As The Last Dance rolls on in this barren landscape, it becomes more and more apparent that it’s a Michael Jordan vehicle to tell Michael Jordan’s story. Sure, not everything is about blowing cigar smoke up his own ass, but it kinda is. Gambling is mentioned so he can deny it was ever a problem. His sociopathic ways in practice are portrayed as drive for excellence. Imagine if LeBron punched a teammate in practice now. And LeBron certainly has had more than enough teammates over the years that probably deserved it. Skip Bayless would turn into a demogorgan on live TV.
Last night’s episode was another example, as a huge facet of the ‘93-’94 Chicago Bulls season was simply left out. That would be the egregious call on Scottie Pippen’s close-out on Hubert Davis made by referee Hue Hollins with just 2.1 seconds remaining in Game 5 against the Knicks that would have given the Bulls the series.
First, let’s check out this larceny:
This call was so bad, the head of officiating told the Bulls the next training camp that it was a mistake (also, can we take a second to marvel at how Hubie Brown sounds exactly the same today as he did in 1994? Hubie Forever. And he just might live forever). We might not think of it as much of a controversial call today, but back then touching someone after the ball was released was never called. Fuck, Anthony Mason wielding a chainsaw in the paint barely registered.
The call flipped not just the game but the series. Without it, Scottie Pippen’s dunk over Patrick Ewing and subsequently telling Spike Lee what he could do with it in Game 6 isn’t just an entertaining footnote. It’s an eviction notice, and the Knicks’ recent history would be even more pathetic than it already is. They wouldn’t have even beaten the Bulls without Jordan, much less appeared in a Finals.
As for the Bulls, they would have moved on to the Eastern Conference finals, where they would have played an Indiana Pacers team they finished eight games ahead of and won four of five from in the regular season. There’s no guarantees in what-ifs, but the Bulls certainly would have been favored.
So what would Jordan’s legacy have looked like if a team without him, a team that never got to plan for a season without him — he retired on the eve of training camp — had even just gotten to the Finals? That Hakeem Olajuwon matchup probably would have been tough for 98-year-old Bill Cartwright, Will Perdue, and Stacey King to feel too confident in predicting a Bulls victory.
But would that team going as far as it should have merely made Jordan more of a “final piece” than a savior from the clouds? It certainly would have to alter the view somewhat. Under normal circumstances, a 55-win team that was tiny hairs away from a meaningful playoff run would be viewed as missing merely a piece or just needing the cards to fall their way next time.
Jordan joined the next team that didn’t have Horace Grant, and that absence was felt so heavily that the Bulls felt the need to acquire just about the best power forward in the game in Dennis Rodman to make up for it the following season (you could argue that kind of team Jordan returned to is the kind of thing LeBron has been dealing with his entire career, but I have no desire to bury myself in that lightning sand). Which makes it pretty clear Jordan needed more help than he’s interested in telling you, unless he can portray all that help as produced or boosted by him.
As Carron mentioned earlier here, Pippen was superlative that ‘93-’94 season, with an All-Star game MVP and third-place finish in MVP voting. And yet “The Last Dance” treats him as something of just a place-holder for Jordan. Would we buy into that as easily if he was playing in a Finals without MJ?
But that wasn’t a story that Jordan was interested in telling, instead portraying a 55-win team that got screwed out of a long playoff run as something of a “plucky underdog.” That fits into the chosen Jordan narrative better, certainly, but it’s not reality. It was one slice of horrible luck from quite possibly returning to where it had been the previous three years.
Another aspect that The Last Dance just completely leaves out is the summer after that ’94 loss, the Bulls did everything they could to trade Scottie Pippen to Seattle for Shawn Kemp and Ricky Pierce. It was all OK’d on the Bulls’ end, but Sonics owner Barry Ackerly nixed it at the last minute when he caught wind of the outrage the mere rumor was causing amongst Sonics fans.. Would Jordan have returned to play with Kemp? Likely not, apparently. It’s a bigger what if than Hollins, but it nearly changed the course of the whole league. Jordan could have used that in the film to vilify Jerry Krause even more, which he hasn’t avoided in this previously, if anyone would go on record as saying the Bulls had OK’d the deal at all levels.
We know if Jordan is involved, he has to “win” it, If he gets to tell his version. He always does. Even if it’s a little fudgy.