‘The Last Dance’ Review, Recap, and Reaction

By Saransh Sharma and Nikhil Pradeep

The 5-week, 10 episode docu-series on the greatest run by a team in a decade in the history of sports, concluded today, with the ending being capped off with the 1998 NBA Finals victory by the Chicago Bulls to win their 6th championship in 8 years, thus completing ‘The Last Dance,’ which was what coach Phil Jackson called this last year quest for the dynasty. So much happened behind the scenes and off the court that we really did not know until now, and the fact that we got the chance to capture all of that and see Michael revisit and talk about these moments was truly remarkable. There are so many big pieces to the ‘98 Championship run from so many different past seasons, whether it be playing against Dennis Rodman and losing to him and the Pistons constantly and then eventually recruiting him to the team, and also Jordan having retired for baseball, then coming back and getting back in shape, Scottie Pippen’s role, Jerry Krause’s ignorance, MJ’s winning mentality being described as ‘disrespectful,’ and so much more. Here is the big review, recap, and reaction all-in-one to all the events, details, decisions, descriptions, and much more, of how ‘The Last Dance’ turned out to be successful, both as the ‘98 season, and as the critically-acclaimed docu-series.

Saransh’s Reaction

Michael Jordan’s Competitive Nature

The competitiveness of Michael Jordan is second to none not just amongst basketball players, but amongst athletes. Whether it was an NBA Playoff game, golfing with his dad, or just a simple ‘coin toss across the room’ game with the team security guard like in Episode 6, everything was a competition to Mike. The most impressive thing about his competitive nature was what motivated him to compete at such a high level. Sometimes it was as simple as just losing, like it was for him against Detroit and Orlando, seeing them celebrate in Chicago and winning against him in a series, but sometimes it was just one action or comment by someone that was their downfall, and Michael’s rise. When Charlotte stole a game from Chicago in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference in 1996 and B.J. Armstrong talked a little trash, it was over for Charlotte. The next 4 games went to Chicago and they even swept Orlando in the Conference Finals.

Then there was the side of Jordan which I think a lot of people were surprised to see and hear about, which was the ‘not-so-nice guy’ side of him. The stories of him at practices are honestly as legendary as you can think of. He punched Steve Kerr after a practice after Kerr did not back down from him when Jordan got mad at Phil Jackson for putting Kerr on him and making fun of him. He then proceeded to apologize and talk it out on the phone with Kerr, and as they were both competitive guys, they understood why it got heated. But even as great as Michael was, there were still people that did not like his ways as a teammate. Former Bulls Point Guard John Paxson talked about how he would be scared at times, and Power Forward Horace Grant apparently could not eat after games because Jordan did not let him. But at the end of the day, this made Jordan the greatest, the tough love. It was so hard for him to talk about his teammates, that he started tearing up talking about it and hearing about how some of his teammates felt sometimes. But in the end, the hard truth was that it was his way of gaining trust of them, and making them realize what he expected of them. If he did not go so hard on Kerr, Jordan would not have trusted him to take the Finals-winning jumper, he would not have trusted Scottie Burrell to be such a great role player, or Dennis Rodman to go out and skip practices, or even let guys like Luc Longley and Bill Wennington, who got overlooked, be vital pieces of the team in every title run. What made Jordan so great was that he involved his teammates through his trust in them and instilling his mental fortitude into them, and if you did not want that, you did not have to play with Michael and enjoy the great journey.

The Legend of Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr was a man who came from a humble beginning. Kerr was born into a family of UCLA professor Malcolm Kerr, and eventual professor Ann Kerr. As they were both professors, Steve’s family had Steve and his brother very academically-minded and focused, as the only time the TV would be on from Monday through Thursday would be for big basketball games. Malcolm being at UCLA, loved basketball and got Steve into it by taking him to UCLA games, and at that time, the John Wooden coaching era was going on, and the greatest college basketball teams ever were there for Steve to witness live and in-person. Steve played all through high school as well, but did not receive offers until the very last minute, when Arizona offered him a scholarship. At this time, Malcolm had gone to American University at Beirut, along with his wife and Steve’s brother. However, the story of Malcolm being shot and killed was truly heartbreaking, and really drove Steve to be the person and competitor that he is. 

When Kerr got to Chicago, he brought that competitiveness that he gained that drove him after having lost his father, into the championship culture of Chicago. He challenged Jordan, did not back down, did not let himself get brought down by Jordan’s competitive edge at practice, which sometimes Jordan took too far, including the time he punched Steve. From that time forward, however, their trust levels and understanding of each other was like no other. It led Steve to be trusted by Jordan to hit the Finals-winning shot in ‘97, just like MJ trusted John Paxson in ‘93 to do the same thing, whom Steve learned from and mentored. He not only won his rings with Chicago, but also in San Antonio as a player in 2000 and 2002, and a coach of the Golden State Warriors dynasty from the past 5 seasons. All in all, Steve’s competitive edge and love for basketball came from his father, who instilled in him the game, life values, and a hard-working nature into Steve.

Phil Jackson’s Resilience, Even When MJ Left

I think it is taking it a bit too far to say that Phil Jackson was overlooked throughout this whole run, but the work he did definitely can get a bit lost in the shadows when your players are as good as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Jackson was asked to make the Chicago Bulls into NBA Champions after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had been asked to make them relevant. He took over as the head coach in 1989 after Doug Collins was fired in Chicago, which, given the success he brought to Chicago, where he took the team from nothing to the Eastern Conference Finals with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the firing was a bit surprising, but Collins had been with the Bulls for a while, so therefore warranted his way out the door. Jackson took over the team when they were very close to ending the dynasty of the Detroit Pistons, and in his first year, he nearly did that. Had Game 7 been in Chicago and not Detroit, Jackson would have ended the dynasty in his first year with the Bulls, but the next year, Eastern Conference Finals rematch yet again, the Bulls swept, and won the 1991 NBA Finals over the Lakers, and then proceeded to win in ‘92 and ‘93. Then, out of nowhere, Michael Jordan retires.

Jackson did not back down or let Jordan’s retirement get in the way of him coaching this team. The team might have lost the greatest to ever play the game, but the team was pretty darn good even without Jordan. In 1994, the team won 55 games and if it were not for a blown call in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Knicks, they could have tried for their 4th straight championship. The year after that, the Bulls struggled a bit, but getting Jordan back got them a healthy seeding in the playoffs, but Orlando stole the series thanks to Horace Grant, the former Bull. He then allowed Jordan to be able to retrain his body back into basketball form and he helped the team add talent, such as Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, and they helped go 72-10 and win the NBA Finals, and start another 3-peat. And then he did it again, going 3-peat with LA from ‘01-’03, and back-to-back in ‘09-’10. Phil Jackson is, in my mind, the greatest basketball coach of all-time, and it all started not when he won his first 3-peat with Michael, but the seasons he endured without him.

Nikhil’s Reaction

The 1992 Olympics Dream Team

For the first time, the United States sent a team of mainly NBA players to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona to compete in the Men’s Basketball tournament. This allowed the likes of Jordan, Bird, and Johnson to play on the same team, and form the inevitable Dream Team, the likes of which has gone down in history as one of the most legendary teams ever. What came as an initial shock was the exclusion of Isiah Thomas, and the sports media at the time associated Jordan’s icy relationship with him as a defining factor of this decision. Jordan, when interviewed for the filming of the documentary stated that he had no influence on the formation on the team, but did concede that had Thomas been selected, the flow and camaraderie of the team would have changed. Regardless, the cohesion of the team that did end up competing in Barcelona was second to none, and this is what elevated them above the rest. Their practices were some of the most competitive in existence, and this culminated in the infamous scrimmage in Monte Carlo. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan captained their respective sides in an anything-goes, trash-talking, no-holds-barred grudge match. At one point Magic’s team was up 8, and he felt the need to tell Jordan that if the famous ‘Air Jordan’ didn’t show up, they were gonna blow him out. As Saransh alluded to earlier, Jordan took this personally, and instantly made Johnson eat his words. He proceeded to score around 10 unanswered points, and won the game for his team. Those within the team recollected the tension in the air during the bus ride home as suffocating, but the instant Johnson cracked a joke with Charles Barkley, the team’s camaraderie rose back to prominence, albeit with Michael Jordan firmly at the helm of the ship. 

During the Olympics, the Dream Team faced off with Croatia, and the newly drafted Bull, Toni Kukoc. There was some friction between Jordan, Pippen and Kukoc, given that Jerry Krause placed a great amount of praise on the shoulders of the Croatian, and seemingly devalued the accomplishments of the current Bulls roster at the time. In the first game against Croatia, Jordan and Pippen seemed to go after Kukoc during the game, shutting him down defensively, and thus making every effort to make Krause look bad. However, the second time around during the Gold Medal game, Kukoc surged back and showed his worth even though they lost. The Dream Team took home the gold, and Jordan’s legacy started to take meaningful shape.

I found it very interesting to hear Kukoc’s side of this story, especially given the context of his situation before arriving in the league. Having hailed from Croatia, at the time a war-torn state of Yugoslavia, he, along with his teammates during the Olympics, all had an amazing amount of strength and focus that Team USA simply didn’t account for. To trash-talk, abuse, and target Kukoc doesn’t really faze him, simply because it isn’t comparable to the fight for his literal will to live. It just goes to show that no one’s story can be understood from a distance, and that everyone has certain traits that make them unbreakable, no matter what the circumstances are.

Jordan’s Stint in the MLB

The tragic death of Michael Jordan’s father in many ways defined Jordan’s career path, starting with his first retirement from basketball. At the time, Jordan’s reasoning was that he had produced 3 championships, and had given everything he had to the city of Chicago, so he figured that since he had no more challenges and no more motivation to play basketball, he should call it quits. The drama escalated and peaked during a White Sox playoff game, during which Jordan was present. The information of Jordan’s retirement leaked during the game, and the swarm of reporters and fans ensued. The media ran rampant with headlines up until the official press conference the next morning, in which Jordan stated that he was at peace with his decision, and also left the door open for anything down the road. What ensued was a list of allegations seemingly connecting the death of Jordan’s father, the presence of his gambling problem, and the progression of his career to his retirement. Some outlets even told a narrative that David Stern, the NBA commissioner at the time, veiled this retirement as a secret ban from the NBA due to his gambling. This is beyond absurd given that Jordan was the best thing to happen to the NBA financially, socially, and internationally. What is certain however, is that the retirement was of his own accord.

Jordan transitioned to baseball during his retirement period, and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. This was one of his dreams that he had as a kid, and in many ways it follows his father’s dream to play in the MLB. The issue was that since Michael Jordan was such a polarizing figure all over the country, the facilities apparent in the lower levels of the MLB league system simply could not accommodate the amount of hype that he drew in. Due to this he was placed in the minor leagues Double A league, where the sufficient amount of fans could be accounted for. Couple this with the fact that Jordan had not played baseball properly since he was 17, and it was a seemingly disastrous fate. What no one expected however was how good he was. He started out with a 13-game hitting streak, and after a while opposing pitchers started to throw breaking balls rather than fastballs, the latter of which was never thrown for nearly a month. Jordan’s dry spell resulted in a media sandstorm, calling him out on his poor play, and labeling his decision as faulty. The most striking of these was the Sports Illustrated magazine cover of him missing a pitch, and labeled him as an embarrassment. As we all know, this lit the fire in Jordan’s mind, and he kept getting better and better as the season went on, to the point where it was speculated that he could’ve made it to the major leagues. The MLB had a strike that year, so that element of his career was cut short, and thus he returned to Bulls. What can be said however, is that he made a lasting impact in his reputation as the greatest ever.

Krause’s demolition of the Bulls: Good or Bad?

Jerry Krause has been documented throughout the course of the Bulls dynasty as a dictator type of general manager that would put prospective over his current players and even his own family to an extent. When the Bulls won their 6th championship, there was already huge speculation about what the Bulls would do and whether or not the team would get blown up. Jerry Reinsdorf, the team owner, states that he asked Phil Jackson to come back for the next year, which he turned down. He also states, that it would be suicide to keep the players they had due to injury, egos, etc. Jordan retorted that any player and coach would’ve been happy to sign the one-year contract to chase that 7th championship, and states that it’s “maddening” because it definitely could’ve happened. Following the 6th ring, Jackson, Pippen, Rodman, Kerr, and Jordan all left the Bulls organization, and the Bulls embraced a rebuild that can be argued to have progressed to the current-day.

I know that the immediate gut reaction to this is to have let Jordan and the team chase the 7th ring. But just to play devil’s advocate in this scenario, let’s look at the benefits of how things played out. Given that Jordan himself stated that he was physically drained following the season’s end, and that Pippen had struggled with injuries during the Finals run itself, it is almost a guarantee that someone essential to the teams success would sustain a lengthy injury during the season, jeopardizing a Finals run. This along with the fact that some players would inevitably ask for more money, and some key pieces would get moved around due to the nature of the business, all equates to a significantly lesser change of even getting to the endgame, let alone succeeding. In my mind there isn’t anything wrong with how the Bulls dynasty ended, because they went out on top. Doing so cemented their lasting legacy as the greatest dynasty to grace the NBA, and affirms Michael Jordan’s candidacy for the “Greatest Of All Time” conversation.

 

 

The Last Dance: Episodes 3 and 4 Reactions

By Saransh Sharma and Nikhil Pradeep

Dennis Rodman just casually took a vacation for 3 days in the middle of an NBA season and went to Las Vegas, and when he came back, he went right to work to get back in shape, and no one said a word after that. I mean, can you imagine if a guy in today’s NBA just went to Vegas to vacation and party midseason and no one would care, not even his own team? Social media would have a fun time with that one. Seriously, the way the Chicago Bulls handled Dennis Rodman was what made them the great team that this documentary is based off of. In fact, he was a huge impact to the Bulls’ dynasty even before he was on the Bulls. Before the Bulls, he was on the Detroit Pistons, longtime rivals of the Bulls whom everyone in the East was trying to chase for years, until 1991 when Chicago swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was Rodman who made the team the physical, fearful, and tenacious that they were for years, but it was also Rodman whose physical play was counteracted by Chicago and helped them win them gameplan for a way to end Detroit’s run as King of the East. However, the biggest story of that series might not be the fact that Chicago was beginning to start a dynasty of their own, but more so the reaction from Detroit:

Saransh’s Reaction: No Handshakes by Detroit After Getting Swept

What if I told you, that the end of the dynasty was not marked by losing, but by the lack of sportsmanship after it? That, my friends, is the story of the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons and how their dynasty ended. When Detroit realized they were too far behind in Game 4 to win and that the series was over, Pistons players Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas told their teammates to leave the court and not shake hands with Chicago players, and simply just go to the locker room after the loss. After not shaking hands, you can see Laimbeer smugly smiling and shaking hands with a security guard, and Thomas high-fiving fans. So, you have no regrets about the handshakes? Well, Thomas said on Monday on ESPN’s ‘Get Up’ that he does indeed regret not shaking their hands, and that he feels ‘worse’ about it today than he did back then. To be fair, he has had 29 years to think of a response to this question, so it is not like it is surprising to hear him say this. 

When Boston tried not to shake their hands after losing in the playoffs a few years back, Thomas literally pulled Celtics Forward Kevin McHale and forced him to shake his hand, and yet somehow Thomas had the audacity to do what McHale did just years later, except McHale actually did shake his hand.  Still, if you are going to dodge a handshake, do not regret it in 30 years. Bill Laimbeer did not care, straight up. He owned it, and even called Jordan a ‘whiner’ just a few days ago. Jordan, on camera, was seen live laughing at Thomas’ response, called him an a**hole, and his then-teammate Horace Grant called them ‘straight up b**ches’. The rivalry is still primetime TV even 30 years later and we love every second of it, because that hate and rage for each other is still there amongst these guys. What I love about the rivalry is that it is still a rivalry today, everyone still hates each other, and everyone is ready to play ball against each other as if it was in the ‘90s, and play just as hard as they did back then.

Going back to Isiah’s interview on ‘Get Up,’ he made a very interesting comment along the lines of ‘it cost me being on ‘The Dream Team’,’ stating that since Jordan was the main guy whom the 1992 US Basketball Olympic team was centered around. He believes that since Jordan was the centerpiece and the guy that wanted every in on ‘The Dream Team’ idea and wanted to win the Gold in the most emphatic way possible, he assembled a team that resembled such that many thought it was invincible. They were indeed invincible, winning their average game by 30+ points and getting the Gold, but again, Thomas was not a part of it, and he believes it is because of that. The Olympics were just a year after the Pistons were swept by Chicago, so by Thomas’ belief, Jordan may have already been in the process of assembling ‘The Dream Team,’ but even with that being said, it is the coaches’ decisions on which players are part of the team, and the coach of ‘The Dream Team’ was Coach Chuck Daly, who was Thomas’ coach in Detroit. All in all, Thomas is trying to rescue himself from something that he, unlike his Pistons teammates, actually regrets, but is using factors that do not help his case, as reasons for why the rest of his career went south. 

Nikhil’s Reaction: Rodman’s Effect on Chicago

The loose cannon that was Dennis Rodman stated his persona perfectly at the start of Episode 3: “I could’ve been a bomb, I could’ve been in jail, I could’ve been dead.” The antics, the media attention, even the hair are all referenced by himself to be part of the monster he created, and in many ways that monster was equally apparent on the court. However, no one from Rodman’s team seemed to complain when the game was going on; Rodman was integral to the Bulls’ championship run, and it can be said with fair confidence that the team would not have been as successful as it had been without him. He gave them the grit and grind mentality that the likes of Jordan and Pippen didn’t have in excess, and thus, he was the league’s leading rebounder even in an era with the likes of Shaq, Barkley, among others. So it’s hard to imagine such a character starting out his career in Detroit as a shy, quiet rookie that was committed to his rather humble and survival oriented upbringing, especially on a team like the Bad Boy Pistons. And it’s equally as hard to imagine such a timid character having a rebounding IQ higher than most, to the point where Jordan himself cited Rodman as the smartest teammate he’s ever had. But what’s most outlandish is how he turned into the monster referenced before. While with the Pistons, he was found in his truck with a gun at The Palace, and was soon dealt to San Antonio afterwards. 

There he started to push his boundaries, act out and subsequently the outfits, the hair, the piercings, the tattoos followed. The Bulls took him out of this bad situation, and figured that he would thrive under the leadership and respect of Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson, and they guessed right. He fit every need the team needed, and elevated them to the next level. And in the time that Scottie Pippen was out due to injury, Rodman was credited by Phil Jackson with keeping the team together, and continuing in their winning ways. However when Pippen returned, Rodman seemed to return to his rambunctious ways and started to drink and party again. His situation peaked when Rodman requested a vacation, something that NBA players just don’t do. Jackson let him go for an agreed upon 48 hours, and Rodman returned 72 hours later after having been found by Jordan, having satiated his need to let go. From there however, Rodman and the Bulls put their heads down, and never locked back. 

Personally, I never knew of Dennis Rodman’s charisma, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be this wild. His tenure in Chicago in my eyes can be described as always hanging in balance, he could either be one of the best players in the league, or he could be a deranged maniac wishing for a death sentence. In this sense, Chicago was given a national spotlight outside of Jordan, one that wasn’t characterized by greatness. It gave the media something to pick at in terms of the Bulls internal structure, and thus placed WAY more pressure on them to win. The fact that they did in spite of all this shows how legendary the Bulls coaching staff, roster, and culture was. They managed to win even with one of the most captivating characters on their team, and even with all eyes on them.

The Last Dance: Episode 1 and 2 Reactions

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.

TB12 to TB: How Brady’s Move Down South Affects His Legacy

Tom Brady might not have shocked the world by saying he was leaving the New England Patriots just two days back, but if you said that to me after he signed a 2-year, $41 million extension in 2016 after a season where Brady was one drive away from yet another Super Bowl appearance, I would have said you were crazy. If you said that his destination would be Tampa Bay, I would think you were even crazier. Either way, Brady in 2020, did just that, but he earned that right. Since that extension, Brady went to 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, and won 2 of them. Though he just left New England, here’s when the dominos started to fall, which led to the door opening for Brady to leave:

The First Fallen Domino: Jimmy G

Through all that, he endured the Deflategate suspension, nagging injuries to guys like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, a new face in town in Jimmy Garoppolo, whom coach Bill Belichick loved, and much more. Keep that name in mind, however. A guy who was drafted in the second round in 2014 by New England after having won another Super Bowl, their first in 10 years. When Brady accepted his 4-game suspension in 2016, however, Belichick put in Jimmy G, who won his first 2 games, and then led the Pats to a third straight win before getting hurt and handing the ball over to rookie QB in Jacoby Brissett. But Belichick seemed to have fallen in love with Jimmy G and found his successor to Brady. Brady felt disrespected, and it fueled him to win another Super Bowl, in the infamous 28-3 blown lead by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Second Fallen Domino: The Unsung Hero, Danny Amendola

I wrote back after Super Bowl LII that New England’s demise had begun, as Brady had lost to backup QB Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles in what is, in my opinion, the best Super Bowl I have ever seen. That offseason, he ended up losing receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks in free agency. The big name here is Amendola. Amendola for years had been the ‘third guy’ behind Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, but he may have been the unsung hero for Tom Brady and the Patriots. Through the Super Bowl runs where New England beat Seattle and Atlanta, and lost to Philadelphia in an epic, Amendola was the one whom Brady used to always find in the clutch, his ‘Ol’ Reliable’, per se.

To me, I thought New England made the mistake of letting Amendola go instead of Julian Edelman or Chris Hogan because Amendola was a guy Brady counted on and was close with on and off the field. Amendola seemed to be the guy that would make the big catches and touchdowns in 4thquarters of close ballgames, most notably his game-winning touchdown catch against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game in 2017 to save Brady from being beaten by… Blake Bortles. Funny, right? Amendola wound up going to Miami, then Detroit with former Pats Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, and he’s still there now. Looking back on the past two years, however, and seeing how the offense played, Brady could have used Amendola in many clutch moments.

The Third Fallen Domino: Antonio Brown

I understand what Bill Belichick was thinking back in October 2018 when Antonio Brown got released. Great player, but we need to know if this guy is well-minded. The last thing Belichick wanted was to get a guy on his team that would be a distraction to the team, like Aaron Hernandez. At the time, AB had been lashing out many times on social media, such as with his former teammates in Pittsburgh, and at that time, when he hired marketing agents to get himself off the Oakland Raiders. Safe to say that Belichick doesn’t normally think players like AB would fit in ‘The Patriot Way’, but somehow, he signed him. AB lasted 11 days on the team before getting released again after sexual assault allegations (which had been going on when Belichick signed him).

But Brady grew a chemistry with AB in the short time. While the stats did not show it, their love on Twitter certainly has, when Brady showed respect for AB even after his departure from New England, and even now, with Brady now in Tampa, Antonio Brown still shows up on Brady’s radar. But this was where it all fell down for Brady in New England. Brady was not happy that a guy with the talent of AB was released, but by ‘The Patriot Way’, he was not the right guy. But with Gronkowski retired and AB gone (along with Chris Hogan gone in free agency and Demariyus Thomas traded midseason), Brady just had Edelman and James White to rely on. Those guys did not stay relatively healthy, the offensive line Brady relied on got hurt as well, and Brady wilted under the pressure a bit after the 8-0 start. He had a great last season in New England, but the team had no pieces around him to keep him from leaving.

So, Tampa is Home. Now What?

Well the legacy of Brady does not require him to win a Super Bowl necessarily. Like LeBron James when he went to the LA Lakers, Brady is putting himself in the toughest position possible, going into an NFC South division with Super Bowl contenders like the New Orleans Saints, who by the way, are led by Drew Brees, a top 5 QB of all-time, an Atlanta Falcons team that just signed Todd Gurley, and a young Carolina Panthers team. Brady easily just put himself in the most stacked division in the NFL, and with the new 14-team playoff (so 7 per conference), all 4 of these teams can be playoff and Super Bowl contenders in Brady’s way. Not to mention that the NFC also has Aaron Rodgers, another top 5 QB of all-time, a near-MVP in Carson Wentz, and the defending NFC Champs in San Francisco. (Side Note: My top 5 All-Time QBs are: Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Drew Brees). Brady is definitely not expected to win a Super Bowl, but as a 43-year old who has shown he can still win 10+ games every year and win Super Bowls, the expectations are high. Brady will probably have to at least get Tampa Bay to the playoffs, something they haven’t done since ’07, and then a playoff win (or more). This is a team that before Brady never had hope, but he brings it. Fans are already flocking to get season tickets, players want to play for Tampa, life is good in Tampa right now. I mean, warm weather, a stadium with a pirate ship, and Tom Brady, what more do you need?

To me, Tampa can contend for a Super Bowl with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as Brady’s weapons, his best since he had Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but the task is rather daunting. It’s hard to keep expectations low with Tom Brady, so I believe that he probably will take Tampa to at least one NFC Championship Game throughout his current contract (he signed a 2-year deal for $50M, fully guaranteed, with $9M available in incentives) to keep his legacy cemented as it is right now, which is as the Greatest of All-Time.

2019 NFL Midseason Predictions

The first half of the NFL season has presented us with many surprises, and a surge of a new generation of NFL talent. The San Francisco 49ers remain the only undefeated team in the NFL currently, the Cincinnati Bengals remain the only winless team, and players like Christian McCaffrey are taking over the league and putting on an MVP-worthy performance. Here is what has happened this season, and what will continue throughout the season.

The Panthers are 5-3 Without Cam Newton, and Will Make the Playoffs

Currently, the Panthers are on the outside looking in as the 8-seed in the NFC and 2ndin the NFC South, but their 5-3 record, Christian McCaffrey’s video-game numbers, and the new-look defense has put them in a position to compete with Kyle Allen, not Cam Newton, at quarterback. Allen, who took over for the now-on-IR Newton in Week 3, has gone 5-1 as the starter, losing only to the undefeated 49ers. Allen hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary, just played mistake-free, smart football that has kept his team in a position to win. Sure, they have 2 dates with New Orleans, a home game against Seattle, and tough road games against Green Bay and Indianapolis, they should be able to win the home games, Indianapolis, and potentially one game against New Orleans to go at least 9-7, and considering how teams like the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams have struggled this season, Carolina should be able to get the 6-seed in the NFC.

Like I Predicted in Preseason, Aaron Rodgers Will Be the MVP

Aaron Rodgers got off to, well, a sluggish start in the new Matt LeFleur offense, but Green Bay’s defense stepped up big. Then, Rodgers said that the offense needed to ‘step it up’, and A-Rod and the Pack offense has not looked back since. Currently standing at 6-2 and the 3-seed in the NFC, they will be one of the top NFC Super Bowl contenders along with the Saints. Rodgers is currently 5thin passing yards and 4thin passing TDs, is among the top of the MVP race along with Russell Wilson and Christian McCaffrey, and if he keeps this pace up, he can outpace Wilson in the MVP race and get his 2ndNFL MVP award.

Lamar Jackson Proved Everyone Wrong… and He Won’t Stop Anytime Soon

Lamar Jackson was critiqued by Bill Polian before last year’s NFL draft and was told to convert to Wide Receiver. Jackson was drafted in the first round as a QB by the Ravens and guaranteed that they would get a Super Bowl out of him. He eventually took the starting job from Joe Flacco and led the Ravens to the playoffs. This season, Lamar has been able to use his arm along with his legs and become an elite QB. Last Sunday, he beat the record-setting Patriots defense and the GOAT Tom Brady to end their undefeated season up to that point. Now, he put the Ravens in position to potentially go to the Super Bowl, currently leading the Ravens to the 2-seed in the AFC, good enough for a first-round bye and homefield in the AFC Divisional Round. Expect Lamar to keep playing the way he always does, prove people wrong, and keep winning.

The Eagles Need to Sign Either Dez Bryant or Antonio Brown

So, yeah, Philadelphia, the Super Bowl 52 Champions, have changed a lot roster-wise since then. They have lost LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, a plethora of signings that have not worked out, such as DeSean Jackson and Zach Brown, and many underperforming players, such as Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, and just about everyone on defense. Oh, and they lost their savior Nick Foles, but everyone knew Wentz would be starting either way. Anyways, the Eagles have lost many games this season due to their poor receiver play, most notably Agholor. Wentz has been let down by receivers dropping passes than I could catch, and has lost many winnable games because of it, like the game at Atlanta where Agholor dropped the ball, the game at home against Detroit where rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside dropped a wide-open TD. The other games they lost, being to Dallas and Minnesota on the road, they’ve simply been blown out due to poor overall team play. If Philadelphia really wants to compete and be the Super Bowl-contending team they once were, they NEED to sign a big-name wide receiver. They missed out on Josh Gordon, as he went to Seattle to join Russell Wilson and his already-stacked WR core, so now that leaves them with Dez Bryant, who tweeted today that he is ready to reach out to teams soon, and of course, the drama-king of the NFL, Antonio Brown. While both risky due to character issues and health, either would be an immediate impact to a team that desperately needs hands. With AB, the Eagles can challenge Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans, and with Bryant, they can at least win the NFC East if not contend with Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans. Whoever they decide out of these two, they need to sign one of these in order to be a legit contender.

My Saints-Chiefs Super Bowl Prediction Remains the Same

I still see these two teams meeting in the Super Bowl. In the AFC, do I think that the Ravens are ready? Not yet, simply because the defense has been suspect for the majority of the season. Does New England beat Kansas City in the playoffs again, if they meet up? No because the offense isn’t at the point where they can keep up with Kansas City. Their inconsistency in the run game will outweigh the consistency of Julian Edelman, James White, and Mohamed Sanu’s production. In the NFC, is Green Bay good enough on defense to sustain the play of A-Rod and the offense? To me, this is the very-early frontrunner to win next year’s Super Bowl, but not this year. Seattle lies in the same realm, with their defense not being able to get to the level of Wilson and the offense. The Saints and Chiefs have complete rosters, and defenses good enough to meet the level of the offense and keep them in it. Kansas City has dropped games this year due to Mahomes playing through injury and not because they have regressed as a team. If anything, they are probably better, especially with their run game, and New Orleans, the NFL’s most complete team currently, just has everything you want in a team, with their next-man-up mentality, going 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater replacing the injured Drew Brees and Latavius Murray replacing the injured Alvin Kamara, and their big-play ability on defense as well. So, expect some fireworks in Miami on February, and expect the Saints to take home the Lombardi.