Jordan leaves "The Last Dance" open-ended

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Michael Jordan takes the game-winning shot in the closing seconds of Game 6 of an NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City to give the Bulls their sixth NBA Championship.

    Michael Jordan takes the game-winning shot in the closing seconds of Game 6 of an NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City to give the Bulls their sixth NBA Championship. Associated Press file/June 14, 1998

 
 
Updated 5/18/2020 8:22 PM

Former Daily Herald sports writer Kent McDill was the only full-time, traveling beat writer who worked through the entire Bulls' championship run. He joins Mike McGraw to share his memories and insights based on Episodes 9 and 10 of "The Last Dance" documentary.

MM: Well, the big news from Sunday's episodes was Michael Jordan kind of getting the last word in on Jerry Krause, and how he seemed sad that the Bulls didn't keep it going after 1998.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

KM: You wonder if that was written for him.

MM: It felt to me like Michael was thinking about an idealized past. But you can see how much he misses competition. I stumbled across the video of him playing Corey Benjamin 1-on-1 in '99 and obviously he still had the talent to play in the NBA, which he then proved with the Wizards. But you wonder if he'd like to trade those two years with the Wizards for two more seasons with the Bulls.

KM: The problem with that is it doesn't close out the conversation. I saw ESPN Radio's Marc Silverman actually tweeted out, "Now I'm ticked again." It doesn't allow us any closure and we had a chance for closure, because Scottie Pippen said Jerry Krause had to be considered the best general manager at the end of his wrapup, and then Phil Jackson said it was time to end.

Had we ended the show with those two statements, then maybe we could have had a sense of closure, but then Michael came back and said what he said and just reopened the wounds all over again.

MM: I'd say even with everything that was said, the Bulls still came across as being a little cheap. Jerry Reinsdorf talked about not wanting to give long-term contracts to anybody. Today, a lot of teams just sign their star to a big deal and figure they can trade him down the road if they need.

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Why couldn't they just re-sign Scottie Pippen, and then when Michael retired, they trade him or keep going with Scottie and Toni Kukoc as the main guys, try to build around existing pieces rather than build from scratch?

KM: I don't see how they could have gone on in any kind of real-world sense if Krause and Phil Jackson had to work together. So let's say Phil was gone. If Phil's gone, Michael's gone. Scottie and Toni were a few years younger than Michael. But Dennis Rodman was at the end of his career. Ron Harper stuck around, but I don't know how effective he was.

I just don't know how appealing that would have been. Scottie had already gone through the "Trying to win without Michael" thing. Would it have been Toni's team? As horrible as the 1998-99 team was, I think trying to hold on to the magic might have been more painful.

MM: Sam Smith likes to say it ended at the perfect time, and if they'd gone one more year and missed the playoffs or lost in the second round, now what does the story look like? It's also hard to defend Jerry Krause at the end, because there were so many things that went wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

First, we know now that the post-'98 rebuild was a total failure. His Tim Floyd idea didn't work. He missed on a couple of draft picks that should have been easy -- Michael Finley in '95 and Rashard Lewis in '98. That could have made it easier to keep things going, with an infusion of younger talent.

Then there's the puzzle of Krause is the GM, Phil's the coach -- why do they hate each other?

It makes no sense. Phil's winning. Just leave him alone. If Krause didn't like getting picked on by Michael, just stay off the team plane and team bus.

KM: It's a weird balance because in one angle, it's nice that Bulls team ended as winners. You just don't know what their legend would have been had they played to the point where they lost. At some point, there would have been a passing of the torch, and is that something we wanted to see?

The other angle is Jerry Krause painted himself into a corner from which he couldn't escape. His declaration that it was going to be the last year with Phil, to me made it impossible for Phil to have any self-respect by continuing to work with Krause another year.

So let's say Krause forced out Phil with Reinsdorf's blessing -- that put Krause in a position to do what I'm sure he wanted to do, which was prove he could do it all over again without Michael. He just found out that he couldn't, which makes his declaration sad and painful.

MM: Anything else stand out to you?

KM: My sons and I argued over the desire to make Steve Kerr the fourth-most important player on the team. But I did enjoy the look at his situation with his father. I thought the interviewer did a nice job of asking the question whether Steve and Michael had ever talked about the fact that their fathers were both murdered.

And finding out that conversation never took place, not that one could write a script where one of them says, "Hey, I heard your dad got murdered. Want to talk about it?" It was a point that I don't know if anybody ever considered, so I thought that was pretty cool.

MM: It was kind of chilling to see Malcolm Kerr talk about taking the job at American University of Beirut after his predecessor had been kidnapped.

KM: When they got to the Finals against Utah, I mentioned to my sons just be ready in case they talk about the fact that Karl Malone was MVP in '97. The big news back then was Terry Armour, John Jackson and I all voted for Malone.

The Deseret News interviewed everybody who had a vote and came up with Malone as the winner before the league announced it. They mentioned that the three writers from Chicago voted for Malone.

I was the only one of the three who had the opportunity to write a column explaining why. So I ended up having a conversation with Jordan about it and, just like Sunday, he was fine with it. It ended up being a motivation for him.

A lot has been made about how they didn't mention Scottie Pippen's one-liner, which was really amazing with all the pre-pub it got, for him walking past Malone when he was shooting the free throws in the first game of the '97 Finals and saying, "The Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays." It's really amazing they didn't use that since it's such a great line.

MM: Yeah, they left a few of Scottie's good moments on the cutting-room floor. Maybe it will show up in the outtakes.

KM: I wonder why Malone wasn't interviewed. I read that Stockton did not want to be interviewed because he didn't want to be involved in a kiss-up-to-Jordan documentary. But I thought he did a pretty good job of representing the Jazz.

Note: Director Jason Hehir has said Malone and Bryon Russell declined to be interviewed.

MM: They also left out Rodman insulting Mormons. I remember that being a huge story during one of the Finals.

KM: At least they gave us Dennis' wrestling performance. I don't remember that being that big of a deal. At that point, you couldn't call anything Dennis did unexpected.

The question I asked at the very beginning of this documentary was, 'Is this it now? Are we done talking about the six-time champion Bulls?' But then Chicago still hasn't given up on the '85 Bears, so I don't know if that's the case.

MM: Yeah, Bill Wennington will be a hero for the rest of his life, no doubt.

• 

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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