Last night in part six of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the Michael Jordan-centered
commercial documentary focused on Chicago’s 1993 Eastern conference finals against the New York Knicks. I could not have been more excited. And in that excitement, I could not have been more foolish.
“You must be a glutton for pain, watching that shit,” Joe Flynn messaged me when I said I’d write-up something on last night’s episode. I didn’t feel masochistic. I don’t enjoy re-living the Bulls beating the Knicks, the Jordan Bulls always coming out on top, especially the way it went down in 1993. Yet I couldn’t wait to hear what Chicago’s key players had to say about that time now.
I was 14 then. Knicks/Bulls was everything to me. It was basketball Armageddon, and if it wasn’t quite good versus evil it was a fight against the odds. Maybe deep down Lucifer and his fallen angels knew all along they couldn’t beat God. But they kept coming till they were cast down. Even the losing sides in war can hope to be remembered well in its telling. The Knicks faced MJ five times in the playoffs and most of those times took him to six or seven games. What currency would that gain them? Would the Bulls finally admit the Knicks brought them doubt? Even fear? No. Instead, what little that was said spoke volumes, as did what came after the episode aired.
“[It was] very intense,” Jordan said of the rivalry. “Because I know how bad they wanted to beat us.” That’s some passive-aggressive shit right there. Jordan’s rhetoric is clear and pointed: there was a rivalry because of what the Knicks were doing, because of what they wanted. It wasn’t two teams bound by familiarity (like Indiana) or contempt (like Miami would become). It was one team being obsessed with the other. Michael Jordan is Regina George.
Jordan went on: “Mentally [the Knicks] were a hard-working team, but I firmly believe that...when we were playing at our best and they playing at their best, we a much better team.” OK. That one stings. Pro’ly ‘cuz it’s true. The Knicks could never, ever, ever win in Chicago, and only once did they ever force the Bulls to face elimination. I was confused. Why had I been so excited for this episode? What had I expected to hear said about my heroes? Jordan is infamous for carrying grudges for years, decades. Why would he elevate the Knicks when he is forever the victor, free to write them off knowing how quickly history’s readers forget about its losers? Consider what Danny Ainge told Jackie MacMullan about Jordan and Clyde Drexler before the 1992 Finals:
“‘I knew we were in trouble because Clyde was getting all this hype, and Michael was being very deferential, saying all the right things,’ Ainge told [MacMullan]. ‘I knew he wouldn’t stop until he made it clear that no one — not Clyde or anyone else — was on his level.’ Jordan outscored Drexler 39-16 in Game 1 and never looked back. Weeks later, he and Drexler were Olympic teammates, and Jordan rode Drexler so hard that some of the players finally asked him to back off.”
Ultimately, I wanted to see and hear about my favorite team from back when they were good because what’s stayed with me over the years aren’t the losses to Chicago, nor the slander against them that’s built over the years (we’ll get to more of that slander in a moment). My side lost the war, but I know the history is greater than what’s survived. “The Last Dance” gave me a chance to gain a glimpse, even peripherally, of a magical time in Knicks history and in my life. Jordan can have his rings and his infomercials. Seeing Anthony Mason and John Starks back in their primes in the day brings me somewhere better.
Finally, Charles Oakley got on the slander express shortly after last night’s episode finished, once again attacking Patrick Ewing. Yes, this is the same Charles Oakley who did nothing nearly as well as Ewing and who Xavier McDaniel recently reminded Knicks Fan TV often missed wide-open layups. But there’s no earth left the Oak Man won’t scorch, so he explained how Ewing failed the Knicks by not being Jordan.
“Danny Ainge said [he and Jordan] played golf 36 holes before a playoff game,” Oakley said. “I never thought he’d do that, but he’s incredible. When things go your way, you can take a chance of doing things. A lot of guys can’t do that. They don’t have that drive. Patrick would never do it like that — because he doesn’t have it inside of him...
“The Bulls had Michael and we had Patrick. It’s like seeing Beyoncé and going to see someone trying to be Beyoncé. If Beyoncé is in town, everyone’s going to see Beyoncé. If Michael and Patrick are in town, everyone is going to see Michael. They had ‘The Show.’ We tried to stop them and we couldn’t stop them.”
We’re all adults here. I’m not going to waste your time or mine diving into why Patrick Ewing isn’t Beyoncé. If Jordan was Beyoncé, than Ewing was Macy Gray. Nobody’s confusing Bey with Gray, but if you’re Macy Gray that’s shit to be proud of. And if Ewing is Gray, Oakley is her personal assistant. She may be efficient and productive in her job, but who cares what she thinks of what the talent is up to?