Just like MJ did in Laney High and Scottie did in Hamburg High, the SLAM PH Team will be doing a “Book Report” on each week’s drop of The Last Dance. Here’s the report on episodes 9 and 10
Over the course of the 1990s, the Chicago Bulls were defined by an iconic instrumental which served as their theme song during introductions. Sirius by the Alan Parsons Project was a perfect companion not only for its musical excellence, but also for what it meant.
Sirius, a word derived from a Greek word which also meant “glowing” or “scorching”, is described as the brightest star in the night sky. It’s only apt Chicago used a song which borrowed the same name as their intro music. The Bulls have long been accepted as the team of the ‘90s. It’s a fact at this point; a piece of information the current generation wildly accepts.
Because of this fact, the ‘90s Bulls have long been considered as a mythical figure that bulldozed past the league with ease. Six rings in six tries; it was excellence personified.
Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell you the whole story. That’s what the last pair of episodes of The Last Dance do for us. They eloquently narrate to us the vulnerability of the Chicago Bulls, while also painting an image of an icon that truly deserves to be called the biggest star of its era.
The ‘90s Bulls were most at risk during the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals when they went up against Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. Aside from the Bulls looking visibly beat up after years of playing, Indiana had a legitimately good team led by Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. This was Chicago’s Last Dance and Miller was salivating at the idea of the Pacers taking the Bulls off the dance floor.
Even though they fell 2-0 early in the series, the Pacers pulled it together and forced battled back during Games 3 and 4. It was a back-and-forth affair which culminated in a Game 7, only the second time the Bulls were forced into do-or-die during their entire run in the ‘90s. Reggie’s dream of eliminating the Bulls was close to becoming reality.
“We had the better team, I really do believe that,” said Miller regarding that classic series. But Chicago Bulls were the icons of that era for a reason. “Championship DNA and championship experience really rose to the forefront in Game 7 for Chicago.”
The term championship DNA is thrown around to describe players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan. But there has been a grave misconception that to have this DNA, you have to be selfish. As a matter of fact, players who have this DNA possess a very important trait; trust in their teammates.
You can’t have the Chicago Bulls without Michael Jordan, but you also can’t have Jordan without the Bulls. Jordan, while he was very harsh as a leader, he always had good intentions. He wanted his teammates to be better. You couldn’t doubt his methods, because there were results.
“Over the period of getting to the Finals, there were moments there were other guys who really expanded their games,” said Jordan. One of which was Steve Kerr, the gritty kid out of Arizona who had been an underdog his whole life.
Steve was drafted with the 50th pick during the 1988 NBA Draft. He jumped around teams during the early part of his career but by 1993, he had found a niche Chicago. He was a shooter; someone who could space the floor for his more talented teammates. He needed to position himself well and be ready to shoot. It’s an art that required plenty of practice. His grind finally bore fruit during the 1997 Finals versus Utah.
With the game tied at 86, Chicago was expected to get the ball to Michael to help them seal championship number five. But Michael thought ahead and told Steve to be ready for a possible kick out pass. “I’ll be ready!” exclaimed Steve during the timeout.
It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to do it. Kerr put his words into action as he nailed the dagger which clinched Chicago its fifth championship in seven years.
A similar moment happened during Game 7 versus Indiana, when Kerr made a big three to tie the game at 77 with six minutes left in the game. “Steve Kerr hit the biggest shot of that series,” acknowledged Miller. “To me, that’s where everything went downhill for us.” The Bulls would ride the wave and survive Indiana to advance to the 1998 Finals against Utah.
Those moments wouldn’t have happened without Michael’s trust in Kerr and Kerr’s trust in Michael. Champions need to trust their teammates, as difficult as that may be.
With trust also comes the second trait those with championship DNA possess: defiance. It’s having the unrivaled belief that you can do something despite the circumstances. We were witness to that with Scottie Pippen during Game 6 of the 1998 Finals.
After a dunk to open the game, Pippen’s back gave out and he was essentially immobile right after. It was an injury that would have knocked anyone else out, but not Pippen. After receiving some treatment in the locker room, he grimaced back to the court and gave whatever he could to help clinch championship number six,
“Anybody that would have a notion and said Pippen was soft player is patently absurd,” said Chip Schaeffer, a trainer of the Bulls. “I know so many players who would have tapped out in that situation without hesitation and he was going to just throw it out there and finish it no matter what.”
Whether it be acting as a screener to free up Michael or playing weakside defense against Karl Malone, Pippen gave whatever he had on the basketball court, bad back be damned. It’s what champions do. They refuse to accept defeat, even if their body is telling them to give up.
Kerr embodied trusting one’s teammates. Scottie showcased defiance. There was one player who showcased both. This all leads to Jordan, the player many consider as the ultimate champion.
At that point, in Game 6 against Utah, MJ was beat up. “Even Superman apparently gets tired,” eloquently said Bob Costas during the final three minutes of that classic. It wouldn’t have surprised us if the Bulls had just rolled over and called it a day after Karl Malone extended the Utah lead to 83-79 with two minutes left in the game.
But Jordan wouldn’t have any of it. He was defiant and he had to repay the trust his teammates had for him. He trusted them to do their jobs before, now he trusted that they’d get out of the way and let his Airness go to work.
He scored the last eight points of Chicago in that Game 6 but none more important than the last two. We all know about The Last Shot, but what isn’t talked about enough is The Last Steal. Before he could even pull-up for arguably the most iconic shot in NBA history, he stole the ball out of Karl Malone’s hands first.
It was a sequence that quintessential Jordan. The steal perfectly represented his intelligence. The shot showcased how he may be the greatest assassin in NBA history. It was brutal yet magnificent. It was peak Michael Jordan.
It was only fitting that the one who wrote the last sentence of the story of this Chicago Bulls dynasty was the same player who started this entire run. “We went from a shitty team to one of the all-time best dynasties,” said Jordan. “All you need was one match to start that whole fire.”
That match was Jordan. He lit that fire not with his talent and dominance but with his sheer desire to win. “It starts with hope,” explained Jordan. With hope, everything else followed suit. The blossoming of Scottie Pippen. The toughness of Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman. The grit of John Paxson and Steve Kerr. The unique artistry of Phil Jackson. The excellence of the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls were indeed Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky that was the 1990s. Even the largest of stars can die. The Bulls were no exception to that. They weren’t some mythical figure. They were real. The death of massive stars can trigger the birth of other stars. After the Bulls came the Spurs. Then the Lakers. More and more teams followed suit.
The 1998 run of the Bulls wasn’t the end. If anything, it was the beginning of something far more beautiful for basketball. They should also be remembered as the team which showcased the epitome of excellence and inspired others to do the same.
The Last Dance Report
Episode 1 & 2: Turbulence in the Air
Episode 3 & 4: The Beautiful Marriage of the Bulls and the Triangle
Episode 5 & 6: The Difference Between Being like Mike and Being Mike
Episode 7 & 8: The Trials of a Mortal Man