At the end of the final episode of “The Last Dance,” we watched a 57-year-old Michael Jordan stare at a tablet as Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf explained why the Jordan-era Bulls were forced into an abrupt conclusion. To make a long story short, Reinsdorf believed then – and still believes now – that running it back with Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen would have been been “suicidal.” And that, indeed, re-signing the key players simply wasn’t within the realm of possibilities.
I’m not sure what I expected, but Michael Jordan sure seemed to do my feelings justice.
In what became a familiar physical response throughout the series, Jordan looked equal parts unimpressed and unsurprised by the comments presented before him. To be exact, he said: “It’s maddening, because I felt like we could’ve won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just to not be able to try, that’s something that I just can’t accept for whatever reason. I just can’t accept it.”
To this day, that missed opportunity looms over Jordan’s head – and in the back of every Bulls fan’s mind. And as much as Reinsdorf may feel like he did the right thing at the time (or, apparently, even in retrospect), it’ll always be crazy to think that team led by that superstar and that head coach didn’t get a real chance to defend their title. But, as obvious as that may be to the rest of us, Reinsdorf still doesn’t seem to understand.
In a phone conversation with NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, Reinsdorf gave his thoughts on Jordan’s closing statement, and he sure seems to remember things differently than Michael:
“I was not pleased. How’s that? He knew better. Michael and I had some private conversations at that time that I won’t go into detail on ever. But there’s no question in my mind that Michael’s feeling at the time was we could not put together a championship team the next year.”
Frankly, I’m a little surprised by this reaction and these comments.
Reinsdorf may have believed then what he believes now – keeping the band together simply wasn’t going to be financially or strategically feasible, given the player-interest elsewhere, upcoming-season projections, and long-term health of the organization – but is he really surprised by Jordan’s words? Even if Reinsdorf is right and Jordan really did come to understand why things played out the way they did, is he supposed to pretend the regret is nonexistent? Is he supposed to pretend he hasn’t wondered? Wish he hadn’t tried? Of course not.
This is *Michael Jordan.*
Moreover, I’d argue that any championship team should get a shot to defend their title, projections be dammed, but that’s really besides the point. After all, let’s not pretend like the 1997-1998 Bulls team was just any team. They’re even more of an exception to the rule. At a certain point, it’s not about what’s likely to happen, it’s about what we all wanted to see attempted. And there’s not a soul in Chicago – even without the benefit of hindsight – that would’ve blamed Jerry Krause or Jerry Reinsdorf for not returning to the promised land in 1999, so long as they did it with Jordan and company on board.
No. The correct response would have been: We made a decision at the time that we thought had the best long-term interests of the franchise in mind. Indeed, even though things haven’t exactly worked out since, we believe we followed the correct process – and that’s the best you can ever do. With that said, knowing what I know now, yeah, sure, I wish we could have tried one more time. Who wouldn’t have wanted to see that? Like every Bulls fan out there, I’ll always wonder What if? And I don’t blame Jordan for wanting to see it. I do too. We all do.
But that’s not what he said. Instead, he seems to take Jordan’s comments as some sort of personal attack, while employing faint praise thereafter cover for the rest.
So, yeah, I don’t know. Maybe Jordan really was convinced out of his position at the time. But after seeing that documentary and hearing his words on the abrupt end, I have no doubt he wanted to go for seven. It’s Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause that had different plans.
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Elias Schuster contributed to this post.