In this week’s episodes of “The Last Dance” Michael Jordan retires from basketball for a couple seasons to try his hand at baseball and upon his return to the NBA he shuts the “The Glove” up, winning his fourth championship.
Sportsnet had the pleasure of previewing “The Last Dance” and throughout its rollout we’ll be breaking down the notable takeaways of each episode via the quotes that stood out and signified that chapter in the Chicago Bulls’ story.
Availability in Canada on Netflix
Episodes 9 and 10 – Monday, 18 May – 12:01 a.m. PT
Notable interview subjects: Michael Jordan, Hannah Storm, Ahmad Rashad, Deloris Jordan (Jordan’s mother), Bob Costas, Jerry Reinsdorf, Phil Jackson, Andrea Kremer, Michael Wilbon, David Stern, Terry Francona, Tony Kukoc, Scott Burrell, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Will Purdue, Scottie Pippen, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright, Bill Wennington and Horace Grant.
Quote of the episode: “He played baseball until he was 17 years old then doesn’t play baseball again until he’s 31 years old. We don’t send anybody to double-A after they come out of college or high school because it’s too high a level. We start them either in rookie ball or at A ball. But we couldn’t do that with Michael because the press facilities are inadequate below double-A. We put him at double-A strictly because we had to handle the media.” – Jerry Reinsdorf
Yes, the best basketball player in the world quit playing in his prime to try and become a pro in a sport he hadn’t played in over a decade. It was as bizarre watching it chronicled in the documentary as it was at the time, but Episode 7 centres around Michael Jordan retiring from basketball after winning a third straight championship and Finals MVP to pursue a baseball career with the Chicago White Sox.
Since Jerry Reinsdorf owned both the Chicago Bulls and White Sox he continued to pay Jordan’s NBA salary while he was attempting an MLB career.
Jordan hit the ground running with the Birmingham Barons, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, as he started out with a 13-game hitting streak. But the he stopped seeing fastballs and only saw breaking balls and begin to slump badly.
“I can’t believe he actually hit .202. He drove in 50 runs. We had a lot of good prospects that don’t drive in 50 runs” Jordan’s manager Terry Francona recalled. “In my opinion, with 1,500 at-bats he would have found a way to get to the Major Leagues.”
Jordan wasn’t as bad as the Sports Illustrated cover claiming he was a disgrace to baseball was, but he also wasn’t anywhere close to who he was on the basketball court.
Of the 62 players with at least 400 plate appearances in the Southern League in 1994, Jordan ranked last in batting average (.202) and OPS (.556). However, he was a threat offensively with 30 Stolen bases (tied for fifth) and 52 walks (tied for 10th).
Bonus quote: “When people see this, they’re going to say he wasn’t really a nice guy, he may have been a tyrant. Well, that’s you because you never won anything. I wanted to win but I wanted them to win and be a part of that as well.
Look, I don’t have to do this. I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way” – a crying Jordan addressing if he isn’t liked for the way he drove his teammates.
Notable interview subjects: B.J. Armstrong, Michael Jordan, David Aldridge, Glen Rice, Jud Buechler, Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, J.A. Adande, Andrea Kremer, Patrick Ewing, Horace Grant, Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman and Gary Payton.
Quote of the episode: “A lot of people back down to Mike. I didn’t. I made it a point. I said, ‘Just tire him out. Tire the [expletive] him.’ I kept hitting him and banging him and it took a toll on Mike” – Gary Payton on guarding Michael Jordan for the last three games of the 1996 NBA Finals.
The quote isn’t the best part of the episode, Jordan’s reaction to watching it on an iPad as he laughs off Payton’s assertion that he and Seattle were worthy challengers was. The image of Jordan howling will become a new meme.
Payton won the NBA defensive player of the year award in 1996 and wanted to guard Jordan. George Karl wouldn’t let him for the first three games of the series as Payton had a calf strain and the coaching staff wanted to save his energy to contribute on offence. In the episode Jordan laughs out loud at the notion Payton guarding Jordan more would have changed the outcome.
“I had no problem with ‘The Glove,’” Jordan said. “I had a lot of other things on my mind.”
In the first three games, Jordan averaged 31 points, shot 46 per cent from the field and 50 three per cent from three-point range, but with Payton on him his numbers dropped to 23.7 points on 36.7 per cent shooting and a dismal 11.1 per cent from deep.
The Seattle SuperSonics were a great team in that 1995-96 season. They were 64-18, only last three times at home that entire season and took out the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz on their way to the Finals. And during George Karl’s tenure in Seattle from 1992-98, the Sonics had a .719 win percentage.
The Bulls during this era were simply better, however.
In the regular season and playoffs, the Chicago boasted an 87-13 record, which equals an .870 winning percentage including playoffs. They got better in crunch time with a 15-3 run through the post-season. The next closest team is the 2016-17 Warriors who had an .839 winning percentage due to their 83-16 record that season.
Payton guarding Jordan from Game 4 on made it a series, but the Bulls still won in six.
Bonus quote: “I know he’s watching. This is for daddy.” – Jordan on winning a title in 1996 on Father’s Day, his first title after his father died.