National Basketball Association

Bullish Approach

April 27

In a time where people are in desperate need of entertainment, The Last Dance has become appointment television.

ESPN aired the third and fourth episodes of its 10-part docuseries The Last Dance on Sunday night, chronicling the Chicago Bulls’ rise to prominence in the 1990s, culminating with the franchise’s sixth championship in 1998.

Here are five things we learned from these two episodes:

1. Dennis Rodman mastered the art of rebounding

Dennis Rodman already had his own ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled Rodman: For Better or Worse, but with a player who has as many layers to his personality and game as Rodman, there is always new information to be uncovered.

One of the new pieces of information that most of the world gathered on Sunday was how Rodman – one of the greatest rebounders in league history – became a dominant rebounder through intense study.

In Episode 3 of The Last Dance, Rodman explained that he learned how the ball would spin off certain players' hand, which allowed him to anticipate what direction it would come off the rim.

"I practiced a lot, learning the angle of the ball and the trajectory of it. If it's Larry Bird it's going to spin, if it's Magic it maybe spins. So basically I just learned how to put myself in position to get the ball."

Rebounding is often regarded as a hustle stat, one that doesn't take much skill.

Rodman proved otherwise.

2. Jackson and Rodman were more similar than we imagined

In Episodes 3 and 4, Rodman's vibrant personality and affinity for partying were on full-display, highlighted by his midseason vacation to Las Vegas in 1998.

But the reason Rodman was able to operate in such a free-spirited fashion is because the guy in charge was just as free-spirited.

Jackson, we learned, was a well-known partygoer in his youth.

The revelation that Jackson used acid shocked many, but it didn't derail his journey to becoming arguably the best coach in the NBA.

Jackson understood that in order to get the best out of Dennis Rodman, he had to let Dennis Rodman be Dennis Rodman.

To this day, Rodman still appreciates how Jackson handled him while he played for Chicago.

"I call Chuck Daly God, I call Phil Jackson Moses. Those guys really took me in and said, 'Dennis, we understand what you're going through, we understand your game.'"

3. Scottie Pippen played through that infamous migraine

Michael Jordan had the 'Flu Game' and Scottie Pippen had the 'Migraine Game.'

Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons was nearly decided before it tipped off, when Pippen woke up that morning with a massive migraine.

However, it became clear on Sunday night that although Pippen was suffering, he played that night – he played a lot.

Pippen didn't play well that night. He shot 1-for-10 from the field, finishing with 2 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.

But, what we learned on Sunday is that the migraine was so bad, Pippen said it impaired his vision and had him on the verge of vomiting, limiting his effectiveness on the court, which in turn crippled the Bulls' chances of overcoming the Pistons.

Pippen would have the chance to redeem himself in 1991, when the Bulls would finally defeat the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and advance to their first-ever NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, where Pippen would play a huge role in slowing down Magic Johnson and earning Chicago its first title.

4. Tension still exists between Michael Jordan and the Pistons

Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons were fierce rivals during their playing days – and as it turns out, rivalries like that don't fade away.

Thomas and the 'Bad Boys' Pistons eliminated Jordan and the Bulls from the Eastern Conference playoffs in three consecutive postseasons, from 1988-1990. But it wasn't just that the Pistons won – it was how they did it.

The Pistons invoked the infamous "Jordan Rules" every time they matched up with the Bulls.

However, the most important Jordan rule was this: When Air Jordan took flight, make sure his landing was anything but smooth.

The play was so physical that it forced Jordan to reevaluate his approach to the game, and heading into the 1991 NBA season, Jordan came back both mentally and physically stronger.

The ill-will between the two teams reached a tipping point after the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, when Chicago broke through and swept Detroit.

In the final moments of Game 4, the Pistons decided to walk off of the court without shaking hands, leaving an everlasting bad taste in the mouth of Jordan, who blames Thomas for the slight.

"There's no way you can convince me he wasn't an a**hole."

Shannon Sharpe discussed Jordan still harboring negative feelings towards Thomas and the Pistons today.

"Michael Jordan believes it was Isiah. Isiah said it was Bill Laimbeer and Jordan says, 'Isiah, you're the leader of that team and you should have known better.'"

Apparently, there is no love lost on Thomas' side of the fence in 2020 either. On Monday, he refused to give the Bulls credit for doing what they were supposed to do to defeat the Pistons.

"The Chicago Bulls, they are rewarded for lifting weights, getting stronger, and becoming mentally tougher. That's what you are supposed to do to win a championship ... We got high school kids now lifting weights."

It's safe to say the hatchet won't be buried between Jordan and Thomas any time soon.

5. Doug Collins pushed Jordan to greatness

Jackson gets a lion's share of the credit for getting the Bulls over the hump and helping turn them into a championship organization.

However, before he was hired, Doug Collins oversaw the rise of Jordan during his quest to become the most dominant player in the NBA.

Jordan and Collins bonded almost immediately, mainly because Jordan refused to let Collins lose his first game as the Bulls head coach in 1986.

During his three seasons as Bulls head coach, Collins pushed and challenged Jordan, even stacking the deck against Jordan in practice.

Jackson pushed the Bulls over the mountain top, but Collins did a lot of the heavy lifting before the Zen Master took over.


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