The careers of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant overlapped for a fleeting moment. Yet, the tribute to Bryant at the outset of Episode 5 of “The Last Dance” is one of the more moving segments of the 10-part docuseries, which enters its third weekend.
Here are the 23 moments from the fifth and sixth episodes that most captivated me:
1. Episode 5 opens with “In Loving Memory of Kobe Bryant,” in which Jordan pays homage to the Lakers star. I will leave it at that. Watch it.
2. Jordan’s final All-Star game with the Chicago Bulls occurs in the middle of the 1997-98 season. The event, which was played in New York, entertainingly features Jordan and some fellow All-Stars, who are off camera, talking some smack to a young, rambunctious Bryant. One player said that after Bryant’s first four shot attempts didn’t go in, he figured Bryant “was gonna chill.”
“After the first four attempts? If I was his teammate, I wouldn’t pass him the …ball!” Jordan said with a profanity.
3. Though long retired as players, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird still hover over the MJ storyline. It’s hilarious watching Bird, the coach of the 1998 Eastern Conference All-Star team, point to Magic in a hallway before the game and talk some smack. “Hey, Michael, wouldn’t you like to have some of his ass today?” Bird says, smiling.
“Hey, you know I be coming at his ass,” Johnson says.
Jordan replies with profanity.
“Just like I used to come at both of y’all,” Johnson says.
4. During the game, Bryant asked for Jordan’s advice, which he was more than willing to share. “He’s like my big brother,” Bryant said.
5. On March 8, 1998, in his final visit to Madison Square Garden as a Bull, Jordan wore a pair of red and white Air Jordan 1s, the first shoe he wore in the Garden.
6. Jordan acknowledged the shoe company he wanted to sign with was Adidas. Jordan’s dad, James, told his son during Nike’s pitch that “you got to be a fool for not taking this deal. This is the best deal.”
7. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, who came up with the name “Air Jordan,” said Nike had hoped to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans by Year 4 of the deal. “In Year 1, we sold $126 million,” Falk said.
8. For those of us who remember, it’s strange to have to explain Mars Blackmon. But we’re here to serve the kids, too. Mars, played by Spike Lee, costarred with Jordan in the commercial that brought urban culture to the sports landscape.
9. Last weekend, Isiah Thomas was the notorious foil for Jordan. This weekend, it’s Clyde Drexler, whose comparisons to Jordan during the 1992 NBA Finals excite Jordan’s ire. “Clyde was a threat,” Jordan said. “You know, I’m not saying he wasn’t a threat. But me being compared to him, I took offense to that.”
10. In Game 1 against Drexler’s Trail Blazers, Jordan dropped six threes on Portland in the first half, which prompted his now-famous shoulder shrug at the TV cameras. “He was like, ‘I’m killing this dude,’” said Johnson, who was working for NBC as an analyst during that series.
11. One last Jordan thought about the Drexler comparisons: “Based on the way I was playing at that time, it wasn’t even close.”
12. The Bulls’ championships in 1991 and ’92 didn’t prevent Jordan from taking another shot at general manager Jerry Krause during the ’92 celebration. With a victory cigar in his mouth, Jordan told Krause, “You can’t smoke it. It will stunt your growth.”
13. When Rod Thorn, the USA Basketball chairman, asked Jordan to play on the first Dream Team in 1992, Jordan asked Thorn who would join him. “He says, ‘Well, the guy you’re talking about or you’re thinking about is not going to be playing,’” Jordan recalls.
That player was Thomas.
14. “The Dream Team, based on the environment and the camaraderie that happened on that team, it was the best harmony,” Jordan said. “Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes.”
15. These episodes begin to show Jordan’s shortcomings that come to define his story in the mid-90s, among them his lack of political engagement. “I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport,” Jordan says now. “I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That’s where my energy was.”
16. Trying to manage his legacy began to take a visible toll on Jordan during the 1993-94 season. “I’m ready for getting out this life,” Jordan said. “You know when you get to that point. I’m there — with no reservations at all. I’m there.”
17. Jordan holds Bulls forward Horace Grant as the primary culprit for opening the curtain on the team’s inner workings in Sam Smith’s sometimes unflattering book, “The Jordan Rules,” which detailed how difficult a teammate Jordan could be.
18. Episode 6 begins to remove the varnish from Jordan’s image in earnest, notably with its dive into Jordan’s gambling habits, which include a trip to Atlantic City with his father during the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Knicks in 1993.
19. We are introduced to golf hustler James “Slim” Bouler, who produced a signed check from Jordan for $57,000, a seminal moment in the debate about Jordan’s gambling habits.
20. “The Jordan Rules” is rightly remembered as the definitive book on the Jordan ’90s, but we also are reintroduced to Richard Esquinas’ book “Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction – My Cry for Help!” Esquinas claimed that Jordan owed him more than $1.2 million from golfing bets.
21. The NBA, which investigated Jordan’s gambling associates, directly addressed the questions with the player. When asked by newscaster Connie Chung if he had a gambling problem, Jordan answered. “No, because I can stop gambling. I have a competition problem; a competitive problem.”
22. By the time the Bulls defeat the Phoenix Suns for their third consecutive NBA championship in 1993, Jordan is visibly weary. “If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would never want to be considered a role model,” he said. “It’s like a game that’s stacked against me. There’s no way I can win.”
23. My weekly pitch for a soundtrack to be released soon, and it must include the track from rapper Nas, with Lauryn Hill, “If I Ruled the World.”
Imagine going to court with no trial
Lifestyle cruising blue behind my waters
No welfare supporters, more conscious of the way we raise our daughters
Days are shorter, nights are colder
Feeling like life is over, these snakes strike like a cobra