We all knew how this story would end. When it came time for the final episodes of “The Last Dance” on Sunday night, everyone knew it was a victory march, which would end with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls winning their sixth NBA crown, a repeat of three turns. But no matter how well we thought we knew this team, no matter how well we knew the history, surprises abounded, and it was a joy to go behind the scenes and watch a totally dominant athlete perform at his better.
When victory was sealed against the Utah Jazz in 1998, the champagne and cigars were released immediately. Jordan, cigar clenched in the jaw, sprinkles his teammates with champagne, who return the favor. The party continues at the team hotel – this series was won on the road in Utah, a mirror image of the previous year, which the Bulls also won in six games against the Jazz – and the Cigars are always part of the celebration.
“Is this the smoking floor?” Someone says as the Bulls exit the hotel elevator.
“It is now”, comes the response.
Jordan is seen in his hotel room, tapping on a piano, cigar in mouth, a smile stretching from ear to ear. He is happy. But is he happy?
The astonishing of last night’s episodes was Jordan revealing that his famous “Flu”, Game Five in the 1997 championship against the Jazz where Jordan performed despite being seriously ill, was not a flu case after all. He had food poisoning.
The day before the game, Jordan is hungry. He’s in a Utah hotel, and there’s no food service, at least not at such a late hour. His security team calls and finally finds an open place, a pizzeria.
âI ate the pizza on my own,â Jordan says. âI wake up around 2:30 am, throwing up left and rightâ¦ So it really wasn’t the flu game. It was food poisoning.
He stayed in bed all day, couldn’t eat; had an IV. âHe was in very bad shape,â said his teammate Scottie Pippin. “He showed, no matter how sick he got, he’s still the best player in the world.”
Jordan came out on the pitch, scored 38 points (more than any other player that night) and played an impressive 44 minutes. “He’s like The Terminator – he went somewhere and he found this switch,” ESPN reporter David Aldridge explains.
The show also devoted time to Bulls role player Steve Kerr, who had the winning shot to wrap up the 1997 NBA Championship. Kerr shares the tragedy with Jordan – his father was president of the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, and in 1984 he was shot and killed on campus. Kerr was in college at the time.
Just as Jordan got emotional in the previous episode where he opened up about his own father’s murder by a gun, we see Kerr go hazy as he reflects on his father, who loved basketball and would have been amazed to see his son play in the NBA and become a champion.
The last minute of this 1998 NBA Finals is all Jordanian, showing his offensive and defensive skills, and his will to win. While other players seized the opportunity to close the deal in those six Bulls’ championships – Kerr, John Paxson, others – everyone knew who would get the ball in the dying seconds of that final game. It had to be Sir Michael.
With just 60 seconds on the clock, Jordan tied the game with two free throws. John Stockton of Utah then drains a three-point, giving his team the advantage. Jordan then takes the pass and heads for the basket, pulling the Bulls inside. There are 37 seconds left. Utah brings the ball back onto the field, putting Karl Malone in the paint, but Jordan comes on the weak side and crushes the ball, causing a turnaround with less than 20 seconds to go. Jordan dribbles the ball all the way down the pitch, shakes a defender over the sideline and throws in a jump shot to give his team the lead with five seconds to go. Stockton misses his last second shot and the Bulls win.
Victory isn’t quite the end of the show. Jordan is happy, but is he happy? He clearly wanted more than his six wins, and you can see how much he wanted to have one more shot with that same team. But management had made it clear at the start of the season that coach Phil Jackson would not be invited back, that many of Jordan’s teammates would not be returning. Jordan wanted more.
Yes, he was happy with six. But not happy. âI felt like we could have won seven,â he says. “I just can’t accept it.”
Click here to read the full 2005 interview with Michael Jordan.
Click here to read the full 2017 interview with Michael Jordan.
Watch Michael Jordan’s Videos Cigar lover interview in 2017.