“Jordan, open, Chicago with the lead! Timeout Utah, 5.2 seconds left. Michael Jordan, running on fumes, with 45 points.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed the clip of Jordan’s dagger to beat the Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, an iconic sequence announced to perfection by broadcasting legend Bob Costas. Jordan truthers may dismiss it as a blatant offensive foul, but I beg to differ. To most, it was the perfect ending to an unforgettable run, the exclamation point on a near decade of Chicago Bulls dominance.
On Christmas Eve, ESPN teased a star-studded trailer (Barack Obama and Justin Timberlake were among its many cameos) for “The Last Dance” an upcoming 10-part documentary highlighting the Bulls’ memorable 1997-98 season. With most of the country housebound due to the ongoing coronavirus quarantine, ESPN decided to release its much-anticipated docuseries weeks early, setting its debut for April 19 at 9 PM ET. Hoops fans nostalgic for the Bulls’ glory days (myself included) have been predictably anxious to get their Jordan fill, counting down the days until MJ and Scottie return to our television screens to dish on one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
However, not everyone is looking forward to ESPN’s upcoming 10-parter. In fact, No. 23 himself is dreading it and worries the documentary could cast him in a negative light. Speaking with Richard Deitsch of The Athletic, director Jason Hehir offered some enlightening quotes on Jordan’s experience shooting “The Last Dance,” a series that has been in the works for years. Recalling his conversations with the five-time MVP and current Charlotte Hornets owner, Hehir said Jordan feared some of the doc’s footage, including a contentious sequence with teammate Scott Burrell, would make people think he’s a “horrible guy.”
“When people see this footage I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said,” Jordan expressed to Hehir, concerned of how his relentless nature will come across onscreen. “When you see the footage of [me riding Scott Burrell], you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy.”
Though MJ is clearly conflicted on how the docuseries portrays him, the six-time NBA champ still stands by his tough-love leadership stylings, even if it rubbed teammates the wrong way. “Winning has a price,” explained Jordan. “And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged.”
Addressing his spat with Burrell, Jordan believes his intentions were good, even if his words were harsh. “You have to realize that the reason why I was treating [Burrell] like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs and we're facing the Indiana's and Miami's and New York's in the Eastern Conference,” said the Hall-of-Famer. “He needed to be tough and I needed to know that I could count on him.”
Did the famously competitive Jordan cross a line in his handling of teammates? Viewers can decide for themselves when the series debuts Sunday night on ESPN.