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Dan Bickley

10 lessons from 10-part doc ‘The Last Dance’ on Michael Jordan’s Bulls

FILE - In this June 16, 1998, file photo, NBA Champions, from left: Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan and coach Phil Jackson are joined on stage by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, second from right, during a city-wide rally in Chicago to celebrate the Chicago Bulls 6th NBA championship. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)

“The Last Dance” has ended. Greatness has been reconfirmed. Michael Jordan’s virtual comeback and triumphant third return is effectively over.

Maybe this time he can retire in peace, the biggest winner in a basketball season interrupted by a pandemic.

“I never got the opportunity to watch MJ as a kid because I wasn’t born,” Hawks star Trae Young said on Twitter. “But after watching this documentary … my love for MJ grew 100.”

Here are 10 lasting lessons from the 10-part series, starting with a local twist:

1. Organizations don’t win championships. They create a culture that nurtures great athletes and a holistic pursuit of victory. They can also ruin a good thing.

During a 10-year playoff hiatus, Suns boss Robert Sarver has been occasionally exposed as both exhausting and meddlesome, the guy teaching Deandre Ayton how to box out in the hallway; the guy looking over the shoulder of his medical professionals; and the guy who always has to be in charge.

Those days are reportedly over. Everyone says so, and never mind what Earl Watson thinks. General manager James Jones and head coach Monty Williams wouldn’t be here if Sarver were still in the midst of basketball operations, right?

Oh, how I want to believe.

But for a reminder:

2. By the end of “The Last Dance,” it’s clear that Bulls ownership is very grateful for the championships and profits Jordan provided, but only to a point. And Jerry Reinsdorf’s franchise never wanted to spend too deep for too long because, ultimately, money is more valued more than trophies.

Reinsdorf is a shrewd businessman. So is Sarver. And shrewd decisions matter more than anything because that’s what they’re good at. They excel in arenas where financial recklessness is an affront to the intellect, a sign of weakness. They do not easily throw caution and dollars to the wind. And, alas, that’s what it often takes to win championships in professional sport.

Money doesn’t travel beyond the grave. But a great sporting legacy is eternal. And Jordan’s Bulls should serve as a reminder at how history will ultimately judge Sarver and his stewardship of the Suns.

3. If Devin Booker is our Michael Jordan, then who is our Scottie Pippen?

Answer: I hope Ayton has spent his abundance of free time improving his conditioning and basketball skills more than his video gaming. He owes us nothing less after beginning the season with a 25-game suspension. He needs to make good on the promise of “Shaq and Kobe 2.0.” His words, not mine.

4. LeBron James should be highly-motivated for the NBA’s impending return. After Jordan illuminated and impressed a younger generation that never saw him play, James must reclaim his constituency. And he should be yearning to make his own statement, taking down Kawhi and Giannis in the process.

5. Jordan averaged 37 minutes per game at age 39. His career should ridicule and stigmatize the concept of load management forever.

6. We know why Jordan burned with vengeance when competing against Toni Kukoc, Dan Majerle and Clyde Drexler. They all symbolized Jerry Krause. We also know why he lit up LaBradford Smith, Bryon Russell and Karl Malone. They symbolized perceived slights and insults.

But how and why did Scott Burrell end up so afoul of the G.O.A.T? I’d like a documentary on that.

7. Jordan deserved to defend his throne until the very end. But Scottie Pippen was the original Shawn Marion. He was irreparably unhappy and leaving the Bulls for big money. He was done sacrificing for the group. And that means the villainy of Jerry Krause is also a convenient ending tailor-made for martyrs. It spared Jordan the indignity of losing his reign on the court, between the lines.

8. In later years, Phil Jackson was mocked for his Zen approach to basketball, for giving out books and making his players practice yoga. But this documentary reminded me of how much I appreciated Jackson’s sincerity and outside-the-box approach. Especially the cleansing ritual of having Jordan’s Bulls write down their memories/emotions/recollections, placing them in a coffee can and setting the contents on fire.

9. The best supporting performance of “The Last Dance” goes to director Jason Hehir. For introducing the interview technique of handing a tablet to one’s subject and having them listen/respond to claims of others. And for a killer musical soundtrack that hit the perfect notes on the way out, ending with Pearl Jam’s “Present Tense.”

10. It wasn’t the pizza.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier