With the sports world currently on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, ESPN is finally airing The Last Dance, its highly-anticipated documentary on Michael Jordan‘s final season with the Chicago Bulls.
The 10-part series takes a look at the Bulls’ historic 1997-1998 season, which was filled with uncertainty and drama but culminated with the team winning its sixth championship of the 1990s.
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Though Jordan will undoubtedly be the focus of the series, there will also be behind-the-scenes looks at other key figures of the team, including Scottie Pippen; legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson; sharpshooter Steve Kerr; and bad-boy Dennis Rodman, who famously dated Baywatch star Carmen Electra during the 1998 season.
The documentary’s first two episodes will drop this Sunday, April 19, at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN. After that, two new episodes of the series will air each Sunday until the finale on May 17.
With the premiere only a few days away, here are five things to know about Jordan’s final year with the Bulls.
The Bulls knew the team would likely break up at the season’s end.
In a recent interview with Good Morning America, Jordan said he and his Bulls teammates were aware their time together was coming to a close before the 1997-1998 season began.
According to Jordan, Bulls management had soured on Phil Jackson, the coach who had impressively led them to five championships since 1991. The front office allegedly told Jackson they would not bring him back after the season concluded.
“At the beginning of the season, it basically started when [Bulls general manager] Jerry Krause told Phil [Jackson] that he could go 82 and 0 and he would never get the chance to come back,” Jordan recalled.
For Jordan, that meant he also would not return to the team. He did not see himself playing for another coach at the time, he said.
“So Phil started off the year saying, ‘This is the last dance,’ and we played it that way,” Jordan recalled. “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.”
Bulls star Scottie Pippen was injured heading into the season — leaving their success in doubt.
Pippen entered the season on the injury list after he underwent surgery on his foot, which had been bothering him the previous year. Fortunately, he would return 35 games into the season with the Bulls sitting on a 24-11 record thanks to Toni Kukoc, who filled in for Pippen during his absence.
The small forward then had to play through a back injury just as the Bulls secured the Eastern Conference title — meaning Jordan’s performance was more important than ever.
The Bulls faced the Utah Jazz for a second consecutive time in the finals.
For the third year in a row, the Bulls reached the NBA Finals, and their opponent was the Utah Jazz, led by two future Hall of Famers — Karl Malone and John Stockton.
The Jazz lost to Jordan and the Bulls during the 1997 NBA Finals, but behind Malone, Stockton, and coach Jerry Sloane, they were seen as potential contenders to end Chicago’s championship run.
But the Jazz faced elimination once again in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Jordan famously stole the ball from Malone with 20 seconds left in the game, then dribbled down the court and hit a quick jumper that put the Bulls up by a single point with five seconds left.
It would be Jordan’s final shot as a member of the Bulls, and the one that cemented them as champions.
The Bulls completed their second “three-peat” — something that had never been done before.
Entering the 1997-1998 season, the Bulls were on the verge of doing something that few teams have ever done — winning three championships in a row. And they’d already done it once from 1991 to 1993.
But no team had ever done it twice (though the Boston Celtics won eight straight championships from 1959 to 1966).
Jordan retired from basketball for a second time after winning the championship.
Jordan would retire from basketball for a second time following the 1998 season. His first retirement, in 1993, came after the murder of his father. During his first retirement, Jordan signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox, where he played with their affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, until he announced his return to the NBA in March 1995.
Like the first time, Jordan made his return to basketball with the Washington Wizards in 2001.