The NBA Returns Part 2: Who Gets the 8-Seeds?

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep and Anish Dhondi

The NBA had just last week announced their full plan for their season’s return with a ‘bubble’ format in Orlando, with just 22 of the 30 teams being invited to come back, and many different rules and regulations to keep players and their families safe and healthy have been put in place, and we detailed our biggest storylines for the remainder of the season. We now jump into Part 2 of ‘The NBA Returns’ series to bring you our predictions for the 8-seed in each conference, and how we think each team will fare in their remaining 8 games of their season. Using NBC Sports’ predictions for who each team will face, here are our predictions for which teams will make the playoffs, and which teams will be sent home quickly from Orlando:

Anish’s Predictions for: Memphis, Portland, New Orleans

Memphis Grizzlies: #8 Seed, Western Conference (32-33)

Projected Opponents: Trail Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Bucks, Pelicans, Pelicans, Celtics

Memphis currently holds the 8th seed and will be fighting to keep their spot in the playoffs. Not many people expected this grizzlies team to perform this well with the departure of Mike Conley. Their roster is young and doesn’t have much playoff experience. Their schedule appears relatively easy in comparison to the other teams fighting for a playoff spot so they should have a good chance in maintaining their position. Led by the athletic duo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. this Grizzlies team can be a force in the future but I don’t believe they have the experience to perform under the pressure of the playoffs and could see them falling down a couple places.

Portland Trail Blazers: #9 Seed, Western Conference (29-37), 2.5GB of Memphis

Projected Opponents: Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers, Celtics, Nets, Lakers, (Heat or Magic)

As many of the teams benefited from this playoff format, the Blazers were not among them. Their current schedule to have a shot of the playoffs is harder than the schedule they had remaining for the regular season. This means because of the pandemic they’re forced to unnecessarily play harder teams in the fight for a playoff spot. These 8 games are basically like the playoffs if the Blazers want a shot and star Damian Lillard needs to be at the top of his game to lead them to victories. When the team needs him the most, Damian Lillard has been known to be one of the clutchest NBA players in the league, this playoff format with the pressure of make-or-miss for the playoffs puts all eyes on Lillard to carry this team. However, as much as Lillard can go off, he must have the help of his supporting cast and co-star CJ McCollum to provide consistent help. Jusuf Nurkic is also expecting a return after going down last season with a brutal injury. I can see this Blazers team making a push to play into the playoffs even with a tough schedule.

New Orleans Pelicans: #10 Seed, Western Conference (28-36), 3.5GB of Memphis

Projected Opponents: Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic

The pelicans were a dark horse team that none really expected to perform this well. With the emergence of Ingram’s recent performance, Jrue Holiday’s consistency, and the most popular rookie in years, Zion Williamson, the Pelicans can squeeze their way into a potential spot. When it comes to viewership, Zion is near the top and generates mass amounts of revenue for his popularity. His electrifying play for a rookie is something we haven’t seen in years and hopefully it gives the Pelicans enough momentum. However, I see the Pelicans and the Grizzlies as a toss up for the playoff chances. Both teams lack the experience of the pressured setting because they’re filled with young talent. If these teams had the same record I would give the Pelicans a slight advantage with the leadership of Jrue Holiday and his performance in past playoff appearances, however because they are 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies it may be difficult to secure a chance for the playoffs.

Saransh’s Predictions for: Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix

Sacramento Kings: #11 Seed, Western Conference (28-36), 3.5GB of Memphis

Remaining Teams to Play: Pelicans (x2), Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Pacers, Spurs

For every team currently not in the playoffs in the Western Conference, so below Memphis, they have a bit of a mountain to climb, with Sacramento being tied in record with New Orleans. Sacramento’s schedule, however, gives them a favorable shot to at least get up to the 9-seed and force a play-in with Memphis, as they do not really play any elite teams aside from Houston. Getting New Orleans twice is key in helping them move up the standings, as winning both is their best way to get a leg-up on them in the standings, and with all the games at neutral sites, anything can happen. 

The ease of opponents, along with the experience of Sacramento, will propel them to the 9-seed and force them into a play-in with Portland, a very even match, although the advantage goes slightly to Portland, due to having Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s scoring to aid them, something that will be hard for De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield to match. Getting Jusuf Nurkic back at Center/Power Forward is huge for the Blazers as well, as his lateral quickness and shot-blocking will be used effectively to slow down Marvin Bagley in the pick-and-roll, making this exclusively a backcourt-driven series. As much as I would love to see Sacramento back in the playoffs and into their glory days again, the uphill battle might be too much, as their time will run out in the playoff play-in.

San Antonio Spurs, #12 Seed, Western Conference (27-36), 4GB of Memphis

Remaining Teams to Play: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Jazz (x2), Nuggets, Kings, 76ers

With LaMarcus Aldridge deciding to undergo his right shoulder surgery now and skip Orlando, rather than go play and then opt for surgery, San Antonio’s record (tied) of 22-straight seasons of making the playoffs is now in jeopardy for the first time in this 22-season stretch. It almost seems unreal to think we could see a playoffs without San Antonio for as long as Gregg Popovich is coaching, the same way it was to see LeBron not be in the NBA Finals after 8 consecutive appearances (his injury did hold him back for almost half the season, but the Lakers simply did not have the talent anyways to surround LeBron with). Simply put, San Antonio simply does not have the talent that they would normally have due to injuries, to be able to compete for the 8-seed.

So, for the first time in forever (literally, and also a ‘Frozen’ reference), there actually will be an offseason where San Antonio will have a lottery pick in the NBA Draft (currently projected to have the #11 pick in the draft), and could have a ton of cap space with DeMar Derozan’s impending free agency upcoming, and him not returning, as his massive contract and age would not fit the team’s direction. I think San Antonio will look to go for Saddiq Bey in the draft at Small Forward, therefore solidifying Derrick White and Dejounte Murray as their backcourt of the future. This trip to Orlando is all about finding out who will be in San Antonio for the long-run, and who will be playing elsewhere.

Phoenix Suns, #13 Seed, Western Conference (26-39), 6GB of Memphis

Remaining Teams to Play: Mavericks (x2), Clippers, Pacers, 76ers, Heat, Wizards, Thunder

The team with the longest playoff drought currently is Phoenix, as they have not made the playoffs since their Western Conference Finals appearance in 2010, back when they had Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudamire, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson as the centerpieces of their star-studded squad, but were dethroned by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers in 6 games. Since then, they constantly end up picking in the lottery, and they have landed stars like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, and busts like Dragan Bender and Cameron Johnson. So all in all, Phoenix has just been an outlandish, inconsistent team on paper, but consistent in terms of losing games and missing the playoffs. However, with the acquisitions of Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, and Ricky Rubio, the team added much needed veteran players to a bizarrely young team. 

Things went very well this season to start, in fact, at one point Phoenix was one of the best teams in the league, but then DeAndre Ayton tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, missed 25 games, and since then have settled for mediocrity, but still currently consistent with the whole ‘miss-the-playoffs’ bill. Either way, this team is now healthy and will be well-rested, and can show their potential. I fully expect this team to play their fast-paced, inside-out, pace and space game on offense, but still have their usual struggles on defense, preventing them from winning games, such as games against teams like OKC, Philly, and Indiana. This team will come close, but teams like Sacramento and Portland will make it tough for Phoenix to climb their way into the playoffs, as record-wise, they were lucky to have an invitation to Orlando. Talent-wise, this team has a great core that with the proper development and scheming from their coaching staff over their trip to Orlando and this up coming offseason, can change Phoenix from a young and hopeful, to a gritty, tough-minded team that no one wants to play in the playoffs.

Nikhil’s Predictions: Orlando, Brooklyn, Washington

Brooklyn Nets, #7 Seed, Eastern Conference:

Remaining Schedule: Clippers (x2), Kings, Wizards, Celtics, Magic (x2), Trail Blazers

The Brooklyn Nets have largely underwhelmed this season, and the mid-season injuries to Kyrie Irving and others clearly have not helped their case of being future contenders in the Eastern Conference. That being said, they have been blessed with a current Eastern Conference which is weak in every aspect of the word, and have found themselves in a fairly beneficial position in 7th place. Even with the injury to their starting point guard, and the controversy he has been stirring in recent weeks in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Nets are adequately equipped to make the playoffs. Mainstays like Deandre Jordan, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and a very capable supporting cast can easily propel this team forward, and given that their schedule is easier compared to the Wizards’, they have very high chances to make the playoffs. In comparison to Orlando, the teams are very similar in roster depth and star power given that Irving and Durant are both out for the Nets, so expect these two teams to be very similar in record once the ‘regular season’ games are over. I’m predicting the Nets to finish 8th in the conference solely based on Orlando’s comparatively easier schedule. This will end up in an unfavorable draw with the Bucks come playoff time. 

Orlando Magic, #8 Seed, Eastern Conference, 0.5GB of Brooklyn: 

Remaining Schedule: Pacers, Kings, Nets (x2), Pelicans, 76ers, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers (not yet decided)

The Magic have found themselves in nearly an identical situation as the Nets, minus the starpower and controversy. Orlando has over the years become a rather mundane destination for players, and honestly is one of the more forgettable teams in the league. But make no mistake, this team is a viable playoff squad, and outclasses a good amount of teams within the Eastern Conference. Players like Evan Fournier, DJ Augustin, and Jonathan Isaac provide the foundation for a quality squad, and to top it off, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic give the team that firepower to put them over the edge. Again, given their rather easy schedule, compared to the Nets and Wizards, they are a very strong contender to make the playoff picture, and in my opinion, will get the 7th seed over the Nets. The fact of the matter is that Orlando avoids playing stronger teams like Boston and the Clippers, and instead plays the likes of Indiana and New Orleans. Because of this, I believe they will finish in 7th after the regular season games finish, and draw a matchup with either Toronto or Boston, depending on how things shake up.

Washington Wizards, #9 Seed, Eastern Conference, 5.5GB of Orlando:

Remaining Schedule: Celtics (x2), Thunder, 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Suns, Bucks

Let’s be very clear right of the bat, the Wizards need MULTIPLE miracles to make the playoffs. Make no mistake, Bradley Beal and company have a very nice team put together: the likes of Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr combining forces causes this team to be very dangerous when slept on. Combine this with the uber-underrated Beal and his offensive ability, and you have a very deadly squad. The issue that has plagued this team for many of the past years however, is their  inability to get stops on the defensive end. Year after year, contest after contest, the Wizards manage to put up points very nicely, but throw away opportunities so often with lackluster focus and inability to make crucial stops. This does not seem likely to change when going into the modified NBA season this year, and given that their schedule is filled with matchups against offensive-minded power teams like Milwaukee and Boston (both of which they play TWICE), the playoffs seem bleak. Expect them to finish 9th outside of the postseason picture, and far enough record wise to wear a 8th and 9th seed with the predicted Brooklyn Nets would not be necessary.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

‘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.