The Last Dance, the ESPN-produced 10-part docuseries surrounding the 1998 World Champion Chicago Bulls, premieres tonight. It has been anticipated since it was announced, but even moreso now with the lack of live sports on at the moment.
As Bulls fans, it should be even more special. Personally, I am looking forward to remembering when this globally-known team was the biggest deal in the city of Chicago. I was in my teens during the dynasty, and Bulls games were like the Super Bowl multiple times per week. And the ability to go to a home game in person was the highest level of currency.
In anticipation of the premiere, the BaB staff contributed their individual perspectives and memories:
Jason Patt: My first sports memory was of John Paxson’s game-winning 3-pointer in the 1993 NBA Finals (we’ve come a long way from there heh), so my formative years as a sports fan came watching the Bulls and the second three-peat. I watched as many games as I could, bought the championship gear and loved watching the championship tapes, including the ones from the first three-peat. I only saw Michael Jordan play live once, and I’m pretty sure he had a terrible game by his lofty standards, but it was still an incredible feeling to be in the building to see him.
Of course, given I was just 10 years old by the time MJ retired the second time, this fandom was that of an excited youngster who didn’t truly appreciate what I was seeing at the time. I knew that MJ and the Bulls were historically great, but I didn’t have that deeper understanding and appreciation of the dominance. As a kid who was somewhat of a bandwagon fan of winning teams (I even rooted for the Packers at one point in the ‘90s because they were so good and the Bears sucked ... woof), I just liked watching my local basketball team kicking ass all the time. The way they helped me grow to love the Bulls so much helped me stick around even during the tough times post-dynasty.
It has been a trip these last few weeks going back and rewatching a bunch of these old games from that era. The game has changed so much since then it’s almost like watching a different sport at times (some of those games were SLOGS). Even so, the greatness of MJ and his Bulls always shines through. Watching Jordan’s mid-range mastery and the Bulls’ swarming defense never gets old. It’s also fun to see the full cast of characters on those Bulls teams and remember names that have totally been forgotten. Plus, the ‘96 championship rally was absolutely wild and bizarre, so that was fun to revisit.
“The Last Dance” should serve as a reminder of Michael Jordan’s greatness as a basketball player, and the supporting cast should get plenty of love too. Hopefully it will also serve as a teaching tool to a younger generation who grew up with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and didn’t get the chance to watch the GOAT play.
I do also hope this docuseries doesn’t pull any punches and paints the full picture of Jordan and the Bulls. Based on the early reviews and quotes from the director and even Jordan himself, it seems like this will be the case. As a kid I just knew the Bulls as a seemingly unbeatable force that just so happened to break up once Jordan retired again in 1998, but through the years I’ve learned about Jordan’s assholery and the internal struggles on those teams leading up to the eventual breakup. Reading Roland Lazenby’s “Michael Jordan: The Life” really opened my eyes to some of this (the Jerry Krause stuff is pretty cringeworthy because it’s just so damn mean), and it should be fascinating to see some of this play out on the screen.
Jacob Bikshorn: I was a few months shy of my eighth birthday when MJ stripped Malone and sunk his iconic final shot over Russell, so you’ll excuse me for not having vivid memories of the Bulls final championship run. There’s a VHS tape somewhere in my parent’s basement of me exclaiming “Go Bulls!”, something I’ve been told was an early phrase in my toddler vocabulary.
I don’t remember the games, but I do remember the ridiculous assumption I had at that age that the Bulls’ consistent greatness was as inevitable as the rising of the sun, or that Power Rangers would be on TV in the afternoons. I knew with great conviction that Michael Jordan was the greatest, and I naively believed that his reign would last a lifetime.
That early taste of excellence kept me hooked on this team and this sport that meant so much to everyone I knew growing up. It forged my distaste for the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, who’s blatant Jordan impersonation never sat right with me. It solidified a nonsensical part of my fandom that believed in Bulls Exceptionalism, making the last decade of mismanagement that much more painful to bare.
I have to this point not done much to poke holes in the MJ mythology I was raised with. I’ve stayed away from Sam Smith’s Jordan Rules and David Halberstam’s Playing For Keeps. I’ve done many YouTube deep dives and taken in some of his greatest games when they replay on cable, but his legacy viewed through those windows is as rosy as can be. With this documentary, I’m excited to see how legend and reality intertwine, to see the work that went into an accomplishment that seemed preordained to my younger self, and to confirm what I’ve always known to be true, that Michael Jordan was the greatest to ever play the game.
Paul Steeno: I was born in February of 1995.
My earliest memory of Michael Jordan was when he wore Wizard red, silver, and blue; not Bulls red and black. I vaguely remember the twilight of Scottie Pippen’s career; watching really crappy Bulls basketball in 2004 and thinking holy man is that really Scottie Pippen?
Perusing the rest of the 1997-1998 roster, I really have no basketball memories of any of those other players. So why do I care and why should any other Bulls fan who was too young or not even born yet tune into the Chicago Bulls documentary airing on ESPN on Sunday night?
There’s a million reasons, but I was just thinking about the significance of one of them.
For the younger fans out there (like around my age and younger), this documentary needs to be a reminder of how great this franchise is and why we should all be proud to be Bulls fans. The last four or five years, there has been very little to be proud of in regards to the Chicago Bulls. Before that, we fell in love with guys named Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson but the harsh reality of all of that is the closest those teams got to winning a championship was a 4-1 series loss to the Miami Heat in 2011. Before those teams, lots of fan favorites circulated through Chicago, but again no championships.
The Bulls brand was built on winning those six championships and watching this documentary reaffirms that as fans we shouldn’t accept anything less than wining championships. Because that is exactly how those Chicago Bulls teams in the 1990’s were programmed. That’s what made them great and that is why we loved them.
Watch the documentary for the entertainment factor, the Jordan highlights, the drama, Rodman’s antics, all the typical reasons a basketball fan would watch a basketball documentary about the greatest player and one of the greatest teams ever. But for younger Bulls fans, watch to get an education on how great this franchise was and how we should never ever settle for anything less than championships and superstars.
So much about the Bulls franchise is great. We forget that given the circumstances of today. This should be a good reminder.
Tyler Pleiss: My first memory of the Chicago Bulls was looking at my wall in my childhood home and seeing a pennant hanging that commemorated their first three-peat. Over the course of a decade plus that pennant turned into more pennants, posters, trading cards, t-shirts, jerseys, VHS tapes, shoes, everything having to do with Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Heck, I was even lucky enough to go to a Bulls game in 1998. But that pennant was the source of my love for the Bulls, for Michael Jordan and for the game of basketball.
So, as you can imagine, when I first saw the short trailer come across my TV promoting the The Last Dance, those childhood memories came flooding back. Seeing Jordan fall to the ground hugging the ball after winning in 1996, Scottie Pippen’s steal and dish to Toni Kukoc in 1997, and sitting at the edge of my bed in 1998 watching the final shot. Even watching freaking Space Jam every day after school.
The Last Dance is going to be an amazing five week stretch, and I’ll surely re-watch every episode an ungodly amount of times. It will remind of why I have continued to follow this damn Bulls team for all of these years, but more importantly it will remind me of why I fell in love with the game of basketball.