game.”
On today’s greatest in the NBA: “Nobody is on Giannis (Antetokounmpo)’s category. He is at that point where he is in control of the game. That is a masterful and most valuable level to be on. LeBron was on that point at a given time. You’ve seen players come to that point where that certain look on his face shows that he is not going to be denied his opportunity to be the best on a given day, and he’s taken it day to day of being the best. I don’t even see anybody that can say it is even close in my opinion.”
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media