From chatting up James Jordan to defending Pippen, McDill shares 'Last Dance' insight
Former Daily Herald sports writer Kent McDill was the only full-time, traveling beat writer who covered the entire Bulls' championship run. He joins Mike McGraw to share his memories and insights based on Episodes 7 and 8 of "The Last Dance" documentary.
MM: My favorite scene might have been the very beginning, that news conference where Jerry Krause says, "There's no backstabbing going on," and storms off. Then someone says, "Way to go Craig," referring to the late, great Craig Sager, who asked the question. I wasn't at that one, but feel like I lived that scene a few times.
Overall, I thought a couple things stood out. One was the segment that focused on how hard Michael Jordan was on his teammates. We heard a lot about that in "The Jordan Rules," but do you remember how much that was an issue while covering the team every day?
KM: When they were at the Multiplex, we saw all of practice until I think Doug Collins put up a curtain at one point. Once they moved into the Berto Center, we didn't get to see any of practice. But all the stories came out. The Will Perdue incident and the Steve Kerr incident were the most famous because there was actual injury involved.
There was no question talking to anybody, Jordan was the motivator of everything that happened. I've said before, when he came back in '95, he was more driven than he was before. Before he retired initially, there was a fun-loving aspect to Michael. When he came back, he was still able to enjoy himself, but there was a sharp cheddar attitude his behavior. Everything was pointed. He was really driven.
I thought the Scott Burrell stuff was interesting and that was new. Scott was a nice guy and I felt bad for him because he was the guy who had to play against Michael in all those practices. But how much time did they spend on Burrell and I don't remember writing any more than an article or two about him. I thought it was funny that issue was such an accent.
MM: The stuff about Michael's father seemed to hit hard. Especially him collapsing in the training room after winning the title in '96. I remember that scene was being shown live on the scoreboard at the United Center when it happened, but I don't know if we'd ever heard the audio of him sobbing.
KM: There's no question James was a big part of Michael's life. He was around all the time. I talked to James as much as I talked to Michael in some cases. We spent more time in the same room. That was really hard when people wanted to suggest that Michael was retiring because it was a secret suspension. By saying that, people were saying Michael wasn't torn up by the death of his father. To me, that's just unbelievably offensive.
People who suggested gambling played a role, there was absolutely no proof of that. That was 30 years ago and nobody has come out with any proof it was a gambling suspension. That was a really rough time. We were covering what was going on with Mike from a distance, because he wasn't around, and covering the team as it tried to pick up the pieces. The fact that the '93- '94 team was competitive was a pretty incredible story.
MM: To follow up on Jordan's dad, were there times when he was hanging around in the same spot as the reporters? How often was he within range of you guys?
KM: He was more around at games than he was at practices. They allowed him to sit in the training room at the Berto. But we saw him all the time walking the hallways. There weren't a lot of places to hide at the Stadium, so he was always there. He was always looking for somebody to talk to, a very gregarious guy. If he didn't have Michael to talk to, he was looking for somebody else.
MM: And he was very willing to chat you up?
KM: We didn't talk so much about Michael. We talked a lot about baseball. We talked a lot about the weather. He was not happy Michael was in Chicago because of the weather. He never did get accustomed to that. He was as approachable as you can imagine.
MM: I thought they kind of screwed Scottie Pippen on Sunday. They went heavy on the 1.8 seconds during the '94 playoffs, but they never mentioned the Hue Hollins phantom foul in Game 5 that could have won that Knicks series.
KM: Amazing. I think Scottie lied when he said he would do the same thing again. If he knew how it was going to end up, he would never have done what he did. I thought it was cool that they talked about Bill Cartwright's speech. I remember writing about that. I was a big proponent of Cartwright. We sat next to each other on the bus, back when I was allowed to ride the bus, and talked about all sorts of things.
Being a person who sort of has to defend Scottie in conversations on a regular basis because everybody wants to bring up the 1.8 -- I really wish it hadn't happened. I felt horrible for Scottie. Also that night, the big part of the story was Toni Kukoc coming through for the team, his ability to perform in big moments. The information about the 1.8 came out a day or two later. I still to this day wish that hadn't happened.
MM: A pretty huge "what if" from these episodes is what if the Bulls re-signed Horace Grant? Then Dennis Rodman never arrives. At the time, Horace probably thought he was getting out when the getting was good. He ended up missing the Bulls' next three titles, Shaquille O'Neal left Orlando and Horace ended up finishing his career as kind of a journeyman.
KM: I thought Horace was good, talking about him ending up with the Magic. It was cool to see him lifted up after they won that series in '95 and he was hilarious talking about the next year and what little chance the Magic had in the Eastern Conference finals.
My son Kyle is a huge Dennis Rodman fan. When they started talking about the 1996 Finals against Seattle, he said, "If they don't mention Dennis Rodman's rebounding numbers, I'm going to be really ticked." I looked it up, he had 20 rebounds in one game, 19 in another and twice tied the record for offensive rebounds in a Finals game with 11.
MM: It seemed like they went out of their way to pay homage to Gary Payton. It was like, "Oh, George Karl finally put Payton on Jordan and it turned the series around." I don't remember that being much of a factor. The Sonics were down 3-0 and the Bulls won Game 6 easily.
KM: I don't remember it being much of a series. What I remember is spending a week in Seattle and it never rained. Also, I missed the first game of the Seattle series because my twins, Dan and Lindsey, were born on June 5. Lindsey spent five days in the hospital because she was under weight, which happens a lot with twins.
Everyone on the team knew I had twins coming and the one guy who cared the most was Ron Harper, because he has a twin brother Don. He was really upset that the names didn't rhyme. He was absolutely convinced twin names should rhyme.
MM: He's right.
KM: Lindsey gets out of the hospital and she's fine. After the win in Game 6, I go into the locker room and wanted to talk to the guys who hadn't won a title before, like Luc Longley and Steve Kerr and Kukoc. I went up to Ron Harper and said congratulations and the first thing out of his mouth was, "How's Lindsey?" That's just amazing to me. I will quote that story as long as I live.
MM: He should have given you (grief) about the names not rhyming.