Sports staff reacts to ‘The Last Dance’ final episodes

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Photo Courtesy of Charles Cherney/Chicago Tribune

Bulls guard Michael Jordan steals the ball from Jazz forward Karl Malone during Game 6 of the NBA Finals at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 14, 1998. Jordan took the ball and drove to the basket to hit the game-winning shot.

By Daily Illini Sports Staff, Sports Staff

Well, here we are. We’ve reached the end of the best thing to happen in sports for months. The final two episodes of “The Last Dance” aired Sunday and wow, what an emotional rollercoaster this series was. From the Jerry Krause bullying, to Dennis Rodman’s Vegas night, to the deaths of Jordan and Kerr’s fathers, to Jordan’s flu (or food poisoning) game to every last-second shot by Jordan, this series was impeccable. Speaking for every sports fan, “The Last Dance” will be dearly missed.

Episodes 9 and 10 were definitely some of the most emotional. Learning about Steve Kerr’s father and how that experience fueled his drive to succeed as a basketball player and how Kerr gained Jordan’s respect was inspiring. Hearing about the relationship between Gus Lett, Jordan’s head security guard, and Jordan was tearjerking. And watching Game 6 in the 1998 Finals was just beautiful.

So, here are our final reactions to ‘“The Last Dance.”

Gabby Hajduk – Sports Editor

The chills that came over me when Steve Kerr hit that shot against the Utah Jazz to win the 1997 NBA Championship are indescribable. I know this series is centered around Michael Jordan but learning the stories of the rest of the Bulls team has been one of my favorite parts. I personally did not know about Steve Kerr’s dad and the fact Steve came out of high school with only one scholarship offer. While his time in the NBA has obviously been overshadowed by Jordan, I have such a newfound respect for Kerr. I also have a newfound respect for ESPN’s production team. Telling Kerr’s story then circling back to the game with the national anthem scene brought tears to my eyes. Then, Kerr hit that three-pointer in Game 7 against the Pacers in 1998 to fuel the win. Thinking of those two moments, who knows how the 1997 and 1998 seasons would have ended for the Bulls.

But, if this documentary showed me anything, it’s there will never be another Michael Jordan. Not just in basketball but in any sport. There will be no one who carries themselves, who worked as hard, who gave the most to the sport the way Jordan did. The way Jordan played every game to honor a person or to prove a person wrong is incredible. The way he made each teammate earn his respect. But, most importantly, the way he could never accept losing. And the way he encouraged his teammates to never accept losing. And the way Jordan won each game without a doubt he could do it.

After the sixth championship win, Jordan said, “You can say whatever you want. They can’t win ’til we quit.” Jordan earned the right to say that. Jordan changed the NBA, changed the game of basketball and changed the way every athlete would compete. He is the greatest of all time, no doubt.

@gabby_h11

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Brendyn Jones – Assistant On-Air Editor

In any aspect of life, endings are hard. There isn’t always closure, which can be the hardest thing to deal with. A lot of people have had to experience that. While the Bulls were almost otherworldly in the 1990s, they were unable to achieve one of life’s most elusive aspects: having an ending with closure.

Yes, the Bulls were able to go out with a win, but there will always be that question of if they could’ve won seven. At the end of the 1998 season, they were still the best team with the best player in the world. The team that made the finals from the Eastern Conference in 1999 were the Knicks, who the Bulls had owned in the ’90s. 

We will never see what could’ve happened, and as much as that pains me as a fan, I can’t imagine how it has hurt that team. Jordan went down as the greatest of all time, Pippen is an all-time great, Rodman might be the most intriguing basketball player of all time and Phil Jackson won five more rings in his career. So, it’s not like their life was ruined, but it will always be a question.

While endings are hard in life, ESPN nailed the ending to “The Last Dance” which capped off probably the best documentary I’ve ever seen, sports or otherwise. I still miss the NBA and I don’t know when it’ll come back, but this helped me get through the last five weeks. 

My last words on this documentary…

Michael Jeffrey Jordan, or Black Jesus, is the Greatest of All Time.

@brendyn_jones

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Nithin Reddy – Staff Writer

So, what do we do now? “The Last Dance” came to an end and it was undoubtedly a bittersweet ending. Episode 10 of “The Last Dance” marked the end of the Bulls dominant run in the 1990s, a level of success no team has replicated since, as well as an escape from our current monotonous lives. With that said, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to this phenomenal documentary series.

Favorite moment

It’s hard to beat Jordan’s shot to win the 1998 Finals, but for me, my favorite moment was when Steve Kerr hit the game-winner to claim the 1997 Finals. The shot felt like an exclamation point on the Steve Kerr story. From the underrecruited unathletic high school basketball player to an NBA player who has value to championship teams, it’s hard to dislike Steve Kerr. With the story about his father’s passing, it’s impossible to root against him when he takes that shot in the 1997 Finals.

Biggest surprise

Based on everything that had transpired until these last two episodes of “The Last Dance,” I fully expected Jordan to retire because of pure mental and physical exhaustion and also because of Krause’s relationship with Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen. The end of episode 10 suggested something else. Jordan basically said he would have come back if they brought the team back on a one-year deal, including Phil. Jordan talked throughout the series how he felt burnt out in the 97-98 season, but his competitive fire will never go away. Michael Jordan could run a marathon, and if you challenged him 10 minutes after to a 100-yard sprint, he would probably take it. Only a few have been within shouting distance of that mentality, but no one has been able to replicate it, and I don’t think anyone ever will.

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Alec Busse – Assistant Video Editor

As sports fans, we don’t and never will understand how difficult it is to win six championships in a decade. We can only appreciate the greatness that comes with winning, and if fortunate enough to be a fan of the winning team, share the feelings of being a champion. What this documentary showed is that Michael Jordan is a person — a real person — with real feelings. Throughout the documentary, former Bulls players said Jordan was a bully or not a nice guy but that he had to be that player for the Bulls to achieve their potential. In the final minutes of the tenth episode, Steve Kerr tells a story about Jordan writing a poem at the last team function, and how it was at this moment Bulls players recognized that Jordan was a person with emotions. Jordan has been built into this larger than life icon since the end of his career, and that is okay, he deserves it. However, it is important to remember the scene at the end of the seventh episode when Jordan is visibly emotional talking about how much he cares about winning and his drive to be the best. Don’t forget that the next time you see his highlights on YouTube or see a cool pair of Jordan’s in a store or on the street. Michael Jordan is one of the most influential people to ever live. To quote my favorite movie, “The Sandlot,” “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Jordan’s legacy will never die, but he will — like all of us. Michel Jordan is a real person, and that is what the story “The Last Dance” really told. An outstanding documentary that lived up to the expectations, can’t wait to re-watch all of the episodes.

@alec_busse

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Josh Pietsch – Staff Writer

Most Surprising

When I think of the Bulls six championship wins, struggle isn’t something that comes to mind. Obviously Jordan’s Bulls stopped many great teams and Hall of Fame players from winning championships, but I didn’t realize how much competition the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz gave the Bulls in 1998. Reggie Miller still believes his team was better than Jordan’s in ‘98, and though the Bulls beat them, it isn’t an unfair argument. It took everything the Bulls had to beat the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals that year, and home-court advantage for the Pacers in game seven could have been a different story. The Jazz came into the NBA Finals as hungry as any team the Bulls had faced, and although the Bulls won in six games, it took an amazing shot by the greatest of all time and tons of work defensively on Karl Malone to do so. There’s no doubt in my mind the Bulls deserved their sixth ring, but boy did they have to work hard to earn it.

Best Storyline

Obviously the ‘98 NBA finals were great, and so was the challenge Miller and the Pacers gave the Bulls in the conference finals, but what I liked the most was something not many people knew about before watching “The Last Dance.” To go in-depth on the story behind Steve Kerr’s father prior to showing his famous shot in the 1997 NBA Finals was terrific. Kerr only joined the team after Jordan retired the first time, so it was one of the few stories centered around Kerr throughout the documentary. It fit in even better since Kerr’s dad passed similarly to Jordan’s. Both were unexpectedly killed without good reason and ended up playing basketball in honor of their father. Although Jordan retired after his dad died, Kerr immediately began working hard at his game at the University of Arizona. His hard work led to getting drafted, and he ended up winning five NBA championships, three of which were with the Bulls.

@JPietsch14

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Luca Ripani – Staff Writer 

Much like the masterful season it featured, “The Last Dance” eventually had to come to an end. But that didn’t make tonight’s final episodes any less painful. Tonight’s first episode featured a rare game 7 for Michael Jordan and the Bulls, forced by the underrated Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers. Miller often gets lost in the pool of Eastern Conference players that were prevented from even reaching the Finals by Jordan. But his 1997-98 team probably represented the most potent threat to MJ’s dynasty. However, as Jordan proved time and time again, MJ simply refused to let the Bulls lose, propelling them to yet another Finals appearance, a rematch with Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz. Despite the lack of a flu, or should I say food poisoning, game, the Bulls once again beat the Jazz in six games, solidifying Jordan’s status as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Overall, “The Last Dance” did what it claimed it was going to: allow an all-access look behind the scenes at the end of one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports. Along the way, we were provided with some lessons on the other figures who helped to make it possible, from the college basketball exploits of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to the dominance of the 1992 Dream Team. But probably the most impactful element of the series was the demystification of the man feared by many of his peers and beloved by many of his fans. The series showed what many players saw and suffered from during the reign of His Airness: Michael Jordan’s unfaltering commitment to winning, which elevated him and his teammates to something beyond basketball and beyond sports itself. As if there was ever any doubt, “The Last Dance” has only proved what we all knew from Jordan’s statue outside the United Center that has become a sports landmark. That Michael Jordan was, simply put, “The best there ever was. The best there ever will be.”

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Jonah Perez – Staff Writer

Episode 9 Takeaways

Sometimes the road to a championship is tougher than the championship itself. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls barely got past the Indiana Pacers in seven games (Jordan didn’t play many game sevens in his career, zero in the finals). Many of the Bulls called it their toughest test during their run.

Jordan’s “flu game” during game five of the 1997 NBA Finals turned out to be a case of food poisoning from pizza he ate the night before. Many people blamed the pizza place employees for messing with it, but I also blame the Bulls staff. When ordering pizza, they must have let it be known that it was for Jordan, it wouldn’t make sense for the pizza place employees to mess with the pizza unless they knew it was Jordan.

Episode 10 Takeaway

Every great team needs a little luck during their run, the Bulls were no different. During a pivotal sequence in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan helped Utah Jazz guard Byron Russell’s momentum carry him past him by pushing him with his left hand so he could have space for a game-clinching shot. Jordan disagrees and said he was already stumbling so he didn’t push off, but many people believe he did. I don’t think Jordan should have a problem with this assessment because every team has a little unforeseen help along the way to success. The Pacers in episode nine experienced the same thing when Reggie Miller shoved Jordan to make space for his game-winning three in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. The New England Patriots got lucky in the “Tuck Rule Game,” the 2001 AFC Championship against the Oakland Raiders. Tom Brady got strip-sacked by Charles Woodson and clearly didn’t throw the ball forward, but the referees called it an incomplete pass. Again, I bring this up to say every great team needs a little luck in moments of great importance, not to minimize Jordan’s last championship, but he pushed off.

@jonahap2

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