This week’s episodes of The Last Dance were all about gambling, Team USA and trying to figure out how B.J. Armstrong still looks like he’s 28.
By Josh Towner
Technically speaking, I was alive during Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s “Last Dance.” I was born April 27, 1998, which means I was alive for 19 games, including Jordan’s Finals winning shot over Bryon Russell, a moment that was captured and stamped onto one of my iPhone 6s phone cases. But I never actually saw Jordan and Pippen play. I never saw them smash Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks or Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns. Growing up in the Chicago area, the first Bulls I saw were led by Ben Gordon. You’ve probably never heard of him. That was about how the Bulls were as a franchise. You didn’t hear about them. This is really my first true experience with Jordan’s Bulls. Watching flashy Pippen passes and sky high Jordan dunks cut to OutKast’s “Rosa Parks” might not have the same level of excitement as living through Jordan’s prime, but it’s the best I can get.
What I did see was Kobe. Growing up, it was an indisputable fact that Jordan was the greatest player to play the game, but Kobe was making a case for himself. And I loved it. He was as close to a carbon copy of Jordan the league has ever seen. I remember when he hit a fade-away over the outstretched arms of four Bulls defenders. I remember watching him knock in free throws on a torn Achilles to push the Lakers into the playoffs. I remember my jaw hitting the floor when he dropped 60 points in his final career game. And I remember standing in MSP airport when I saw the news that Kobe died.
I had heard Kobe would be featured in some capacity in this week’s episode, but that didn’t keep me from breaking when he showed up in interviews and highlights. He was my first favorite player. I’d shout his name when I threw tomahawks across the map in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, or when I somehow connected on a three pointer in 7th grade basketball practice. He might not have beat Jordan in terms of on court accolades, but I was sure Kobe would beat Jordan at being retired. It took him just two years to win an Oscar, I was so sure the best was yet to come. While Kobe’s appearance in this week’s episodes of The Last Dance was short lived, I couldn’t help but think about him the whole time.
Aside from the general awe and splendor of seeing the best Bulls team I never watched, my favorite NBA Easter egg, the Monte Carlo game, made the documentary. The 1992 Dream Team, the USA’s Olympic team, played an intrasquad scrimmage in Monte Carlo. With Jordan’s team down 8 points and time running out, Magic Johnson strolled over and told Jordan that if he didn’t do something his team would get blown out. Jordan proceeded to score every single point for the rest of the scrimmage and win the game. This was the moment where the NBA greats, Magic and Bird and the rest of the Dream Team, realized that Jordan was the best in the world. The best guys finally saw, in a closed court scrimmage, that Jordan was flat out better than them. On the bus after the scrimmage, everyone was silent for a few moments. Magic finally spoke up and said, “Hey Barkley, I guess we shouldn’t have pissed him off.” They all agreed it was the best practice they ever had.
For those of you who, like me, never got to see Michael Jordan play basketball, this is your chance. Watching old games on YouTube or mixtapes on Instagram just doesn’t have the narrative pressure The Last Dance is able to weave into the highlights and recaps. This is the closest I’ll ever get to watching Jordan play, and I’m loving every second of it. Perhaps my favorite Jordan highlight is one that’s completely inconsequential. It isn’t something cool like his shot over Cleveland or his shrug against Drexler’s Blazers. It was when he dunked off a missed free throw, because growing up I always thought, for some reason or another, that would be the coolest move any basketball player could ever do. So, of course, Jordan did it.
Games to play while watching The Last Dance:
Count the pronunciations of Toni Kukoc (I had four)
Guess BJ Armstrong’s age (he’s 52 years old!!)
Once again wrap your head around the fact that Barack Obama was listed as “Chicago Citizen” last week (yes, the former president).
Pause the documentary and gawk at 90s Danny DeVito’s mustache (I believe he was also wearing a fedora, but it got too beautiful and I had to look away).
Count the money Jordan lost throwing quarters at a wall (for sure $20, but it really looked like it was a lot more than that).
How many times Jordan lights up a cigar.
Any time a player makes a joke about then Bulls GM Jerry Krause, to his face.