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Last thoughts on the last dance

Sports fans throughout the world have been itching for some sort of fix involving courts, fields and rinks since the COVID-19 pandemic blew the whistle on the games we love.

It's clear to say ESPN's "The Last Dance" documentary centered around the Chicago Bulls' dynasty of the 1990's did that for many.

That includes this fan-slash-journalist.

While my NBA team loyalties reside with the Celtics, Michael Jordan's Bulls were a staple in my living room. The only time I can remember the Celtics on NBC's Sunday "Game of the Week" was when Larry Bird returned to Boston as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers in the 1997-98 season.

I'll admit, that season wasn't the same without Marv Albert as NBC's head play-by-play man.

That season was also the farewell tour of the Jordan-led dynasty, and the namesake for this documentary came from coach Phil Jackson's understanding that this was going to likely be it.

Ten parts was perfect for this documentary, which will go down as being one of the best ESPN has ever produced. There are so many takeaways, but I'm going to break down the top five.

1. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever and it's not even close. Sorry to the LeBron-loving Gen-X crowd, but 23 In Red is the Tom Brady of his sport.

It's not just because Jordan was 6-for-6 in the NBA Finals (LeBron is 3-6, and if not for a bogus suspension of Draymond Green in 2016 it would be 2-7). But Jordan never let the Finals get to 7 games. Jordan never demanded a trade even though his relationship with Bulls' management was quite frosty.

Jordan also didn't bail on the Bulls to play with other superstars when they couldn't get past the Pistons in the late 1980's. Jordan built his body up and trained with a purpose, and we all know what happened in 1991.

Jordan also wanted his teammates to be the best they could be. And he wanted the ball in "those" moments in the fourth quarter.

2. Are the 1998 Bulls and 2018 Patriots similar? While we shouldn't QUITE compare Bill Belichick to Jerry Krause until we see how the 2020 Patriots perform on the field, the way both organizations got a sixth ring was similar.

The Bulls had to dispatch Bird's Pacers in a grueling 7-game Eastern Conference Final, and didn't have home-court advantage in the Finals against a tough, talented Utah Jazz squad.

The home-court advantage Utah had in Salt Lake? Very similar to that of Arrowhead Stadium, where the Patriots punched their ticket to their most recent Super Bowl. The look on the faces of fans in Salt Lake when Jordan hit that shot in Game 6 is similar to how KC fans left stunned when Rex Burkhead scored in overtime in January 2019.

Jordan also wanted the band back together for a shot at 7th Heaven. He and others were willing to take one-year deals, but Krause said no. Kind of like Belichick said "no thank you" to re-signing his sport's GOAT. Hopefully we won't see a Bulls-like nosedive in Fort Foxboro this fall.

3. Don't order pizza in Salt Lake City. Now we know why Jordan was so sick in Game 5 in 1997.

Doesn't it raise anyone else's eyebrows that five - yes FIVE - delivery guys were sent to Jordan's hotel room? At such a late hour, no less?

Either way you slice it, that 38-point performance, with food poisoning at high altitude, is stuff of legends. Remember the time LeBron was carried off the court in the Finals because the arena temperature in San Antonio was too high? The "King" wouldn't last a quarter with Red Auerbach cranking up the thermostat in the old Boston Garden.

4. Dennis Rodman was the ultimate bad boy. Say what you want about Rodman, but when he punched in and came to work, he did his job.

And he did it well. He did the dirty work. He rebounded and played defense. He was ultimately the difference in the 1995-96 championship season.

Only Rodman could come back from a two-day partying binge in Las Vegas and smoke his teammates in sprints in practice. He had that chip on his shoulder and on the basketball court, he worked hard. You could argue The Worm is one of the top defenders to ever play the game.

Put Rodman in today's NBA, and he'd give the LeBron's, Kevin Durant's and James Harden's of the world fits with the combination of his physicality, toughness and speed.

5. Scottie Pippen was underappreciated. One of the biggest highlights of my career was Pippen coming to Fort Kent in 2011 to hang out at the World Cup Biathlon in Fort Kent. At breakfast on the morning he was scheduled to appear at the event, I told BDN colleagues Julia Bayly and Gabor Degre to look for the tall guy with the curly hair. A picture of Pippen loading a rifle sticks in my mind.

The Robin to Jordan's Batman was a class act and getting to ask him questions and shake his hand was a journalistic experience I'll never forget.

It was no secret Pippen was frustrated with his contract in 1997-98 and deserved to be paid more, but Krause, who is as stubborn with contracts as Belichick, wouldn't budge. It got to the point that Pippen, who missed the first 35 games of that season after undergoing foot surgery, wanted out of Chicago. But, he showed class and finished the season.

What many don't realize is that Pippen playing with a bad back in Game 6, serving as an offensive decoy so Jordan could do what Jordan does, was a huge factor in the Bulls finishing Utah. It helped that Jordan didn't let it go to Game 7. If it did, I believe the Jazz would've won given Pippen's injury.

That effort silenced the "Pippen is soft" doubters, stemming from when he was derailed by a migraine headache in a Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals loss to Detroit in 1990.

Live sports are slowly making their way back to our TV screens. But I only hope fans of this generation tuned into "The Last Dance" and can appreciate what truly was the Golden Era of the NBA.

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