The thrill of collectively enjoying a basketball product, learning about the game of basketball in the year I was born and debunking a popular myth highlighted my Sunday night. The Last Dance was both a smash hit for people of my generation who didn’t live it and powerful ammunition against older critics of today’s game.
Some who rip the buddying-up of the NBA today were caught off guard by Danny Ainge and Michael Jordan golfing in the playoffs between games one and two between the Bulls and Celtics. There’s no story quite like that in the contemporary game that we know of.
Even Bob Ryan, appearing on my “Dome Theory” podcast on CLNS Media, was surprised by the golf outing. It made my list of three things from the documentary that critics of today’s game bemoan. Bob agreed — it did expose some hypocrisy from the older crowd.
The Last Dance points to Jerry Krause as the reason for the film’s title. Ryan, a self-proclaimed DOJ, “defender of Jerry,” remembered Krause as the reason Chicago consolidated around Jordan. The sly drafting of Scottie Pippen, Charles Oakley trade for Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman signing and hiring Jackson strengthened Jordan’s core. Ryan called on Phil Jackson to defend Krause’s legacy.
Jackson was a Continental Basketball Association coach ostracized from the NBA for his views and book “Maverick.” Krause gave him a job and platform to become one of the greatest coaches of all time where others wouldn’t.
“(Krause) couldn’t get out of his own way,” Ryan said. “Socially, Jerry messed himself up with these people. There’s no question, but I’m telling you he monumentally helped build that team … it’s disgraceful … to demean this guy now.”
Among the context provided by Ryan on the documentary, living through the Jordan explosion in the Garden in 1986 gave him perspective beyond the famous Larry Bird quote.
True, Bird called him “God disguised as Michael Jordan” after the Celtics narrowly escaped his 63-point playoff record that still stands today. Only a year prior 29 points affirmed what stunned Ryan and a group of writers. Bird called the rookie Jordan the greatest player he’d ever seen.
While the Last Dance makes it seem like Bird discovered Jordan in that playoff series, he was already well aware. Both Bird and Magic Johnson, the foremost players of the 1980s, appeared in the documentary with enormous praise for the Bulls legend.