Here, all in one place, is our retrospective coverage of each of the Chicago Bulls’ championship years in the 1990s, which we did to preview “The Last Dance” documentary, which is airing new episodes each Sunday on ESPN.
With these posts each week we’ll look to provide you with another supplemental video that you can check out prior to, or after, watching the new “Last Dance” eps. This week, queue the music — the last dance of “The Last Dance” takes place — Utah gets two shots at the throne and Indiana gets put in their place.
Above you can see, as part of Bomani Jones’ excellent “Bulldozed” YouTube series detailing teams that came up short of championships in the ’90s essentially because of the Bulls, the overall story of the Jazz franchise, who saw their brightest time in the sun shaded by Big Mike and crew two times in a row to end Chicago’s dynasty era.
Utah had all the pieces talent-wise and the usually required amount of previous playoff heartbreak to make themselves worthy champs by the time John Stockton hit his memorable series clincher against Houston to put the Jazz in the Finals for the first time in ’97. Sure, it would have been cool to see Hakeem and Barkley take a shot together at the Bulls, but the Jazz deserved respect for eventually getting through all their torturers in the West in order to provide their all-time duo of Stockton and Karl Malone a chance to play for the title.
In the end, those Jazz, despite their two swings, couldn’t rise above their perceived role as party crashers or wannabes trying to siphon the sports world’s attention away from where it was centered each June since 1991. You can talk about Jordan and Pippen never winning it all without each other, but we can’t even imagine Stockton and Malone really doing anything away from each other, or even doing much together outside of their ol’ reliable pick and roll — the most outstanding P’n’R the game has ever seen, but it didn’t mean much when Jordan needed to swipe the ball from Malone with about a minute left in Game 6 in ’98.
Another team that had to be put in its place once and for all during the last dance was Indiana, who was pained at one point by the Knicks and Orlando as well as the Bulls during their early-to-mid ’90s gestation period as a contender. Its so delicious that the end of episode 8, likely transitioning into 9, gives us so much of the Pacers building themselves up as the toughest contenders the Bulls saw during the Dynasty.
Members of the Bulls, even Mike himself, are on record saying that the Pacers in the ’98 Eastern Conference Finals may have been the toughest series they had from beginning to end — and yes, it was a hell of a series — but to imagine a team led by Reggie Miller, with him as their leading scorer (averaging 17.4 over the series) winning it all…I couldn’t then, really can’t now.
Granted, the Pacers had so much going for them — they were a better match at the moment for an emotionally and physically taxed Bulls team and first-year coach Larry Bird did a lot to galvanize the team from his home state, which aspired so much to the greatness he had in Boston — but they didn’t have Him, they didn’t have the irresistible force or the immovable object, they didn’t have anyone who could refuse to lose like Jordan.
Eventual props for the final act in a still un-matched period of dominance, both the Pacers and Jazz are being put on the big screen tonight as we once more bask in why Mike was Mike and all those others weren’t.
“Last Dance” Response of the Week
Cementing “The Last Dance” as a cultural event is Saturday Night Live’s short spoof of the early episodes, which as with a lot of the show’s best bits, somehow didn’t make the final show but exists thankfully on YouTube. Chris Redd as David Aldridge pretty much carries the skit (props to Mikey Day too for a faithful attempt at Steve Kerr). They would have liked Bowen Yang’s Kim Jong Un to have meant more but it didn’t, though simply including the real-life Bulls fan in an imaginary version of the series makes one think about what we could have had if this series was maybe produced by Vice…or North Korea’s state television.
This Week’s Talking Point: What About Jerry?
The beginning of the series set the tone pretty forcefully in positioning then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause as a provocateur and antagonist, a role that he deserved given his actions at the time, but the series has largely laid off of him and owner Jerry Reinsdorf and the machinations of the franchise in spurring on the ending of this team by provoking the championship trio at its center to want to move on.
Since the first two episodes the series has pretty much fulfilled its role as an ultimate dive into the life, times and motivations of Michael Jeffrey Jordan, providing immensely entertaining television, especially in last week’s episodes, which were likely the emotional climax of the series (*break*).
But now with Jordan pretty much figured out (as much as as mere mortals could figure out such a determined individual) it would be nice to see the series provide something approaching clarity regarding just why the last dance year had to exist like it did and why it had to begin the 20-year dumping of a once-proud franchise. Without the departed Krause here to defend himself we won’t have the complete and objective documenting of the break-up that we’d like but hopefully a variety of voices can speak to the final issues that sunk the Bulls dynasty and not just funnel everything through Jordan’s purview once again.
We Bulls fans, still trying to make sense of things 20-plus years later, could use as much added perspective as possible.
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