Jul 7, 2020

Sports Intel — Going Gaga Over the Last Dance

With the League regular season suspended indefinitely, fans are left wanting and eager for game time action. It is tiring to watch regular-season replays and people are looking forward to the resumption of this season if the NBA decides to do so … a big IF given that the United States is now the epicenter of the pandemic. The release of the Last Dance is a breath of fresh air for a basketball country like the Philippines.

I think the National Basketball Association is really brilliant. At a time when the world has locked down keeping everyone at home and shutting down sporting seasons due to the COVID-19 threat, a perfect antidote was released by the NBA and ESPN. It is not necessarily a cure for the pandemic but an epic of a flashback in the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ’90s.

With the League regular season suspended indefinitely, fans are left wanting and eager for game time action. It is tiring to watch regular-season replays and people are looking forward to the resumption of this season if the NBA decides to do so … a big IF given that the United States is now the epicenter of the pandemic. The release of the Last Dance is a breath of fresh air for a basketball country like the Philippines.

Was it easy to build that team for the ages? The 90’s Bulls is an epitome of the modern-day basketball dynasty. No team can boast of two strings of 3-peats in a span of a decade. They could have won more than 6 titles if not for a “detour” that “MJ” took via the baseball minor league in ‘94. My bet? I believe the Bulls could’ve pulled off a string of 8 championships from 1991 to 1998. That’s how good the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) really was.

I was in my early adult years when the Bulls dominated the league. I would have to admit that the NBA finals, personally, became a bit boring since the Bulls were a constant contender during the said span. What made each NBA finals with the Bulls worth watching was that they won against multiple opponents during their prime:

1990 – 1991 vs the Magic Johnson led Los Angeles Lakers
1991 – 1992 vs the Portland Trailblazers of Clyde Drexler
1992 – 1993 vs the Phoenix Suns of Sir Charles Barkley (I personally rooted for the Suns in this matchup because I felt Barkley deserves the ring for his MVP effort this season)
1995 – 1996 vs the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp led Seattle Supersonics
1996 – 1997 vs the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton
1997 – 1998 a rematch against the Jazz

The teams that the Bulls had to beat to win those titles were no pushovers. They have legitimate all-stars in their line ups but nobody could pull the rug under MJ and his band of warriors. Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, BJ Armstrong, John Paxson, Bill Wennington, Bill Cartwright, Dereck Harper, and Luc Longley were key players in this Bulls team coached by Zen master Phil Jackson.

Credit should also be given to General Manager Jerry Krause who assembled the roster that dominated the decade. Alas, he was also the author of the “Last Dance”, making it known to the public that, due to the aging roster, the 1997 season would be the last of the Bulls’ core group including head coach Phil Jackson.

From the outside, it seems like the Bulls had a breeze in winning those 6 titles but in reality, the team was wrought with internal turmoil particularly toward the end of their dynasty. Player movement or trade rumors, contract renewals, and even Phil Jackson’s future with the ball club became a media sensation. Nowadays if teams display such symptoms, we know the end result is a disastrous season. This will not apply to the 90’s Bulls. Not with Michael Jordan leading the team. Not with Phil Jackson as head coach. They became masters of controlling internal team problems and venting their ire against their opponents in the basketball court.

No one ever came close to this dynasty. Everyone worked hard, blue-collar like, in their rise to fame. They were a system guaranteed to win. The triangle offense, patented by assistant coach Tex Winter and embraced by Phil and the team, maximized the collective talents of the Bulls. Of course, when the going gets tough, give the ball to MJ. A prime MJ is money.

What’s more amazing about Jordan is how he reinvented himself each year. Before winning his first championship, he was known as a ball-dominant scorer. Then he learned to make plays for his teammates (manifested very well against the Lakers), learned to shoot the 3 vs the Blazers, played rock-solid defense against the Suns, and so on.

It will be very hard to duplicate the feat made by the 90’s Bulls. Today’s salary structure and the way players lobby for 4 year deals only to bail out on the 3rd or 4th year of their contract(s) will be very hard for any General Manager to manage or control … what more winning 6 titles.

It will be a long while before we see another Bulls-like dynasty. I am quite happy that the “Last Dance” was released because it will be a good educational and motivational video for the younger generation who were not able to witness how MJ performed and proved to everyone that he is the greatest. So sit down, relax in the comforts of home, and watch this video, Palawan. It’s definitely worth your time.

(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)

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