The ninth episode of ESPN's documentary 'The Last Dance,' which profiles Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, aired on Sunday night. Here are five takeaways from the episode...
1. Last week's pair of episodes left us with quite the cliff-hanger, even though we technically knew the overarching result of what would happen next. It was Reggie Miller setting the stage for the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, saying he was looking forward to "retiring Michael Jordan."
We knew it was going to be good, but it was even better than expected. Because not only did the documentary go through the rivalry between Miller and Jordan, we heard some amazing stories of their on-court trash-talking.
Miller recalled when as a rookie he was outplaying Jordan. So, he went up to him and said "you're Michael Jordan, the guy who walks on water?"
Of course, that didn't end well. Jordan flipped a switch and dominated the Pacers en route to a win. And, naturally, Jordan found Miller after the game to offer the last word.
"Don't ever talk trash to Black Jesus," Jordan told Miller.
Miller said from that moment on he only referred to Jordan by his nicknames, including one not often used, the 'Black Cat.'
"I never called him Michael Jordan after that again," Miller said.
2. The meat of this episode chronicled the leadup to the 1997-98 season, now otherwise known as 'The Last Dance,' and that meant going through the previous NBA Finals when they faced the Utah Jazz for the first time. That series included the famous 'Flu Game,' which has long been the subject of conspiracy theories.
One of those theories was that he didn't have the flu, he instead had food poisoning from a pizza he ate the night before. That, it turns out, was right on the money as Jordan and those who were with him that night explained.
There are a lot of strange elements to the story, however. As they recalled, five delivery men showed up to hand over the pizza. They evidently knew Jordan was the recipient and wanted to get a glimpse of him.
First of all, how did they know the pizza was for Jordan? Was that expressed over the phone when the order was placed?
Also, the suggestion was that Jordan was essentially poisoned. If that is the case, wouldn't five guys showing up blow up their spot?
Also, doesn't five guys serve burgers and not pizza? Okay, that was a bad joke.
3. Also part of the Bulls-Jazz retrospective was an amazing tale of when Jordan realized he didn't like Bryon Russell, you know, the guy he made the famous shot over to win the 1998 title. Apparently, while Jordan was retired the first time and playing baseball, he went to the Bulls practice facility when the Jazz were in town to say hi to John Stockton and Karl Malone.
It was at that practice that Russell approached Jordan and basically called him a quitter, saying if he was still playing, that he could guard him.
"He was on my list after that," Jordan said, in example No. 1,382 of this documentary where he was slighted and later got revenge.
4. This episode featured one of the more powerful moments in the documentary series when we took a deep dive into Steve Kerr's backstory. It was a winding tale that began with Kerr explaining the mentorship he received from John Paxson and ended with Kerr making a clutch shot in the Finals, just as Paxson had done years prior for the Bulls.
But along the way, we heard from Kerr and his mother about the tragic death of his father. Kerr's father was a college professor and was assassinated in Beirut in 1984.
It was touching and poignant and included Kerr breaking down as he spoke. And he explained how it factored into the friendship he later had with Jordan, whose father was also murdered.
5. One feature of 'The Last Dance' has been different celebrities sharing their Jordan memories during commerical breaks. In Ep. 9, we heard from actor Joe Mantegna, who was most famous at the time for his role in 'Godfather III' and nowadays is more known for being on 'Criminal Minds.'
He's a moderately famous actor, but by no means an A-lister and that's why his story may have raised some eyebrows. He recalled how he had front row seats to a game between the Bulls and Raptors during the record-setting 1995-96 season. He got the tickets from his friend, Isiah Thomas.
As Mantegna told it, he was planning to go out after the game with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson, but the plans fell through when the Bulls lost one of the few games they lost that year.
Was he joking? Or, was Mantegna really on that level in the 90s?
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