The NBA just came out with a documentary on the Chicago Bulls’ glorious 3-peat 1997-98 season. Aptly entitled “The Last Dance”, it chronicles the last season together for Michael Jordan and his celebrated champion team. For those of you who wish to watch the 10-episode series, you can watch it at Netflix where it has drawn raves and has broken viewership records by huge numbers.
The docu features candid insights and never-before seen footages of the Bulls during the tumultuous season. In showing the series, the NBA stated that “this project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”
But despite the positivity the statement wishes to convey – of MJ’s overall court wizardry, of his leadership and his will to win, of Scottie Pippen’s excellent wingman role, of Dennis Rodman’s defensive prowess and outstanding psychological warfare techniques, of the commitment to excellence that coach Phil Jackson and his crew inculcated in every member in the team, of the team’s collective finesse, the team’s grueling practice sessions, and more – it was more of the controversies, the drama and the negativity that the viewers feed on in watching the docu.
And I guess it’s a normal thing. Storylines become more compelling, more interesting if there is a challenge, a bit of drama and adversity that go with it. A thunderous dunk from Lebron would be beautiful. Against a hulking blocker, it would be a fantastic poster picture. A coast-to-coast Giannis lay-up would be a thing of beauty. Faced with a phalanx of defenders, that lay-up would be the highlight for the evening’s sports news.
Hence, in this Last Dance series, it is the internal strife that whets the appetites and gives the viewers the needed adrenaline rush. It is this that threatens the stability and performance level of the team destined to be heralded as one of the greatest teams ever to have graced the hardcourt. And it is the team’s victory over this seemingly tragic environment that makes it a compelling story to tell.
And unfortunately for Jerry Krause, the then GM of the Chicago Bulls, he may be credited for having built up the Bulls’ team roster during those dominant years; but he too would be blamed for having demolished the same champion team after its second 3-peat in the 97-98 season.
Krause was responsible for having brought Phil Jackson to the Bulls in 1987. Sometime after that, their relationship started to sour. Before the start of the 97-98 season, Krause famously retorted: “I don’t care if it’s 82 and 0 (wins-losses) this year, you’re fucking gone.” This statement actually led to Jackson’s calling the season the ‘Last Dance’ in a players’ meeting prior to the season opening.
Krause made quite a steal in acquiring Scottie Pippen, also in 1987. Yet he never provided Scottie the salary raise he so richly deserved during the latter part of his stint with the Bulls. The underpaid Pippen would be a lowly 6th in Chicago’s salary roster, and only 122nd in the NBA’s players pay-scale for the 97-98 season, despite his lofty stature as a perennial all-star and champion.
Krause was also responsible for drafting Horace Grant; and he traded for Bill Cartwright to form the strong supporting cast to the Jordan-Pippen duo in the 1st 3-peat in seasons ’91 to ’93. Krause was also key to the trade for Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper and Luc Longley, and the acquisition of Toni Kukoc in creating the formidable 3-peaters of seasons ’96 to ’98. But he did have a lot of dud decisions as well, trading away the likes of former players Elton Brand, Brad Miller, Ron Artest and Tyson Chandler, all of whom would later improve and be All-Stars for their new teams.
In the docu, Krause comes out as the villain, along with team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, for having allowed the NBA’s darling team to disintegrate after a gloried 2nd 3-peat run from ‘96 to ‘98. It is this conflict that will arouse the interest of cage fans. It is this adversity that sports fanatics will naturally gravitate to. And sad to say, Krause will no longer be around to defend himself, having passed in 2017.
Watch the film. Understand the little bumps on the road the Chicago Bulls had to take. Understand the little nuances that the team – any team, for that matter – had to undergo. But don’t get fixated in the negativity. Don’t relish in the finger-pointing and the blame game. In this hour of global catastrophe, that is precisely what we don’t need.
Instead, watch the film and celebrate the sight of arguably the best team ever to have performed in the NBA arenas. Savor the beauty of MJ in full flight. Marvel at Phil Jackson’s unique coaching philosophy and how he used it to align the team’s vision and goals. Witness the sheer beauty of Tex Winter’s triangle offense in motion. Rejoice as the team elevated itself beyond its trials and conflicts. Watch and just enjoy the ride. For certainly, there are many wonderful lessons to learn from this story of these magnificent men in a magnificent team in a magnificent basketball era.
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of Variety mag. Other photos courtesy of: NBA.com, Inside Hook, the LA Times, Jeff Haynes (Getty images), Andrew Bernstein (Getty Images), Slam Mag, Pinterest, YouTube.com, Chicago Bulls History, Twitter.com, Sports Illustrated, Fox 32 Chicago, GMA Network, AL.com, Sports Mockery, 8and9.com, NBCChicago.com, CNN.com, NYPost.com and Bleacher Report.