Now that the NFL Draft is over, “The Last Dance” is needed even more to feed the world’s appetite for sports content. The fifth and sixth episodes of the 10-part docu-series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dove into the 1992 and 1993 NBA Finals, the “Dream Team,” and more so than any episode before, Michael Jordan off the court.
Adidas was one of the biggest losers last night. Per Jordan’s agent David Falk, when Jordan was a rookie, Converse and Adidas were much higher on his wish list than Nike. In fact, Jordan didn’t even want to meet with Nike.
When Falk, working for ProServ, started representing Jordan, he wanted to “take a team-sport player and treat them more like a golfer or a boxer.” Falk wanted Jordan to have his own shoe. Nike had just created their “Air Sole Technology,” and “Air Jordan,” was born from that.
Converse was the biggest brand for the NBA before Jordan, but they told him they could not “envision putting you ahead of them,” Jordan said.
Adidas, Jordan’s top choice, was too dysfunctional to support financing a specialized shoe for him. Twitter let them have it during the episode.
Adidas & Converse had MJ and let him go. What’s that, a 50 Billion dollar mistake ? Or more ?
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) May 4, 2020
Jordan did not even want to hear Nike’s offer. His mother, Deloris, made him get on the plane to listen to their pitch. This was probably Nike’s smartest move. Falk said their goal was to make “$3 million in sales of Jordan shoes in the first year. Instead, they made $126 million.”
Converse offered MJ $100,000 a year.
Nike offered MJ $500,000 a year.
Adidas, MJ’s favored brand, never even presented him with an offer.
My account of the why… pic.twitter.com/2DYXnw7UCy
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) May 4, 2020
According to Forbes, Nike has paid Jordan around $1.3 billion since they first linked up in 1984.
Episode 5 also recapped the 1992 NBA Finals between Chicago and the Portland Trailblazers. Blazers star Clyde Drexler had compared himself to Jordan, and Jordan took it personally throughout the series, en route to back-to-back championships. Multiple interviewees throughout the documentary have said how easily motivated Jordan was and still is.
After the Bulls won in ‘92, Jordan and the “Dream Team” headed to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Games. Once there, Jordan and Scottie Pippen acquired a new target, a favorite of GM Jerry Krause. In their opening game of the Olympics, USA played Croatia, led by 1990 Bulls draft pick Toni Kukoc, who was still playing overseas professionally.
Kukoc was highly sought after by the Bulls GM and the players knew it. In Barcelona, before the matchup, Jordan told the locker room for everyone to leave Kukoc alone on the court and he and Pippen went to work. Pippen and Jordan held Kukoc to just four points and five assists.
After the game, USA forward Charles Barkley said, “they showed (Krause) if anyone was gonna get paid in Chicago, it’s gonna be Pippen.”
If Krause liked somebody, Jordan made it his mission to establish unequivocal dominance over him. Kukoc was targeted for no reason other than Jordan sticking up for his Pippen in essentially an optional tournament.
In another highlight of episode five, the late Kobe Bryant was featured near the top of the hour, spotlighting his relationship with Jordan.
At Bryant’s memorial at the Staples Center in February, Jordan took the podium in a rare public appearance.
“Kobe was my dear friend, he was like a little brother,” Michael Jordan said at the memorial service at Staples Center in Los Angeles to the thousands in attendance https://t.co/G8dM5vM0Zk pic.twitter.com/ibgq8I1FcI
— TIME (@TIME) February 24, 2020
Those who are too young to remember the Bulls’ legendary tear through the ‘90s saw his off-the-court side they can’t find on stat sheets or in highlights. This was highlighted Sunday night. Everyone from former president Barack Obama to former Chicago Tribune writer Sam Smith had something to say about Jordan’s life outside of basketball.
These episodes also checked off the famous, or infamous, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” statement. Former President Obama, and others, touched on the difficulties of being an African American role model that is constantly under public scrutiny. Jordan stuck by his statement, claiming he did not want to comment on things he did not know about.
Jordan’s gambling was also thoroughly looked into last night. One of the specific events mentioned was the night Jordan and his father took off to Atlantic City the night before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks, a game the Bulls dropped to put them in an 0-2 hole in the series. The media was quick to jump on Jordan, blaming the gambling until the wee hours of the morning as the reason why the Bulls lost, and questioned whether Jordan was truly invested in winning.
Jordan stressed that he “never bet on basketball games” but he would often bet on himself on the golf course over the course of episode six. He tried to make clear that it was not a gambling problem but a “competitive problem” and that if it was a gambling problem, he would have been far poorer than he was.
Magic Johnson and former Bulls point guard James Paxson had fun telling some card game stories. Paxson explained how Jordan usually bet large amounts of money in the back of the plane, but he would sometimes head to the front to try to steal some cash off of Paxson’s dollar blackjack games.
Charles Barkley told Scott van Pelt after the episodes aired that Jordan and Magic would always try to go for the pot every single night during the 1992 Olympics.
One of the main storylines for episodes seven and eight will almost assuredly be Jordan’s first retirement. It was made clear Sunday night that the media drove him crazy, but it remains to be seen if that is the main reason Jordan originally called it quits. The Athletic’s David Aldridge said Magic Johnson told members of the media “you guys are going to drive (Jordan) out of this game,” during these past episodes.
“The Last Dance” episodes seven and eight are airing Sunday, May 10 at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on ESPN. Last night’s episodes can be found on ESPN.com.