I’m gonna need this docuseries to stop being so damn good.
On Sunday night, ESPN’s The Last Dance ventured into the circumstances surrounding Jordan’s first retirement and other topics of interest, so for those who were unable to enjoy Episodes 7 and 8, here were some of the biggest takeaways.
Grand Opening, Grand Closing
My relationship with my parents hasn’t always been particularly great, but there are plenty of people who have their parents to thank for being a consistent, supportive presence throughout the course of their lives. Michael Jordan felt that way about both of his, and sadly, on July 23, 1993, his father, James, was killed under peculiar circumstances. James’ death had a profound impact on the then 30-year-old Jordan and was a key factor in his decision to retire after the Bulls 1992-93 season.
“I told Phil I’m about done,” Jordan said, reflecting on the warning that he gave his coach, Phil Jackson, prior to drawing the curtain on his career. “I have no more challenges. I have no motivation. I was done.”
At James’ funeral, Jordan was so distraught that sportscaster Ahmad Rashad had to tie his tie. And as if having to bury your father wasn’t enough, the media used James’ death as an opportunity to openly question Jordan’s character. Headline after headline implied that James was killed as a result of Jordan’s gambling, and there were rumors that Jordan only retired to fulfill an 18-month “secret suspension” for gambling and improper behavior handed down by then NBA commissioner David Stern—which, of course, was bullshit. Or as Stern put it, “calumnious.” (Yes, I had to google that word too.)
“One of the things [my father] always taught me is you have to take a negative and turn it into something positive,” Jordan said. “So I started looking at the other side of it and that helped me get through it.”
As for Jordan’s actual retirement, the circumstances surrounding his announcement were kind of crazy. While attending Game 1 of MLB’s American League Championship Series (ACLS) between the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox, Jordan revealed his intention to call it a career to Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause. It was supposed to be kept secret until a press conference the next day, but because snitches apparently prefer stitches, the news was leaked during the game. Jordan dipped in the 7th inning to escape the press, and Krause, Reinsdorf, Jackson, Jordan and others announced the following day that yes, Jordan was done.
The documentary notes that there were nearly 300 (!!!!!!!!) reporters in attendance to cover Jordan’s retirement.
Pardon me if you’ve heard this before, but Jordan was a dick, and after a brief flirtation with minor league baseball that we are all contractually obligated to pretend never happened, Jordan returned to the sport we all know and love with a burning desire to become the biggest asshole of all time.
“Winning has a price, and leadership has a price,” Jordan said. “So, I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged.”
Translation: I was an asshole; so much so that former teammate Luc Longley wanted nothing to do with The Last Dance, but had plenty to get off his chest about what’s his face in his 1996 book Running with the Bulls.
“I’d have to say after he came back, I really didn’t like the guy,” Longley wrote. “I found him difficult to be around and he and I obviously didn’t see eye-to-eye. We were at each other’s throats in practice and that was a case of frustration from both of us, mostly from him.”
Gee, I wonder why Longley didn’t like him? Probably because he snuffed multiple teammates—though the film references his lover’s spat with Steve Kerr specifically—picked fights with plenty of others, made it a point to call them “bitches” and brought an intensity typically reserved for a playoff game to practice. Did it make him a six-time NBA champion? It sure as hell did. But it also made him the bane of plenty of people’s existence.
“I tried to get him to fight me a couple of times,” Jordan said of teammate Scott Burrell, who should’ve smothered Jordan with a pillow while he was asleep until he pled for mercy. “But he’s such a nice guy.”
How you get punked by a nigga in JNCO jeans?!
Back on His Bull-shit
My Orlando Magic had the pleasure of serving Jordan a glorious L in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was the first time since 1990 that his season ended without a championship, and while I remember this moment fondly—I can neither confirm nor deny that I performed Shawn Michaels’ crotch chop in celebration—I remember thinking, “He’s gonna come back like a man possessed next season.” And that’s exactly what happened.
The day after the Magic whooped his ass, instead of taking a vacation and enjoying his offseason like a rational person, Jordan called up his trainer and got back to work—because of course, he did. He was hell-bent on improving his strength and undoing the damage that rigorous baseball training had done to his body, and even though he had a whole ass Space Jam movie to film that summer, he never let up. He demanded Warner Bros. build a regulation-sized basketball court and provide a gym, and when he wasn’t shooting his scenes, he was busting Reggie Miller and Juwan Howard’s asses in-between takes.
This otherworldly level of focus and discipline yielded huge dividends, because in his first full season back, the 1995-96 Bulls were arguably the most dominant NBA team ever, tearing the league a new asshole or seven and finishing with a 72-10 record.
In the NBA Finals, it was Seattle Supersonics legend Gary Payton’s job to stop Jordan. But after his coach, George Karl, pissed MJ off by snubbing him instead of greeting him, that mission proved to be very much impossible. The snub also had a lot to do with the Bulls taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the series because Jordan made it very clear he was out for blood.
“A lot of people back down to Mike. I didn’t,” Payton said. “I made it a point, I said, ‘Just tire him out. Tire the fuck out of him.’ You just gotta tire him out. And I kept hitting him and banging him, and hitting him and banging him. It took a toll on Mike.”
After enjoying a hearty laugh at Payton’s recollection, Jordan set the record straight.
“I had no problem with The Glove.”
Well, alrighty then.
After closing out the series 4-2 and securing his fourth NBA title in Chicago, Jordan took a moment from the on-court celebrations to remember the man who helped him get to that point—his father.
“I can’t even put it in words,” Jordan said at the time. “I know [my father’s] watching... This is for Daddy.”