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Last Dance: What did we learn about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in episodes nine and 10?

Watch The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls on Netflix via your Sky Q box - all episodes are available now

Tuesday 19 May 2020 19:00, UK

Michael Jordan rises to the rim for a lay-up in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals
Image: Michael Jordan rises to the rim for a lay-up in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals

Broadcaster and NBA diehard Mark Webster reveals what he learned from the latest episodes of The Last Dance.

Jordan's Last Dance on Sky Q

Jordan's Last Dance on Sky Q

Watch The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary on the 1997-98 Bulls, on Netflix via your Sky Q box

British fans will recall Mark Webster as the face of NBA basketball on Channel 4 and Channel 5 back in the day. These days you can hear him discussing sporting matters on talkSPORT 2 and talking music on Five Live on Saturday nights.

You can hear Mark on his new series, Jonny Owen and Friends, which starts on talkSPORT 2 on Sunday May 24, 9am-11am.

Here Mark gives us his takeaways from episodes nine and 10 of The Last Dance.

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The Last Shot? A bit of genius

Michael Jordan fires 'The Last Shot' in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals
Image: Jordan fires 'The Last Shot' in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals

If a Finals game needed a heightened sense of drama, it would be a new way of Jordan finding a way to overcome adversity and win.

He did just that in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, with his wingman (Pippen) way short of full fitness because of a back injury and him having to carry the team. Also, if the Bulls lose Game 6 to Utah, the odds were strongly against them bouncing back and winning a Game 7.

Michael Jordan shoots a free throw in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals 0:34
Check out an alternative angle of The Last Shot sequence, Michael Jordan's storybook ending to his Bulls career that earned the team their sixth NBA championship

Jordan had to carry everything at that particular juncture. It was almost a case of him asking himself, 'In what way haven't I stunningly won a game single-handedly before?' and then making it happen. Calling it a Hollywood script feels laboured, but that is exactly what it felt like.

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Commentator Bob Costas reflected on Jordan's lay-up, steal on Karl Malone and game-winning shot over Byron Russell in the final 41 seconds of Game 6 was "one of the greatest sequences you will ever see in any sport".

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Shooting the game-winner over Russell was apt, too. We'd already seen Jordan reveal that Russell had "been on my list" since 1995 after trash-talking him during his retirement.

I remember in Jordan's first full season after baseball, he consistently refused to get Russell's name right, deliberately referring to him as 'Byron', not Bryon. He would never, ever get his name right in press conferences and interviews!

Michael Jordan shoots a turnaround fadeaway jumpshot over Charlotte Hornets defender Bobby Phills 2:10
Skills coach Gary Maitland explains how Michael Jordan was able to execute his iconic turnaround jumper

Jordan knew how he would win the game. He had two options in front of him, he could drive or he could pull up. The beauty of it was he offered Utah both options and they weren't sure which one it was going to be, thus creating the space Jordan needed for that famous 'Last Shot'. It was a bit of genius.

Flu Game? It's actually the Pizza Game

Michael Jordan shows his fatigue and frustration during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals
Image: Michael Jordan shows his fatigue and frustration during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals

Episode nine gave us a vivid description of Jordan's 'Flu Game' in the 1997 NBA Finals that we'd never heard before. And now we know we'll have to start referring to it as the 'Pizza Game' after Jordan and his trainer Tim Grover revealed a delivery pizza as the true cause of his symptoms.

I love the symbolism of five guys turning up to deliver the food, like the restaurant's basketball team had turned up to nobble MJ with a 12-inch family-size pizza. I like to think the pizza was delivered late because they'd been discussing the best way to tamper with it!

Michael Jordan is hugged by Bulls team-mate Scottie Pippen 2:11
Relive all the action as the Chicago Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals

Jordan played 44 minutes in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals the following night. Scoop Jackson and I were at the game watching from a brilliant position at halfcourt - a very rare treat - and you could see how ill Jordan was from where we were sitting.

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Jordan looked grey and green, like everything had drained out of his body. He was clutching the bottom of his shorts, gasping for air at every possible moment. Jordan shouldn't have been out there and he played for longer than he would have done if he had been fully fit. And, of course, he scored 38 points and led the Bulls to a famous win.

Kerr carries Bulls legacy in modern NBA

Steve Kerr protects the ball against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals
Image: Steve Kerr protects the ball against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals

My favourite segment from the two final episodes was the part focusing on Steve Kerr. Up until now, we've had the stories of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson and we feel like we know them. In episode nine we got the incredible story of Kerr, his family, the death of his father and his journey from an NBA also-ran to a Bulls role player who upped his game.

Kerr was extraordinarily eloquent throughout The Last Dance but here you also realise that he is the only member of that Bulls roster carrying on the team's legacy in the modern NBA. He is the man (at least partly) responsible for the success of the Golden State Warriors, the greatest team we have seen since the 1990s Bulls. Whether you agree with that or not, the Warriors have been crucial to the modern NBA.

Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr celebrates the Bulls' victory in the NBA Finals 1:00
Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr tell the story of their infamous fight at a Bulls practice

Another favourite Kerr moment? The speech he gave at the Bulls championship rally about his title-clinching game-winner in the 1997 Finals where he jokingly claimed he'd taken the shot because Jordan wasn't very comfortable in those situations! That was as good a bit of stand-up comedy as you could wish to see.

Add to that the fantastic footage where we saw Jordan telling Kerr to "be ready" before his chance came to win that Finals game. Kerr responded "I'll be ready" while coming off like an eager 14-year-old!

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On every single level, we got to see the immensity of Kerr as a human being through The Last Dance. The kind of person he was, how life shaped him into that kind of person and, most of all, who he is now and what he means to the game. You can't underestimate him as a player back then and as a coach now.

'Time to go'

Phil Jackson shares a word with Michael Jordan in the 1997 NBA Finals
Image: Phil Jackson shares a word with Jordan during the NBA Finals

The aftermath of the sixth championship was satisfying, albeit in a downbeat way, with the lovely story about all the players writing down their feelings about the team and burning the notes together in a Buddhist ritual.

Jordan described the opportunity of going for a seventh title as "maddening" but Jackson said he felt it was "time to go" and he was right. Jordan insisted all the players could have come back on one-year deals but, you know what, not everyone is as driven (or rich) as him.

Reggie Miller guards Michael Jordan in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals 3:59
Relive all the drama as the Chicago Bulls took on the Indiana Pacers in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals

I don't think we get to watch The Last Dance now if the 1998 Bulls return to defend the title the following year. Instead, there is no last fight to tarnish their legacy. If they had tried once more and failed, we wouldn't be watching what I think is the best sports documentary series that has ever been made. It's up there at the top with 'When We Were Kings' in terms of sports documentary filmmaking.

'MJ and Pippen turned into fanboys before my eyes'

Michael Jordan  and Scottie Pippen in action for the Chicago Bulls during the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals
Image: Jordan and Pippen in action for the Chicago Bulls during the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals

My own favourite experiences of being there and seeing the 90s Bulls first hand? Aside from Jordan finding a way to win after eating a family-size pizza coated with God knows what, the thing that lingers is a moment from that same 1997 Finals series in the bowels of Chicago's United Center arena.

I saw Jordan and Pippen chatting in a corner, then stop and stare - in the same way I would stare at them - as Muhammad Ali walked past them.

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The two biggest superstars in basketball became 'fanboys' before my very eyes, whispering to one another as Ali went by. That will do for me!

You can hear Mark on his new series, Jonny Owen and Friends, which starts on talkSPORT 2 on Sunday May 24, 9am-11am.

Watch The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls on Netflix via your Sky Q box - all episodes are available now

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