Will ESPN's Michael Jordan documentary go all the way behind the scenes?

  • Bulls general manger Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson take in a team practice in May 1995 in Deerfield.

    Bulls general manger Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson take in a team practice in May 1995 in Deerfield. Associated Press

Updated 4/2/2020 2:05 PM

THE JOURNALISTIC CREDIBILITY of "The Last Dance" -- the sweeping 10-part "documentary" series on the final season of Michael Jordan with the Bulls -- will be established very quickly.

It will happen within the first 15 minutes or so of Episode 1 on ESPN, set to air April 19.


That credibility will hinge on the inclusion or exclusion of a single quote that framed the tone for that whole 1997-1998 championship season.

The quote involves a very direct statement that was made by the late Jerry Krause -- then the Bulls VP of basketball ops -- to head coach Phil Jackson in July 1997.

Jackson, Jordan, Scottie Pippen and all had just won a fifth NBA crown.

Krause was overflowing with an inner rage.

He was toxic over constantly being dismissed by NBA wise men, critical media and some organization members -- most prominently Jordan -- as marginally necessary to the team's transcendent glory.

So, in a one-on-one with Jackson, Krause said:

"You can go 82-and-(bleeping)-0 and you're not coming back.

"This is it for you and the Chicago Bulls."

Thus passes glory.

The exchange would not be reported by Bulls media, ahem, for a few months.

Jackson and agent Todd Musburger repeatedly emphasized its accuracy.

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If nothing else, the frigid sayonara prompted Jackson to coin the sobriquet "The Last Dance" for what did indeed prove to be the last dance of both he and Jordan with the Bulls.

Chances of that Krause mad-lib making it into the ESPN series?

Oh, a speculative insouciant would have it around 8 percent.

Instead, ESPN and associates -- including Jordan's Jump 23, NBA Entertainment, Netflix and Mandalay Sports Media -- will undoubtedly focus on touchy-triumphant with just enough basketball-oriented tension points to make the series gripping.

And let's face it -- visions of The Jordan That Was offer a transiting specter of relief from the ceaseless alarmism, dread and mounting sadnesses that currently engulf America.

ESPN and Netflix are the primary money behind the series.

NBA Entertainment had close to 200 hours of archived backstage video from the season that has never been used before.


Under the late Commissioner David Stern, the league subsidiary got in the rhythm of regularly requesting a top team or two each year allow special video access so that the NBA -- in the words of Stern -- "could document our history."

Not all have said "yes."

But Jordan and Jerry Reinsdorf were on board fairly quickly for 1997-98.

Jackson finally agreed to the special access in the lobby of a Paris hotel when the Bulls were visiting "The City of Light" in October 1997 for the preseason international McDonald's Open.

For "The Last Dance," Jordan and Jump 23 advisers reportedly retain complete final editorial approval, which is no surprise.

With more than 35 years in a remarkable global limelight, No. 23 is ferociously protective of all legally controllable elements of his image and branding.

Finally, there's Mandalay, which is part of the impressive sports and entertainment empire constructed by Peter Guber, the 78-year-old entrepreneur who is a principal owner of the Golden State Warriors.

Besides the Warriors and other sports interests, Guber has also been a key player in the production of such films as "Rain Man," the "Batman" franchise and "The Color Purple."

Cinema that he has been associated with has grossed close to $4 billion.

In other words, the production of "The Last Dance" may be a bit rushed. (A one-hour sampler scheduled for screening at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago six weeks ago was canceled.)

But with a genesis extending to 2017, it's no small-Air venture.

So expect touchy-triumphant with enough hoops-driven tensions to hold audience.

But "82-and-(bleeping)-0?"

Probably far too much bad blood still below the rims to include that.

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• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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