'The Last Dance' Release: Five Things to Know Ahead of ESPN's Michael Jordan Documentary

ESPN's The Last Dance documentary carries with it so many narratives that singling one out is nearly impossible. The 10-part series, which premieres on Sunday on ESPN and ABC and at midnight PT on Netflix, chronicles the final season of Michael Jordan's season with the Chicago Bulls through the medium of interviews and an almost unprecedented access-all-areas approach.

Director Jason Hehir, who produced had access to approximately 10,000 hours of largely unseen footage and whittled it down to ten 60-minutes episodes which will take the viewers behind the scenes of one of the most successful dynasties in sports history.

While match highlights and statistical records are a click away and may well be still fresh in the minds of most fans, some aspects of Jordan's final seasons with the Bulls may be a little more obscure or may have been forgotten in the two decades since his final title.

Here's five things to refresh your memory ahead of Sunday night.

The Bulls' second dynasty

Forget for a second about the Golden State Warriors of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and the Los Angeles Lakers that ruled the NBA at the turn of the century with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The Chicago Bulls in the 1990s were the real dynasty of the modern NBA. With the league struggling to fill the void left by the Boston Celtics and Lakers epic battles in the 1980s, the Bulls emerged as the most recognizable team of the 1990s.

Not only were they successful, they transcended the sport in a way the Detroit Pistons that captured the 1989 and 1990 NBA titles never did. When Michael Jordan retired after the first three-peat, however, the final chapter of the Bulls dynasty appeared to have been written.

In its first season without No. 23, Chicago lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the New York Knicks and, despite having Jordan back in its ranks, fell at the same stage 12 months later to the Orlando Magic.

MJ, however, reclaimed his throne in his first full season back in the NBA, as the Bulls became the first team to win at least 70 regular season games (they finished 72-10) before dropping just one game in the playoff en route to defeat the Seattle SuperSonics 4-2 in the NBA Finals.

A year later, Chicago went 69-13 and lost just twice in the playoffs, before overcoming the Utah Jazz in six games to defend the title. With Jordan's trusted lieutenant Scottie Pippen still in the team and Dennis Rodman (who had won two NBA titles with the Pistons) joining in 1995, the Bulls looked even more formidable than the team that had won three titles in a row between 1991 and 1993 and were poised to complete a second three-peat.

That they did, again defeating the Utah Jazz in six games, with Jordan ending his career in Chicago six NBA titles and six NBA Finals MVP in as many trips to the NBA Finals.

Off-court drama

While the Bulls maintained a perfect facade on the court, off it the building was beginning to crumble behind the scenes.

Chicago began the 1997-98 season with Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and coach Phil Jackson all on a one-year contract and with Scottie Pippen out after undergoing surgery and distinctly unhappy with general manager Jerry Krause.

Krause had also made clear to Jackson he could leave at the end of the season, despite the fact Jordan had stated he would never play for another coach.

It all contributed to create a tense environment and what Jordan described as "a trying year," yet one which delivered another title.

"So Phil started off the year saying, 'This is the last dance,' and we played it that way," Jordan told Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts on Thursday. "Basically, it just kind of tugged at you through the course of the year, knowing that this had to come to an end. But it also centered our focus to make sure we ended it right."

Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan (L) holds the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy and former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson holds the NBA champions Larry O'Brien trophy after winning game six of the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 14, 1998. The Bulls won the game 87-86 to take their sixth NBA championship. Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty

Phil Jackson's final season

As mentioned above, the 1997-98 season was not only Michael Jordan's final season with the Bulls, but it was also Jackson's last year in Chicago.

In fact, the latter's destiny played a crucial role in convincing Jordan it was time to retire for a second time.

Having won five NBA titles in eight seasons in Chicago, the man known as the Zen Master lost his proverbial calm after Bulls general manager Jerry Krause suggested success could not be attributed to coaches and players.

Krause, who as Jordan recalled on Thursday told Jackson he would be out of a job even if he went 82-0 in the regular season, signed Jackson to a one-year contract before the 1997-98 season.

"Phil only wanted to coach one more year, and we only wanted Phil to coach one more year," Krause said, according to The New York Times.

Jackson, unsurprisingly, saw it differently.

"The only dark spot is the resonance of the words of [Krause], who said recently that coaches and players don't win championships, that organizations win championships," he said during a pre-season trip to Paris.

"He would say that. Michael [Jordan] says he won't come back after this season to play for the Bulls unless I'm the coach, but I signed a one-year deal and the Bulls definitely have plans to hire another coach for next year. Probably Tim Floyd of Iowa State."

Floyd did indeed replace Jackson in Chicago but won a combined 45 games in three seasons, before resigning in December 2001. Meanwhile, following a one-year sabbatical, Jackson took over the Los Angeles Lakers, winning another five NBA titles.

Scottie Pippen was not a happy man

Pippen had won five NBA titles alongside Jordan and Jackson but was far from a happy camper at the beginning of the 1997-98 season. For a start, he underwent left foot surgery ahead of the season, meaning he missed the first 35 games of the campaign—an unusual situation for a player who had missed 19 games over the previous nine seasons combined—and did not return until January.

The timing of the surgery—Pippen waited until training camp to undergo the procedure—reportedly annoyed Jordan and some of his teammates, with the former particularly unhappy at having to carry an even heavier-than-usual load.

Aside from fitness issues, the Bulls No. 33 was at loggerheads with Krause. The feud dated all the way back to 1995, when Pippen, who was bitter at being underpaid, had told TNT Sports he had hoped he would be traded away from Chicago. Jordan's trusted lieutenant was subject to a host of trade rumors, linking him with moves to Seattle, Sacramento, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers but never left the Bulls, which only compounded his frustration and led him to label Krause a "compulsive liar".

The trade rumors continued during the 1997-98 season, which began with Pippen being, somewhat incredibly, only the sixth-highest paid on the Bulls roster. The fifth overall pick of the 1987 NBA draft never made over $4 million a year during Chicago's six titles and eventually left the Bulls for the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade deal following the 1998 NBA lockout.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan (L) and Scottie Pippen (R) of the Chicago Bulls talk during the final minutes of their game in the 1997 NBA Eastern Conference finals aaginst the Miami Heat at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls won the game 75-68 to lead the series 2-0. Vincent Laforet/AFP/Getty

Toni Kukoc's role

One of the sources of Pippen's displeasure was the ever-growing role of Toni Kukoc. The Croatian was selected by the Bulls in the second round of the 1990 NBA draft and Krause spent years to convince him to move to the NBA.

When Kukoc first came across Pippen and Jordan at the 1992 Olympics, the welcome was far from warm.

"Krause was recruiting this guy and talking about how great he was," Jordan said in the NBA TV documentary The Dream Team.

"That's like a father who has all his kids and now he sees another kid that he loves more than he loves his own. So we weren't playing against Toni Kukoc. We were playing against Jerry Krause in a Croatia uniform."

Kukoc, who at the time was arguably the greatest player in Europe, faced a similar treatment when he eventually moved to Chicago in 1993 and two years later admitted he was surprised by Pippen's frosty welcome and his cold demeanour. While the duo never publicly had any issues (last year the latter even suggested Kukoc should be in the Hall of Fame) Pippen was clearly unhappy with the money Krause had invested in the Croatian, particularly given he felt he was underpaid. Never one shy of making his point, in Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals he famously sat out the last 1.8 seconds of the game after Jackson had designed a play for Kukoc.

The Croat, to his credit, eventually developed into a key weapon for the Bulls and was named Sixth Man of the Year in 1996, before starting 17 of the Bulls' 21 playoff games in the summer of 1998, more than in the four previous seasons combined.

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