Sunday evening (May 17) saw the conclusion of ESPN’s 10-part Michael Jordan documentary series, The Last Dance, and it ended as strong as it started. In episodes nine and 10, the infamous flu game, the assassination of Steve Kerr’s dad, and more were covered in detail.
Episode nine puts an especially revealing focus on the difficulties the Chicago Bulls faced in capturing their fifth and sixth titles. Jordan’s fifth ring proved to be a challenge to capture as his squad faced up against John Stockton, Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz for the 1997 NBA Finals. Right before game five, Jordan became sick and it was long speculated that he was suffering from flu-like symptoms and thus the legend grew.
However, Jordan finally revealed that the culprit was food poisoning, and not a rumored late-night binge of drinking and partying, nerves, or any of the myriad number of theories that jumped around at the time. Jordan left that game with 38, seven rebounds, and five assists and added three steals to boot.
The episode was also the Steve Kerr show, showing how important a cog he was in the Bulls offense despite being seen as nothing but a role player. It also showed how Jazz star Bryon Russell ended up on Jordan’s list of players he used to fuel his game. It was apparent that during the final two series of the Bulls’ second three-peat that Father Time was catching up to Jordan but he was still an elite player who used his smarts versus his fading physical gifts.
Another interesting sidebar in the episode was the revelation that Kerr’s father was assassinated in 1984 while working as a university president in Beirut. Although Kerr and Jordan both lost their fathers to violence, the pair didn’t speak much about this aspect of their lives due to the emotional rawness of the events. Viewers also got to learn more about security guard Gus Lett, who became a father figure for Jordan after his father’s passing.
In episode 10, much of the mystique of Jordan had been laid out in fine, time-hopping detail to this point. Profane, honest, and sometimes somber, the documentary might have missed some prime opportunity to hear more from Jordan’s opponents over the years, namely the aforementioned Malone and Russell although Stockton briefly appeared. It was noted that the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals showed the Bulls facing off against the Jazz and defeating them both times to the tune of four games to two.
And yes, that poetic ending en route to the Bulls’ sixth ring came at the expense of Russell’s ankles and ended all speculation that Jordan pushed off to hit the game-winning shot. Leonardo DiCaprio also made a cameo in the doc and it was shown that Jordan and the team were fans of his films with the actor getting to personally congratulate his Airness. Another high point of the documentary was Dennis Rodman’s professional wrestling exploits and how he made a boatload of money at the expense of being fined for not making appearances.
On Twitter, fans of The Last Dance shared their favorite memories and moments, and we’ve got those listed below.