By Saransh Sharma and Nikhil Pradeep
ESPN aired its newest 30-for-30 Film, ‘The Last Dance,’ a 10-part docu-series going into the depths of how the Chicago Bulls completed their second 3-peat in 1998, and how the careers of guys like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Coach Phil Jackson, ended in Chicago. Sunday night, the first two episodes aired, and every Sunday for the next four Sundays, ESPN will be airing two episodes each, going behind-the-scenes of how the 1998 team had more dysfunction and uncertainty than any Michael Jordan team ever. The documentary was the most-viewed documentary in the history of ESPN, with 6.1 million viewers last night. Here is mine and Nikhil’s breakdown and reaction to the big storylines of Episodes 1 and 2:
Saransh’s Reaction: Who Did Jerry Krause Think He Was?
Throughout the entire Michael Jordan era, Jerry Krause was the General Manager of the Chicago Bulls. So, okay, sure, he gets credit for having drafted Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and assembling the 6 championship teams, but seriously, who did he think he was? To say “Players and coaches don’t win championships, organizations win championships,” before the 1997-1998 season is by far the most selfish bone-headed comment I have ever heard a front office representative of any sports team make. Now sure, he clarified to say that they alone do not win, but come on Jerry, are you seriously still defending yourself over that comment? Michael Jordan in his Hall-of-Fame speech literally roasted you for it and did not invite you for the induction. Let’s just say that as a fan of basketball and an admirer of MJ and the Bulls, hearing this was upsetting. Sure, teams need an organization to draft and sign the right players, but coaches need to put out the gameplans for the players to be able to execute and win games, and the players actually have to play to prove that the organization made the right choice in choosing them for their team, therefore being the most important factor in terms of a team winning. Krause really believed that him having Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman, and then Phil Jackson at coach, and winning 5 rings in 7 years gave him the power to end the dynasty in the most abrupt fashion, by him neglecting Phil Jackson, making him look like a soon-to-be-fired coach and giving him just a 1-year deal, ending the dynasty after 1998. Then, the whole Scottie Pippen contract situation. I mean, the fact Scottie even signed the contract simply does not make sense to me, but the disrespect from Krause was even more immense. He wanted to win for himself and make the trade for Scottie for himself. Now, I will let Nikhil elaborate more on the situation, but I must say, Krause wanted a rebuild badly and a bit too early, and it will be interesting to see how the Scottie situation panned out and how Jordan, Jackson, and the Bulls were able to win without Scottie, because of his injury in 1998.
Nikhil’s Reaction: The Scottie Pippen Contract Conundrum
Scottie Pippen was one of the elite talents during the Jordan era, and in many ways, it is a travesty that his contract did not indicate so whatsoever. To put into perspective how impactful Pippen was on the court, the documentary lists a multitude of statistics, including Pippen’s 2nd ranking on the Bulls in scoring, rebounds, minutes played, and his pole position in assists and steals. The most striking of these statistics however, is that he was ranked 6th in salary on the Bulls, and 122nd in the entire league. And to truly show how disgraceful this is, the current 122nd most paid player in the current NBA today is Andre Roberson, whose notoriety stems more from dating Rachel DeMita than actually being a decent player. Jordan himself endorses Pippen as the best teammate that he has ever played with. So how did he fall into this black hole of a contract situation? The answer lies in his humble upbringing. Having grown up in a poorer family, one also weighed down by two members in wheelchairs, Pippen valued financial security, and when a 7-year, 18 million dollar deal came across the table, he didn’t hesitate to sign. This allowed him to send money back home and take care of the people that brought him up even in the event of an injury or other circumstance, however it also caused him to be stuck in a low-paying situation for a massive amount of time. The situation reared its head when the NBA suddenly started to take off financially, and globally, which was ironically due to the meteoric rise of Michael Jordan as a basketball icon. MJ’s value in the league effectively drove Pippen’s situation into more and more worry. Thus, in 1997-98, Pippen’s last year on his contract, he decided to have surgery on a ruptured tendon in his leg in the summer leading up to the season, and use the season to recover. He did this in hopes of getting management to change his contract, but as we all know, Jerry Krause would never do that. As a result of Pippen’s absence, the Bulls slid for the first few games of the season, but it felt as if the team was caving in. This on top of Pippen’s constant disrespecting of Krause, such as yelling, abusing, cursing, caused the storm to swell, and eventually resulted in Pippen demanding a trade from the Bulls. This is where the documentary ends, however it is also where the discussion starts. I do sympathize with Pippen for taking the safe route in order to provide for his loved ones, but there is such a thing as ‘too safe’. As with any part of contractual obligation, you are in many ways betting on yourself to get the job done. Pippen should have known his worth from the start, and listened to his agent and management to take a higher paying contract, because at the end of the day, there has to be some risk taken in order to get the warranted reward. Even with the injury he had, if the situation was played right on his half, he would’ve recovered over the summer and been ready for the next season. Thus the mess, in my opinion, was his own doing, and something that could have been avoided. It’s a shame that his legacy is blemished by such a sequence of events, but in the end it was his doing and no one else’s.