In any sport, there will always be a debate over who the Greatest Of All Time – or “GOAT” – is. When it comes to the NBA, most would argue that the no-brainer answer is Michael Jordan. After watching the first four episodes of ESPN’s documentary “The Last Dance” the last two Sunday’s, the affirmation that Jordan is the best player in NBA history just grows by a landslide.
And this is coming from a Celtics fan who grew up on Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s while Rick Pitino was destroying what Red Auerbach had built.
“The Last Dance” isn’t even halfway done, but this documentary, an uncensored look into the dynasty that was the 1990’s Bulls, is going to be one of the best ESPN has produced in its “30 for 30” series when it is all said and done.
It also shows how the NBA is vastly different today than it was back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And there are many pros and cons.
But among the cons? The lack of physicality. And how today’s guys are different than Jordan.
Flash back to 1985-86, Jordan’s second year when he broke his foot three games into the season. Then-Bulls coach Stan Albeck limited Jordan’s minutes to 14 per game (7 per half) upon his return. Jerry Krause warned his coach he’d be instantly fired if that “load management” increased by even a tenth of a second. Jordan somehow willed his team to the playoffs despite a 30-52 record when Krause would’ve rather slipped into the lottery, angering his superstar.
You think Jordan would be happy with the “load management” guys like LeBron James and James Harden get in this day and age?
Then there was that 63-point outburst against the mighty Celtics in Boston Garden. In the playoffs. That Celtics team is arguably the best team in NBA history.
Nobody could guard Jordan that day. Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton all ran into foul trouble. You think LeBron could drop 63 on those Celtics? My money says no.
But the kicker for me? The rivalry with the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls couldn’t get past them in the playoffs for three years the way the Pistons couldn’t get past the Celtics. In another case of “how the NBA is different,” Jordan didn’t jump ship and join other superstars and form a superteam – yes, LeBron, I’m talking about you again – Jordan decided it was time to get in the weight room and build his body up to withstand the physical rigors of those playoff series.
It all worked out by 1991 when Chicago swept the two-time defending champion Pistons en route to its first of six championships. And the Pistons showed the class they have in walking off the court before the final buzzer, not shaking hands, the brainchild of Isiah Thomas and Bill Lambieer.
During last Sunday’s “Last Dance” airing, Thomas claimed that the 1988 Celtics did it first when the Pistons dispatched Boston en route to a Finals matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But Portland city manager and former Celts staffer Jon Jennings came out in a recent Boston Globe story and said that was untrue, saying K.C. Jones wanted to get his stars to the locker room before Detroit fans swarmed the court at the old Pontiac Silverdome.
Six episodes remain, but this documentary taps into not only what a great player Jordan was, but the firey competitive spirit he possessed. Jordan saved the NBA at a time where fellow transcendent stars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were on the back nine’s of their careers.
While no live sports remain as we navigate through COVID-19, I highly recommend tuning into this documentary. It airs every Sunday night at 9:00 through May 17.
by Ryan McLaughlin