Better men than Rick Carlisle have crumbled at the feet of Michael Jordan’s vast greatness … maybe just not as publicly. The Dallas Mavericks coach had a rough go of it Sunday night, getting shown up by the GOAT on national television during ESPN’s landmark premiere of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part docuseries highlighting the Chicago Bulls’ victorious (albeit harrowing at times) 1997-98 season.
Carlisle, a scarcely-used reserve on the 1986 Boston Celtics, was tasked with guarding Jordan for a stretch in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round. Spoiler: it did not go well for Carlisle, who was dunked on in emphatic fashion. The clip of Carlisle getting viciously posterized, along with his exasperated reaction, quickly went viral, making the rounds on social media Sunday night. That bucket was one of several scored by MJ, who erupted for 49 points in the losing effort. The television broadcast crew made light of the clearly overmatched Carlisle with one announcer joking, “Carlisle just wants his mommy.”
Frankly Carlisle, who averaged a meager 9.9 minutes per game for the Celtics that season, was surprised there was even evidence of him playing. “There must have been an exhaustive search to find footage of me actually PLAYING in an NBA playoff game,” the former shooting guard shared via text message. Jalen Brunson wasn’t letting his coach off the hook that easy though. The Mavericks guard, who was one of over six million viewers to tune in Sunday night, gave Carlisle some well-deserved grief on Twitter, doing so while making excellent use of the highly underrated face-plant emoji.
Adding to his lowlight reel, Carlisle did not record a single statistic in his three minutes of play in Game 2 (Jordan upped the ante with a playoff-record 63 points in the Bulls’ overtime defeat), allowing him entry to the prestigious Club Trillion. Popularized by former Ohio State Buckeyes bench-warmer Mark Titus (now a podcaster for Fox Sports and Westwood One), Club Trillion is reserved for players who compile empty stat lines (one or more minutes played followed by zeros in the remaining 12 categories).
Carlisle was no match for MJ in that series (not that his teammates fared much better), but I doubt he’s losing sleep over it. The Jim Carrey doppelganger won a ring that year on a Celtics team that many consider the greatest of all-time. And though he didn’t have a particularly distinguished playing career (2.2 points per game in five seasons), the 60-year-old Virginia alum has been a successful coach in the league for two decades, ranking 16th all-time with 791 NBA victories.
“The Last Dance” returns Sunday night at 9 PM ET. Hopefully the next installment preserves what little is left of Carlisle’s dignity.