Insiders fill out story of "The Last Dance"
Without any sports being played, the first two episodes of "The Last Dance" documentary about the 1997-1998 Bulls captured the nation's attention.
To help prepare you for Sunday's second installment, here's a recap of some insider interviews that occurred this week. The comments are from Golden State head coach Steve Kerr on "The Lowe Post" podcast with Zach Lowe, former Bulls coach Tim Floyd on the "Off the Bench" radio show in New Orleans, and bulls.com writer Sam Smith on the "Full 48" podcast with Howard Beck.
Last Sunday's second episode focused heavily on Scottie Pippen, and his rise from basketball manager at Central Arkansas to NBA All-Star. Kerr, a backup shooting guard on the '97-'98 Bulls, agrees that Pippen was underappreciated.
Kerr: "I think one of the reasons Scottie was beloved, not only by Michael (Jordan), but all of us, was because he was such a perfect complement to Michael. Michael was the hardass. He was the guy who was coming at you and you had to be ready every single day for his criticism, for his force, his intimidation.
"Scottie was the one who balanced everything out. He was the guy who would put his arm around you and make sure you were OK with all the difficulty you had to face being a member of that team. Scottie was beloved by everybody, including Michael, but he was also just a phenomenal basketball player."
Another focus of the opening episodes was longtime Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who passed away in 2017, and whether he played a role in breaking up the team. Michael Jordan is shown in the documentary insulting Krause, something he did often.
Smith: "First of all, what you have to understand, Jerry Krause did not run the Bulls, just as no GM you know runs any team. Ownership runs every team and ownership makes the final decision, much as Jerry Reinsdorf did by overruling Jerry Krause's suggestion they trade Scottie Pippen to Boston in '97."
Kerr: "I think everybody had their own Jerry Krause moment and everybody was upset with him in one way or another. He just had that skill somehow of (ticking) everybody off. (The trash talk from MJ) really got uncomfortable, but I wasn't going to say anything to Michael. Nobody was going to say anything to Michael. That's one of those things where you kind of leave that one alone. This is Michael Jordan. He gets to say whatever he wants. This is his team. He's got his own beef with Jerry, so we weren't going to step in, but it was definitely uncomfortable."
Krause hired Phil Jackson out of the CBA to be a Bulls assistant in 1987. Krause thought he'd found the next great undiscovered coaching talent when he watched Floyd, then the coach at University of New Orleans, during trips to scout Louisiana Tech forward Randy White.
Floyd: "Jerry always had a coach in his pocket. I'm sure the day he hired me he had a coach in his pocket, who he would hire (next). Anyhow, he started calling me. It started out once a week and ended up the last four or five years being every day and sometimes twice a day, and they would be hourlong conversations. In 1989, he wanted me to fly to the Bulls training camp and start running the triangle offense (at UNO). I said, 'No, I'm not doing that. I have no interest in doing that.' "
Floyd said the Bulls flew him to Seattle during the 1996 NBA Finals so Floyd could meet chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Floyd: "Jerry Reinsdorf and I ended up walking around downtown Seattle. We're walking and he basically said, 'Look, Krause wants Phil gone this year. He thinks Pippen's breaking down, his back. He thinks this team has run its course. He doesn't want to overpay these players and they're coming up on their contract years. He wants to move them before their contracts are up, where we can still get value for them and he can start to rebuild.' Jerry Reinsdorf was torn because they're winning, but Jerry Krause wanted it over and done with so that he could go back and basically take all the credit for the next rebuild.
The Bulls held off on hiring Floyd, but when Jackson agreed to return for the 1997-98 season, it was with the understanding it would be his final season with the Bulls.
Smith: "Phil's parents were Pentecostal ministers and Phil treated his team, in a lot of respects, like his congregation. He always had this view, with his parents, after seven years, your congregation is not listening as much and you're not having as much of an impact. He had always said he was not going to coach more than that ('97-'98 was Jackson's ninth season).
"Michael realizes organically this thing is over, but what a way to get the public sentiment and find something to fight against all season when he's worn out from these two incredible years. I think they both realized this was it, but what an opportunity Krause has dropped in their lap, to call this they're breaking it up and poor us and we're going to fight against management.
"I think they schemed this whole thing, this morality play to play out at the end. I can understand why ESPN hooked on that, because it was a great hook. But when you look back at it logically, how are you going to come back, with Scottie Pippen clearly gone (as a free agent), Dennis Rodman completely over the edge. Who's Michael playing with after that? How at his age was he going to carry this load even more? It's really inconceivable to suggest they were still a championship team."
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