RECAP | THE LAST DANCE EP.02
The final episode of The Last Dance might be over, but the spirit of the story will last forever. Charlie is back with his recap of episode two, taking us through the number two player on the Bulls, a three-step system Jerry Krause uses to build a basketball team, and four inches of difference between himself and Michael Jordan.
It’s clear to me now that episode two of The Last Dance is to be known forever more as the coronation of Scottie Pippen – King of the sports coat. May his reign be as long as his sleeves, and his people be as rich as the textures on his jackets.
Despite staying in the background over the course of episode one, Scottie was rocking an exceptional houndstooth jacket while accepting his championship ring in one of his only appearances thus far. An outfit choice we come to understand in this latest instalment of the Bulls Dynasty. In the early stages of episode two we saw some more footage of that night, this time laced with indications that basketball’s greatest Robin wanted to become a fully-fledged Dark Knight and leave the Bulls in the rear-view mirror of his Batmobile.
I’m a fan of the data driven side of basketball and one of the key tenants of this philosophy is exceedingly simple. Step 1: get good player. Step 2: pay good player as little as possible. Step 3: repeat. For all his flaws as a human being, Jerry Krause sure was good at turning this process into an art. The pièce de résistance of this strategy was Bulls’ number two – Scottie Pippen. To me and you, $18 million sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but, for that $18 million to be split over a seven-year professional basketball contract is an absolutely terrible business contract for any NBA player. Over the course of this deal Pippen was the 6th highest paid Bull. This means if they only started the highest earners on the team, Scottie would ride the pine. A man that has gone down as a transcendent defensive talent, not only in his era but in the history of the league, was at the time the 122nd highest paid player in the league. For context, in the 2019-20 season alone players like Julius Randle, Otto Porter and Tristan Thompson all earned more than Pippen did across his 7-year contract. One of the most emotional parts in this episode is the reason why Scottie signed this deal.
Pippen’s origin story is not one filled with highlights, in fact it comes from a lot of struggle and a need to provide for his family. They didn’t know it at the time, but the Pippen’s were poor. Pippen’s family environment was cluttered with a dozen children running around the house as well as unfortunate tragedy. His father had a stroke when Pippen was only a kid, losing his ability to walk and speak in one fell swoop. Just a few years later, Scottie’s older brother was involved in a wrestling accident during PE class and also became wheelchair bound. All this adversity is why Pippen was so willing to sign such a long and low paying contract. Sports for all its positives can be a cruel beast.
During his ascent to NBA stardom Pippen went to college in the backwoods of Arkansas and had to wait for some of his fellow basketball team members to flunk out to even be offered a scholarship. He was a skinny 6’1” kid weighing less than 80 kilograms as a freshman but by the time he was taken at fifth overall in the NBA draft he added strength and height by the truckload. There is a fascinating moment showing a recently drafted Pippen wearing a Seattle Supersonics hat being informed that he would never play for the team. A stunned looking Pippen is later seen wearing the red and black that he would eventually become synonymous with.
While taking notes on the episode as it unfolded, I jotted down “we get it, Jordan didn’t make the basketball team in high school.” This piece of lore is now part of every rebound story. This episode’s interpretation of it was a segment about how a young MJ got cut from his Laney High School basketball team while a sophomore (the equivalent of a year 10 student in Australia). In high school I played rugby and water polo. I was 5’10” and tipping the scales just shy of 70 kilograms. If I was playing against people regularly topping 6’5” and in some cases in excess of 110 kilos, I would run away as fast as I can. I guess that is one of the few things that makes my mentality a little different to the GOAT. Maybe the only other thing holding me back from stardom was my little hands… and maybe the overwhelming lack of athletic talent. For what it’s worth MJ left Laney as a muscle bound 6’4” athletic freak and I’m now a 6’0” university student with a podcast and a blog. There’s still time for a glow up, right?
Following the origin stories of Batman and Robin there is a time jump back to 1985 as the audience is exposed to one of the only setbacks in Jordan’s career. After breaking a bone in his foot, he loses the privilege of playing the game he loves. He goes on to only play 18 games this season for the Bulls and they put him on a severe minute limit per game. In true MJ gambling style, he’s advised that if he plays before it’s healed there would be a 10% chance of damaging it further and ultimately ending his career. To rehabilitate his foot, he heads back to UNC to secretly play basketball against college players.
The last sightings of early era Jordan in this episode are during his mind-boggling series against the Celtics in 1986. After putting up a measly 49 points, yet loosing game one, MJ did what MJ does best – went out and hit the links. No change to the calibre of clothes on the green either. “Hey Mike, custard plaid will never be as cool as you think it is.” At least this time they almost fit him. After blowing his off-day golfing, his temper spikes and MJ goes nuclear on the Celtics in game two. Imagine being in your second season in the NBA and setting the single game record for points in a playoff game. Only His Airness. The Bulls would go on and lose the game in double overtime, and subsequently the series in three games, but from all the praise the Celtics legends were showering on Michael it was evident to see who they thought was up next.