Punching team-mates, alleged $1m gambling debts, Dennis Rodman’s mad trip to Las Vegas and the truth behind the ‘Flu Game’ – 10 THINGS we learned about Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls in Netflix’s ‘The Last Dance’
- The final two episodes of Netflix’s The Last Dance documentary aired on Sunday
- Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls was explored in the 10 episodes
- He opened up on the murder of his dad as well as his career switch to baseball
- Sportsmail looks at 10 things we learned from the hit basketball documentary
As the final episodes aired on Sunday night, sports fans were left with plenty to reflect on after watching ‘The Last Dance’ docu-series on Netflix.
The 10-part film documents Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ run to complete a second three-peat in 1998, but the series explores a number of areas from the murder of his father James, his gambling habits, as well as the wild mid-season holiday team-mate Dennis Rodman took to Las Vegas.
Having gripped viewers across the globe for the last month, Sportsmail recaps 10 things we learned about Jordan and the Bulls.
Michael Jordan established himself as arguably the greatest basketball star ever after guiding Chicago Bulls to six championships – and he even took a year out to play baseball (right)
1. Michael Jordan would do ANYTHING to win
Few players before or after him have been known to have a drive and determination to win to the point where there was no limit to achieving greatness.
What the documentary showed was that why some may come away thinking Jordan came off as a bully – particularly to team-mates such as Scott Burrell and Horace Grant – the 57-year-old offered no apologies for the way he went about his playing career.
He would challenge team-mates, chastise them if they weren’t on the same page and it was those who stood up to him that won his respect.
‘He was an a**hole, he was a jerk, he crossed the line numerous times,’ team-mate Will Perdue said on The Last Dance. ‘But as time goes on and you think back about what he was actually trying to accomplish, you’re like, “Yeah, he was a hell of a team-mate.”‘
Jordan was willing to do whatever it took to win and broke down in tears with his first NBA title
Both Will Perdue (left) and Steve Kerr (right) recalled the times they were punched by Jordan
Steve Kerr, current coach of the Golden State Warriors, echoed similar sentiments when he said standing up to Jordan in a 1995-96 training camp – and getting punched in the process – was good for their relationship.
When asked if he would have gone about it a different way, having seen current players such as LeBron James adopt a strikingly different leadership approach, Jordan was unmoved.
‘Look, winning has a price,’ Jordan said. ‘And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my team-mates who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured.
‘Once you joined the team, you lived at a certain standard that I played the game. And I wasn’t going to take any less. Now if that means I had to go in there and get in your a** a little bit, then I did that.’
2. Dennis Rodman’s mad mid-season Vegas holiday
When Dennis Rodman sat down in coach Phil Jackson’s office to insist that he needed ‘a vacation’ in the middle of the season, Jackson gave a nod to the man who ran the show when he suggested they would need to run it by Jordan.
It was agreed Rodman could have 48 hours to let off some steam and so, even with major reservations about whether he would return, he was allowed to go and he partied hard on the Vegas strip.
Jordan (left) was sceptical about the 48 hours afforded for Dennis Rodman to take a holiday
Rodman had been out partying in the city with actress and then-girlfriend Carmen Electra
To the surprise of no-one in the Bulls organisation, Rodman was not back in the gym in 48 hours and instead went on to party for five days alongside American actress and model Carmen Electra, who spoke about the wild nights on the documentary.
Speaking about the incident, Jordan revealed he told team bosses: ‘You let him go on vacation, we’re not going to see him. You let him go to Vegas, and we’re definitely not going to see him.
‘He didn’t come back on time, we had to go get his a** out of bed. I’m not going to say what was in his bed, where he was, blah blah blah.’
Electra was more forthcoming with details of Rodman’s mini-break and revealed how she hid under the covers when Jordan travelled out and came knocking to get Rodman – a vital piece of the team – back.
‘It was on, the party was starting right away,’ she told the documentary. ‘We’d go to his favourite restaurant, then we’d go to a night club, then we’d go to after hours, it didn’t stop.
‘It was definitely an occupational hazard to be Dennis’ girlfriend. He was wild. There was a knock on the door, it’s Michael Jordan, and I hid. I didn’t want him to see me like that, so I’m just hiding behind the couch with covers over me. “Come on, we got to get to practice”.’
Rodman, alongside Hulk Hogan, liked to kick back and met the wrestler in the 1998 play-offs
But that wasn’t all, in the final episode fans saw a remarkable moment when Rodman vanished during the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz in 1998.
He was nowhere to be seen at practice and the next thing coach Phil Jackson knew, his star defender was posing as a wrestler alongside Hulk Hogan.
Hitting Hogan over the head with a chair in a scripted scene, Rodman was letting loose before returning and playing a colossal game to help close out the series in the coming games, securing a famous second three-peat.
His methods were certainly unorthodox.
3. Scottie Pippen had a ‘selfish’ streak
That was the word Jordan surprisingly used in the documentary when he was asked why Pippen had decided not to have surgery ahead of the 1997-98 season, instead of undergoing the operation and missing the opening 30 games or so.
Much is made of Pippen’s low salary given he was the second best player on the team and the portrayal of Pippen goes on to show him failing to check into the final play of the 1994 semi-final game against Orlando Magic in the first year without Jordan.
Jackson drew up a play for the last shot, with the Bulls tied and 1.8 seconds on the clock, and chose for Pippen to inbound to star European player Toni Kukoc, a decision Pippen took issue with.
Scottie Pippen (left) is reportedly unhappy with the way he has been portrayed in the series
He is shown refusing to go into the game and Jackson sending on another player as Kukoc finishes a 23-foot fadeaway shot in what was arguably the best shot of his NBA career to win Game 3 of that semi-final series.
ESPN have since reported that Pippen, who when asked in the documentary if he would have done differently said that he ‘probably would have done it again’, feels ‘wounded’ from the portrayal of him in The Last Dance.
4. Jordan arrived in Chicago to a ‘cocaine circus’
When asked as to the environment he walked into in the opening episode, Jordan described the surroundings which would go on to nicknamed at the time as like ‘a cocaine circus’.
He recalled one night as a rookie where he went to check on team-mates.
‘I start knocking on doors, I get to this one door, and I could hear someone say, “shhh, someone’s outside,”‘ he said in the documentary.
‘This deep voice says, “who is it?” I say, “it’s MJ”, and they say, “ah, f***, he’s just a rookie. Don’t worry about it”.
‘So they open up the door. I walk in, and practically the whole team is in there.
‘It was things I had never seen in my life as a young kid. You got your lines over here, you got your weed smokers over here, you got your women over here.’
He said he was ‘on his own’ from then on having elected not to partake in those activities and Jordan went on to transform the franchise, becoming the best player in the world in the process.
As a rookie, Jordan came to an environment that was later nicknamed as the ‘cocaine circus’
5. Converse and adidas made a huge error
It might not seem like it now, but Jordan had next to no appeal in signing his first major shoe deal with Nike. Converse was the shoe of the NBA and the three adidas stripes had Jordan’s heart.
Nike are now among the biggest brands in the world but when Jordan was ascending, they were a shadow of what they have gone on to become.
For Jordan, he was determined to sign a deal with adidas and news of Nike’s offer was knocked back – only for his mum to insist he give Nike executives enough time for a meeting.
Having gone along with his parents, Jordan, who was initially determined to sign elsewhere, was urged to take the five-year deal for a shoe range which was worth a base pay of $500,000 and, suddenly, Nike had landed a generational star.
‘Nike’s expectation, when we signed the deal, was at the end of year four they hoped to sell $3million worth of Air Jordans,’ Jordan’s agent David Falk said in the series.
‘In year one, we sold $126m.’ The rest, as they say, is history.
Nike became a major force after agreeing a deal to sign Jordan for $500,000 in the 1980s
6. Jordan ‘could have made it in Major League Baseball’
It was well documented that Jordan took time away from basketball to focus on baseball, a sport he was particularly fond of while growing up.
What was less clear to viewers who were not familiar with this portion of his career story was the assessment that he had all the tools to have had a career in Major League Baseball, according to a former coach.
Jordan played Minor League for the Birmingham Barons and while he had one particularly hot streak with the bat, he was crucified by Sports Illustrated on their cover.
They titled their front cover of that publication as: ‘Bag It, Michael: Jordan and the White Sox are embarrassing baseball’.
But Terry Francona, who was Jordan’s manager at the time at the Barons, had this to say about him when asked if he believes he could have made it to Major League Baseball if he had stuck with it.
Chicago White Sox signed Jordan before then deploying him with the Birmingham Barons
Jordan’s Barons coach, Terry Francona, believes he could have made Major League Baseball
‘Yes,’ he said in the seventh episode of the Last Dance. ‘I found out a couple of things about Michael.
‘No 1, if you tell him “no” he’ll find a way to make it “yes”. And if you gave him three years with 1,500 at-bats he could find his way to the big leagues. I’m pretty sure about that.’
Francona has the nous to back up his claims – having led the Boston Red Sox to two World Series crowns years after coaching Jordan.
Had a strike not ruined the baseball season, pushing Jordan to return to basketball in 1995, his legacy could look a lot different.
7. The Space Jam pick-up games
It is hard to imagine many rivals across any sport in the modern day coming together on a film set to play some pick-up games.
Imagine the best Premier League stars coming together for a kick-around in between takes and you get the idea of the scale of what Jordan had going on off camera while he filmed Space Jam in 1995.
The Bulls had just lost to the Orlando Magic – the series where Pippen was vilified over that Kukoc shot – and Jordan was determined to get back into basketball shape while also honouring his commitments to the film.
Producers built him a full-scale court to prepare on between takes and he invited along some of the NBA’s finest players in Reggie Miller and Juwan Howard among a star-studded line-up to help speed up his development.
But nothing gets past Jordan. While the games would ‘go on for hours’, it was said that he used the pick-up games to scout rival star players ahead of the upcoming season – and sure enough it worked as the Bulls won the 1995-96 title to start another three-peat run.
While filming for Space Jam in 1995, Jordan had a court built and played pick-up games
8. Tragic murder of his father
For all the highs in the documentary, the bright lights and the championships, Jordan showed the emotional side of his life with no event more significant than the death of his father James.
Just 18 days on from leading the Bulls to a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Suns in 1993, Jordan’s jubilation turned into despair with the brutal murder.
On July 23, Jordan Snr was murdered at a highway rest area in Lumberton, North Carolina, by two teenagers who carjacked him. They then dumped his body in a South Carolina swamp with his corpse not found until 11 days later. He was aged just 56.
His father was his closest ally and was always seen right next to him in the iconic images which have gone on to define the early stages of Jordan’s career.
Viewers were left stunned at the graphic nature of James Jordan’s death and saw the immeasurable toll it took on Michael just weeks after winning a third-straight championship.
James Jordan (left) was always alongside his son and played a major role in his life
Jordan reflected on the emotional murder of his father and why it contributed to him taking time out of basketball to go and play baseball after winning the first three-peat in Chicago
Baseball was one of his father’s biggest passions and his death was a key reason behind his decision to step away from basketball.
When he did come back in 1995, eventually winning the championship on Father’s Day in 1996, the emotion and grief washed over Jordan.
‘I know he’s watching,’ he is seen telling an on-court reporter at the time. ‘To my wife and to my kids, to my mother and my brothers and sisters, this is for daddy.’
9. Golf and gambling was a huge part of Jordan’s life
Jordan had many layers to him, more than many would have known from just watching him dazzle on the basketball court, and that was why the 10-part series was so brilliant in revealing how it all played out without the ball in his hands.
Golf and gambling were two of his favourite past-times and some viewers were left surprised at the extent to which he often combined the two.
Episode six stood out and it was centred around the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Chicago Bulls lost game two to the Knicks.
Jordan found himself at the centre of a scandal following a trip to a casino in Atlantic City. To this day, he insists it was over-egged, a form of relaxation that got him away from the harsh spotlight of the Big Apple.
Jordan was alleged to have amassed huge debts while gambling on games of golf
As far as he was concerned: ‘We got a limo, we went and gambled for a couple hours, and we came back. Everybody went totally ballistic. It wasn’t late. We got home by 12.30, 1’.
That is what Jordan – who has a reported net worth of $2.1billion (£1.7bn) – said while filming the documentary, now an older and wiser head.
But there was more. It emerged that he skipped the Bulls’ trip to the White House after winning the 1991 NBA Finals so that he could go gamble with golf shop owner and convicted cocaine dealer James ‘Slim’ Bouler.
Bouler was eventually arrested on drug and money laundering charges. While investigating him, police found a $57,000 cheque from Jordan. It eventually emerged it was to cover a gambling debt.
Then Richard Esquinas published a book called ‘Michael and Me’. Esquinas was a self-described recovering gambling addict and addressed his and Jordan’s alleged problems in the text.
Jordan insisted he did not have a gambling problem during an interview in the 1993 season
He also claimed Jordan owed him a staggering $1.2m in gambling debts from golf bets. Jordan denied that and Esquinas later said they settled with a payment of $300,000.
When asked in the documentary if he had a gambling problem during his career, Jordan was calm but dismissive.
Speaking with confidence, he made it clear: ‘No, because I could stop gambling.
‘I have a competition problem, a competitive problem.’
10. The truth behind ‘The Flu Game’
The final installments of the series included Jordan trying to set the record straight on the infamous 1997 ‘Flu Game’ against the Utah Jazz.
Jordan looked physically weak, beaten down and fans were left confused as to why the game’s finest player looked so weary.
Lots of conspiracy theories emerged from the flu to a hangover, but Jordan gave us his story on why his conditioning was so off for that Game 5 in Utah.
He revealed that five guys came to deliver a pizza – he says ordered by his best friend George Koehler and trainer Tim Grover. It is something that is typically done by one person and so came across as odd but nonetheless Jordan ate the pizza.
The next morning he ‘couldn’t stop’ vomiting and was battling the illness all day in the lead-up to Game 5. And yet, beaten down and far from his best state, Jordan still dazzled with a 38-point performance.
So, will this now finally be known as the NBA’s very own ‘Pizza-gate’?
Jordan opened up on the infamous ‘Flu Game’ against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals
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