Tuesday’s Den: An enthusiastic endorsement of ESPN’s The Last Dance

13) ESPN struck television gold Sunday night, showing an entertainment-starved country the first two episodes of “The Last Dance”, a 10-part documentary about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. Originally slated to air June 3rd, it was pushed up because of the pandemic. Two episodes will run on each of the next four Sunday nights.

It isn’t often a program with high expectations meets those expectations, but this program was two hours of great research, artfully presented. If you like the NBA or college basketball at all, you’ll enjoy this look back at a part of our sports history.

12) Bulls had won five of previous seven NBA titles; they allowed NBA cameras access to their inner circle for what Phil Jackson knew would be his last season as the Bulls’ coach.

Back in 1997, the head of NBA Entertainment was Adam Silver, now the Commissioner, so this was his brainchild. Tall, bald guys with glasses tend to be smart 🙂

11) Phil Jackson averaged 6.7 ppg in 17.6 mpg in 12 NBA seasons. 10 with the Knicks, two with the Nets. He missed the Knicks’ 1970 title season after back surgery; he scored 8.1 ppg for the ’73 Knicks, who also won a championship.

10) Jackson coached here in Albany in five years, coaching the Patroons in the old CBA; from there he went to the Bulls, was an assistant for three years, then took over for the 1989-90 season.

Jackson was an NBA head coach for 20 years, winning 11 titles. Best NBA coach ever.

9) From November 1995 to June 1997, the Bulls were favored in 185 consecutive games, thats now great they were; but GM Jerry Krause knew the team’s great run was nearing an end, and he toyed with the idea of trading Scottie Pippen before the 1997-98 season, to try and head off the franchise’s inevitable decline. That idea was rejected by owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

8) Krause takes a pretty good beating on this show, since his professional relationship with the coaches, players deteriorated over time. Plus he is deceased, so he couldn’t be interviewed for the show, to present his side of the story.

But much like Art Howe’s portrayal in Moneyball, no team wins six titles without a really good GM; Krause made this trade, one that made the Bulls truly great:

June 22, 1987: Scottie Pippen was traded by the Seattle SuperSonics with a 1989 1st round draft pick to the Chicago Bulls, for Olden Polynice, a 1988 2nd round pick and a 1989 1st round pick.

7) Pippen missed 38 games in 1997-98 after having surgery; Chicago was 51-14 that year when he was in the lineup, 26-12 when he wasn’t.

6) Former Bulls’ center Bill Wennington is quoted a lot in the first two episodes; looks like he has a slot machine in his living room, which is pretty cool.

5) Steve Kerr won three rings playing for the Bulls; he’s won eight rings overall, three coaching the Warriors, two more playing for San Antonio. He is the only person ever to win 3+ titles, as both a player and a head coach.

4) Jordan played for three head coaches in this first three NBA seasons; Jackson was his 4th head coach in six years. One of the other coaches was Stan Albeck, who had been a coach for the Spurs, Nets, Cavaliers, and was also once Wilt Chamberlain’s assistant coach with the old San Diego Conquistadors in the ABA, in 1973-74. Albeck could write a hell of a book.

3) In one of Jordan’s North Carolina clips they showed, a Duke player named Chip Engelland appears very briefly. Engelland has gone on to become one of the best-ever shooting coaches in NBA history (Kawhi Leonard ring a bell?)

Engelland had been a ballboy for John Wooden’s UCLA teams; he scored 1,000+ points at Duke, then he played overseas for nine years. He’s been a Spurs assistant since 2005.

2) They showed when Phil Jackson won his first NBA title with the Bulls in ‘91, beating the Lakers in LA, one of the first people to shake his hand on the court was Jack Nicholson.

1) So what I’m saying here is that if you like basketball, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this look back into NBA history. I know I did. 

Author: Armadillo Sports

I've been involved in sports my whole life, now just write about them. I like to travel, mostly to Las Vegas- they have gambling there.