On June 13, 1998, at the Delta Center in Utah, Michael Jordan made his already legendary image of Michael Jordan The Last Dance Shirt, the greatest basketball player of all time bigger. At the jazz home of Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Chicago Bulls again became the nba’s owners for the third year in a row. The same thing that had happened before MJ’s first retirement in 93, following the murder of James, his father. That was the last time Jordan and Scottie Pippen were led by Phil Jackson, the militant Zen culture coach who dealt with the eccentric Dennis Rodman for three long years. Despite the sixth title for the franchise, management believed before the start of the season, that it was time to destroy a winning team and rebuild for the future, a situation that generated multiple conflicts throughout the competition.
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This revolves the plot of The Last Dance, the documentary that premiered with the first two episodes last Sunday in the United States with high levels of audience – it was watched by 6.1 million people through ESPN, a record for the broadcaster in this type of content – and which is now available worldwide through the Netflix platform.
But why did it take more than 20 years to see a 10-chapter series of footage of more than 10,000 hours of recording of Jordan’s final season and his historic Bulls? Perhaps, the answer is in the main actor of this audiovisual piece that promises to be stored in the memory of all sports lovers.
In the run-up to season 97-98, NBA Entertainment – the league’s large-scale audiovisual content arm – was led by today’s commissioner Adam Silver and had as producer Andy Thompson – the star’s uncle of the Golden State Warriors, Klay – the driving force behind the idea of having full behind-the-scenes access from the world’s most famous team and who had the most renowned athlete on the planet at the time.
So it was Silver who led the negotiations with all three sides of the problem. The first one to give the yes was the owner of the franchise, Jerry Reinsdorf, but on one condition: both Jordan and Coach Jackson should agree. And it was thanks to the most winning coach in NBA history – he added 11 titles, six with Chicago and five with the LA Lakers – that the possibility was enabled to make the league’s cameras a shadow of those Bulls.
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What about Jordan? The now visible face of the NBA assured the superstar that such material would not be used without the permission of either to make it visible. So, once the machines captured more than 10,000 hours of recording of all that was the team’s Paris tour to play the McDonald’s Championship (a competition that pitted the US league champion and other winners competitions organized by FIBA), during the regular phase, the playoffs and the finals against Utah, those physical films were stored in the NBA content archive at Secaucus , New Jersey.
Shortly after his second retirement, MJ returned to play: in 2001, the Washington Wizards’ number 23 was placed, just two weeks after the famous 9-11, the day a terrorist event hit the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in the American capital. Jordan’s NBA activity stretched out for two more years, until he decided to say goodbye to the sport at age 40.
After that, and once he became the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats – today the franchise reverted to the historic name of the Hornets – several were the ones who tried to take over that material stored in a vault, but no one managed to seduce Jordan.
Until a central figure appeared to convince the sports legend: Mike Tollin, producer of several sports documentary series such as ESPN’s 30 for 30, Kareem – reviews the life of Abdul-Jabbar, top scorer in NBA history – and sports films such as “Coach Carter” met Curtis Polk and Estee Portnoy, MJ’s commercial agents, MJ’s commercial agents , to present a project to them.
After several previous talks with some of his surroundings, the time to see Jordan’s face finally came. In mid-2016, at the same time as LeBron James was making history and beating a 1-3 NBA finals against Golden State to give his Cleveland Cavaliers the first title, Tollin sat opposite Michael. With a folder in his hand, the famed film and television producer showed him his credentials to the eternal number 23, until a look and a subsequent dialogue was the cornerstone that cemented what we now know as The Last Dance.
Reviewing Tollin’s work, Jordan got one. “You did that, ” said the former player. “Yes, ” replied the producer, to which Michael replied, “I saw that thing three times. It made me cry. I love that little one,” said journalist Ramona Shelburne of espN. What production did MJ mean? The documentary called “Iverson”, which Tollin himself produced based on the harsh life story of one of the best players of the 21st century, former baseman of the Philadelphia 76ers, chosen as the NBA’s most valuable player in 2001 and four-time top scorer in the league.
After Chapter 1 and 2 of the documentary, which served to mark the Bulls’ successful general manager at the time Jerry Krause as Jordan’s nemesis, Pippen and Jackson in the final season, while remembering chicago’s 23th and 33rd childhood, episodes 3 and 4 of the series that already fell in love with Chicago’s own and bizarre will be featured next Sunday. With the confident appearance of Rodman, another of the main actors of that iconic team, The Last Dance with Michael Jordan The Last Dance Shirt will have a new stage to continue fueling the legend of a team that marked an era in world sport.
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The playoff is back in Phoenix. The Bulls have been like this all year, a little playing mouse and cat: now you catch up with me, now I’m running away. They suffered like dogs against the Knicks in the conference final, with a 2-0 against and horrific sensations, and a week the thing was already 2-4, a ticket secured to play charles Barkley in the NBA final, his third in a row, the chance to be the first team since the Minneapolis Lakers and the Boston Celtics to win three championship rings in three years.
Magic Johnson couldn’t do it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar couldn’t do it. Larry Bird won three in his entire career, never, of course, in a row.
That’s the challenge facing a whole generation of players who started with Doug Collins in the late 1980s and settled with Phil Jackson in the early 1990s. A generation of players who are gradually reaching the thirties with what that entails: greater maturity in their game but the prevailing need to manage efforts: the previous summer, Jordan and Pippen have spent months with the Dream Team touring instead of resting and preparing the season. Bill Cartwright has been injured most of the year and Horace Grant already seems to be looking for a place where he is treated and paid better. The eternal aggrieved.
Alongside them, the day laborers of glory, those players who can’t miss on any Phil Jackson team: veteran backup baseman John Paxson, new starting baseman B.J. Armstrong, pivot sasher Will Perdue, the ever-solid Scott Williams, and the lost bullet of Stacey King, a college figure who will never get to more than “costume guy” in the NBA. The five, plus the three stars, plus the coach, are the ones left from that first ring won at the Inglewood Forum in the same face as Jack Nicholson, the swan song of some Lakers who would lose Magic to AIDS just a few months later.
Eight players who endure three years and endure winning is something of the most unusual in the NBA and that’s why things like this happen: you lose the field advantage by a disappointing regular league, you reach the final based on talent… and when it looks like it’s all done and you’ve won the first two games in Phoenix, you go and lose two out of three at your Chicago Stadium to add excitement to the story. One of them, to add more drama, after three overtimes, the one that would have put the almost definitive 3-0 on the scoreboard.
In short, as I said at the beginning, the playoff has returned to Phoenix, which has not been seen in one of these for many years, exactly since 1976, when another triple overtime at the Boston Garden and a little magic from John Havlicek left Paul Westphal’s team and company one step away from the first championship for a then-young franchise. Seventeen years later, Westphal is still there, but this time as a coach and if anything can be said about his Suns, it’s that they’re hungry. A brutal hunger. A hunger for sixty-two victories and only twenty constant defeats and counterattacks, impossible triples, a fast game marked by the spy Kevin Johnson, who over the years would end up as mayor of Sacramento.
It’s the hunger of a group of men who aren’t used to glory, that is, they’re not the Chicago Bulls. Players who have had to earn respect after years and years in the league like Danny Ainge, who have lived with the weight of the Olympic final lost in Seoul as Dan Majerle, who have resorted to minor contests to look at Sports Illustrated like Richard Dumas or Cedric Ceballos… and above all the hunger of two champions who have never become: Tom Chambers, star in Seattle, already in his thirties, with a residual role in the team and above all Charles Barkley, the guy who was always “about to”… About to be chosen by Bobby Knight to play at the 1984 Olympics, about to be the top scorer of the season several times, about to be the best player in the league without even reaching the two meters…
Barkley’s hunger is insatiable and the Phoenix Suns season is not understood without him. The dream team’s time has come in handy. Everyone agrees that he was the best on the court apart from being the most charismatic off it. For once the ugly duckling felt like a swan and liked it. Fed up with being a loser in the Philadelphia 76ers, unable to continue the legacy of the Cheeks, Julius Erving or Moses Malone, with which he later in his career, Barkley had forced his signing by the Suns to finally seek the ring that was elusive to him. The result could not have been better: MVP of the season within the best team in the league.
Far away are the controversies, as when after losing a match in the last second, he told the press that what he wanted was to get home and beat his wife well or as when after being kicked out for fouls in a match he said to the referee in question, “Do you think these people paid the ticket to see him?” , referring to the teammate who replaced him. Barkley now not only boasts hunger but maturity, and there he is, two games from his first title, both at home, to his audience.
However, if there’s one team that “the Fat One” isn’t afraid of, it’s the Chicago Bulls. It makes sense: Jordan has moral food for him. He has beaten him several times in the Eastern Conference, overtaken him as a scorer and as an individual star. When the two seemed doomed to be primannas without a collective prize, Michael has set out to win titles like crazy with Michael Jordan The Last Dance Shirt. Someone may want to be like Charles, that no one doubts it, but of course the kids sing is the “I wanna be like Mike” that Nike repeats to them every four ads.