Michael Jordan still has no sympathy for Detroit.
Michael Jordan still has no sympathy for Detroit.

Handshake still makes MJ’s blood boil

There's plenty for basketball fans to sink their teeth into when it comes to The Last Dance.

Netflix's 10-part docu-series mixes never-before-seen footage from the Chicago Bulls' 1997/98 season with new interviews to piece together the journey of Michael Jordan and Co. during that decade on their way to a sixth NBA championship and second three-peat.

Basketball fans will see Jordan like never before as he reflects on his career and that final glorious campaign - his last in a Bulls jersey.


The Detroit Pistons had been Chicago's bogey team as the Bulls searched desperately for the franchise's first ever championship.

The Pistons beat the Bulls in the 1988 Eastern Conference semi-finals, and the 1989 and 1990 Eastern Conference Finals.

Detroit, led by defensive beast Dennis Rodman, bullied Chicago - and everyone else - during those years en route to three straight NBA Finals appearances - winning the title on the last two of those visits.

But there was sweet revenge for the Bulls in 1991 when they finally overcame their hoodoo and swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, before going on to win their maiden championship.

It was a huge moment for Jordan and his teammates but the way Detroit reacted to that groundbreaking playoffs defeat still irks His Airness.

Pistons players walked off the court in the final game without shaking any of the Bulls players' hands. Detroit star Isiah Thomas says in The Last Dance they didn't think there was anything wrong with that because that's how the Boston Celtics reacted when they were beaten by the Pistons in the playoffs.

"As we're coming out of the game (against Chicago, Bill), Laimbeer says, 'We're not shaking their hands, this is how we're leaving'," Thomas says.

"To us, that was OK. Knowing what we know now and the aftermath of what took place, I think all of us would have stopped and said congratulations like they do now.

"We would have done it, of course we would have done it. But during that period of time, that's just not how it was passed. When you lost, you left the floor - that was it."

Detroit always seemed to spoil Chicago’s party.
Detroit always seemed to spoil Chicago’s party.

But Jordan isn't copping that excuse. He didn't accept it then, and he won't accept it nearly 30 years later.

"I know it's all bulls***," Jordan, 57, says of Thomas' justification. "Whatever he says now, you know it wasn't his true actions then.

"He's had time enough to think about it or the reaction of the pubic that's changed his perception of it. You can show me anything you want, there's no way you can convince me he wasn't an a**hole."

Jordan says you only need to look at how he reacted after losing the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, when he shook the Pistons' hands, to understand they should have behaved the same way the following year.

"All you've got to do is go back to us losing in Game 7. I shook everybody's hands," Jordan says.

"Two years in a row, we shook their hands when they beat us. There was a certain respect to the game that we paid to them. That's sportsmanship, no matter how much it hurts. And believe me, it f***ing hurt.

"But they didn't have to shake our hands. We knew we whipped their a** already and that to me was in some ways better than winning a championship."

Reflecting on that incident, then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson says in the documentary: "It was difficult for them because they were two time champions but there certainly has to be some respect."

Former Bulls star Horace Grant remembers it much more bluntly. "Straight-up b****es. That's what they walked off like," he says of the way the Pistons reacted.


Jordan demanded the best from his teammates, like Scottie Pippen.
Jordan demanded the best from his teammates, like Scottie Pippen.

Jordan was a competitive beast and he wanted all his teammates to be the same.

That was even more true ahead of the 1990/91 season as Jordan, sick of losing to the Pistons, vowed to go to any lengths necessary to beat them. He got in the gym and started adding some much needed muscle to his frame so he could do some physical bullying of his own when push invariably came to shove against Detroit.

At the time there was a stigma Jordan was good for individual accolades, but couldn't deliver a championship.

"It ate at me," Jordan says of that reputation in The Last Dance. "My energy started to gear towards my teammates and pushing them to excel."

Jordan's partner in crime Scottie Pippen remembers his legendary teammate "was on us, no mistakes allowed" while Grant says in the off-season before the 1990/91 campaign: "I see a screaming devil. You make a mistake he's gonna scream at you … he demands almost perfection.

"When you see your leader working extremely hard in practice, you feel like, 'Oh man, if I don't give it my all I shouldn't be here'."

All that hard work paid off. After overcoming the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan and Co. beat Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals to secure Chicago's first ever title.

All of a sudden, the ferocity and anger that had built up in Jordan as he chased his dream washed away.

Raw footage from the Bulls' locker room after beating the Lakers shows Jordan in tears, cradling the championship trophy as he hugs it tighter than he would his own child.

"When you get to that finish line and you know that you won, all those emotions that you wrapped up into, you can just kind of let go," Jordan says.

For his teammates, it was a huge shock to see Jordan transform from the intense figure they knew into someone whose emotions came flooding out.

Looking back on that drought-breaking championship in The Last Dance, former bulls centre Will Perdue says: "Everybody knows and has the picture in their mind where we beat Cleveland on that last shot (in the 1989 playoffs) and he (Jordan) is punching the air and he's all excited.

"That's who we knew. The competitive Michael Jordan, the win at all costs Michael Jordan. Sometimes we questioned whether he was human, whether he had feelings. (He was) Just a guy who was focused on one thing and one thing only.

"The only emotion we had ever seen out of him was anger or frustration. We were literally stunned to see those emotions (of Jordan crying in the locker room)."

The first two episodes of The Last Dance will air on Netflix Australia on April 20 with two episodes to be released every following week

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