This wasn’t a bad weekend as far as lockdown, confinements go. In fact between the NFL draft and the ESPN special on the 1998 Chicago Bulls, it was almost like we really had something to look forward to. For two hours on Sunday night, America got a chance to be reminded what greatness actually looked like with the 10-part “Last Dance” on ESPN.
I think the championship running of the Bulls may turn out to be one of those sports stories that goes from fact to legend in the blink of an eye. The 1927 Yankees or the 1955 Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers were mere mortals for only a short period of time before the weight of history compressed them into something far different. I’m sure there are others, like Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen, Larry and Magic, the Wizards of Westwood or the Big Red Machine, where the whole is more significant because of the greatness of its parts.
But what makes that run of six titles in eight years so special were two people, Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. For those who haven’t watched the first four episodes of ESPN’s incredible story it is “must see TV.”
No one had a camera crew watching DiVinci paint or Shakespeare write, but if you have a chance to watch history unfold — make sure there is film in the camera. And that is exactly what ESPN had access to from NBA Entertainment — watching history unfold across the ultimate season on the brink — the end of the Bulls dynasty.
For millennials and Gen Xers who have spent their lives being force fed a steady diet of LeBron, four hours of watching Michael should be enough to dismiss any questions or comparison. MJ was the most competitive basketball player since Dr. Naismith first nailed up a peach basket to a pole.
Jordan’s hatred of Isiah Thomas 25 years later might appear petty, but it is a window into what made him so great. For Isiah, back-peddling about a missed handshake a quarter of a century later shows the difference in intensity between the two. Were the Bad Boys from Detroit really thugs and degenerates? No, just a team that was smart enough to find a way to block out the sun for two seasons.
The film also captured how coach Phil Jackson understood that leadership and coaching were not cookie cutter applications. Jackson understood that power was something that was shared not hoarded. His ability to handle the egos of Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman, and still mold 10 other players into a championship machine, could only be compared to D-Day and Operation Overlord. Without getting into too many details, Jackson was able stand on the ground and still see the team with a 30,000-foot view.
Jordan had to give his personal permission for this documentary to be released, and for many years he refused. Many thought that the footage would make him look petty and vindictive, which it does to a small degree, however, it also makes him look like he actually was, the most competitive player in the history of basketball. I don’t know what I’m going to do for the next five days, but I do know what I’m going to do on Sunday night — Parts 5 and 6 of The Last Dance.
I wanted to end this column with recognition of the passing of Dr. Joe Calderazzo. Dr. Joe, as he was known by most, was a long-time, multi-sport referee and physician in our area for close to 40 years I believe.
I did not know Dr. Joe as a doctor, only as a referee, however, he was one of the most likeable and friendly gentleman I had met in 20 years of covering sports in this area. He always had a smile and a handshake on the sidelines and would always ask how my family was doing.
Most people know that Joe had a heart attack at Carmel on the field in 2013 during a playoff football game and was resuscitated, only to continue to officiate again. He was an incredibly nice man and he will be missed.