'The Last Dance' Recap: Five Key Takeaways from the First Two Episodes of ESPN's Michael Jordan Documentary

The most-eagerly awaited sports documentary in recent history finally hit the screens on Sunday night, as the first two episodes of The Last Dance premiered on ESPN.

The 10-part documentary chronicling Michael Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls in the 1997-98 campaign would have been treated as a landmark event even in a normal year, but with sports fans starved of live sports due to the coronavirus pandemic it sparked the kind of frenzy normally reserved for NBA Finals, the Super Bowl or the finale of an iconic TV series.

Unlike the latter, the outcome of The Last Dance is well known, but that doesn't make the behind-the-scenes, tell-all documentary any less gripping.

Here's five major talking points from the opening two episodes.

Jordan was upset at rumors of an impending rebuild

In the early stages of the first episode, Jordan touched on the rumors the Bulls front office was considering breaking up the team ahead of the 1997-98 season.

"I just kept hearing this over and over again," Jordan explained.

"And I was just getting irritated. Like, we were winning."

Chicago had just won a second consecutive title and a fifth in seven years, but general manager Jerry Krause tried to convince franchise owner Jerry Reinsdorf the Bulls' historic core players had run their course.

"After the fifth championship, which was '96-97, we were looking at this team and we realized, other than Michael, the rest of the guys were probably at the end of their high-productive years," Reinsdorf explained.

"We realized, maybe this is the time to do a rebuild, and not win a sixth championship."

Fortunately for Bulls fans, Reinsdorf eventually persuaded Krause it may be worth waiting another season before blowing the team up and handed head coach Phil Jackson a one-year extension for the 1997-98 season.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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NBA Commissioner David Stern presents Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls the championship trophy after the Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game Six of the 1993 NBA Finals Andrew D. Bernstein/NBA Photos

James Worthy was better than Jordan

The first episode of The Last Dance gave viewers a comprehensive look back at Jordan's collegiate career. During three seasons at the University of North Carolina under coach Dean Smith, Jordan developed from promising player into one of the hottest prospects in college basketball, so much so that even his name changed—he was initially listed on the Tar Heels roster as "Mike Jordan".

During his freshman year, Jordan hit a 16-foot jumper with 15 seconds left to clinch a 63-62 win for the Tar Heels over Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Championship Game.

Still remembered as "The Shot" at UNC, the moment "turned my name from Mike to Michael Jordan," the six-time NBA champion recalled in the documentary.

The game also marked James Worthy's final appearance for the Tar Heels. Worthy would become the first overall pick of the 1982 NBA Draft and insisted he was a better player than MJ, albeit for a short period of time.

"I was better than him," Worthy said in the first episode.

"For about two weeks. He was sucking up information."

'The Bulls's Traveling Cocaine Circus'

During their six championship runs, the Chicago Bulls epitomized a ruthless title-winning machine. Despite some off court drama—which was hinted at in the first two episodes and will become more apparent over the next eight parts—the Bulls dominated the NBA like few teams had ever done.

The organization Jordan joined as a fresh-faced rookie in 1984, however, was as distant from the all-conquering juggernaut that ruled the 1990s. The Bulls were unsuccessful on the court and like to party off it, as MJ revealed on Sunday, when he lifted the lid on the use of recreational drugs that was common among his teammates.

Jordan first came face-to-face with the "Bulls' traveling cocaine circus" during his rookie season, while his shared a hotel with his teammates.

"So they open up the door. I walk in, and practically the whole team is in there," he said chuckling at the recollection of the incident.

"It was things I had never seen in my life as a young kid. You got your lines over here, you got your weed smokers over here, you got your women over here.

"The first thing I said is, I'm out. Because all I can think about is if they come raid this place right now, I am just as guilty as everyone else in this room. From that point on, I was more or less on my own."

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Michael Jordan during his rookie season in the NBA in 1984. Tom Berg/WireImage/Getty

The origins of 'The Last Dance'

The title of ESPN's 10-part documentary is far from casual. In fact, it was decided before the Bulls even began the 1997-98 season, which would prove to be their last dance.

Jackson knew the campaign would be his final year in Chicago—Krause had made clear not even going 82-0 would be enough to earn him a new multi-year deal—and decided to use it as motivational tool for his players.

"I talked to the players about particularly how important it wad for us to really be together in this last run that we were going to have," Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles as a coach, said. "So I called it the last dance."

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, then a part of the team that won the second three-peat, added: "Phil [Jackson] always looked for a theme for every season, and given that it was the last year we were gonna be together—management had already made that decision—in typical Phil fashion, he had a name for it."

The theme for the 1997-98 @chicagobulls season set by Phil Jackson... The Last Dance.#TheLastDance premieres Sunday (4/19) at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN! pic.twitter.com/JBWTRf7BaK

— NBA (@NBA) April 14, 2020

Jerry Krause is very much the villain

The former Bulls general manager was not a popular man among Bulls players going into the 1997-98. Krause had told Jackson he would be out of a job even if he went 82-0 in the regular season and won a third consecutive title for the second time.

By the time Jordan's final season with the Bulls got underway, Krause had a frosty relationship with Jackson and Jordan, who had felt disrespected and downright insulted by the general manager's claim that organizations mattered more than players and coaches.

Krause steadfastly maintained he had been misquoted and that he had in fact stated that "players and coaches alone don't win championships, organizations win championships", but the point stood.

Meanwhile, the Bulls general manager was also involved in a bitter feud with Pippen, who had described Krause as a "compulsive liar" and had demanded a trade for the second time in three years.

Krause, who died in 2017, will be a constant feature over the remaining eight episodes, but he's unlikely to be painted in a better light.

"He deserves a lot of credit [for building the team]," Kerr said. "But he couldn't get out of his own way."