Now that “The Last Dance” played out last Sunday, how long will the 10-part documentary series on the Chicago Bulls stick with us like an earworm of a song we can’t decide whether we like or despise?
The guess here is longer than a while. Media are partly the reason, of course, because the lack of live sports has given us opportunity to analyze this into submission.
There have been enterprising stories on the winners and losers, who capitalized on it, the what-abouts, the pizza (thin crust, pepperoni) Michael Jordan ate that 1997 night in Salt Lake City before he got so sick he couldn’t manage any more than 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals the next day against the Utah Jazz.
Oh, the humanity.
There already has been a separate sequel movie of the Jordan-led Bulls’ final triumph, the clinching Game 6 win in the 1998 NBA Finals, even.
But what there hasn’t been is enough on New Mexico’s most favorite Bull of the 1990s and the top takes of a certain Albuquerque Journal staffer. This offering ends both injustices.
WHAT ABOUT LUC? In all seriousness, we had hoped to get 7-foot-2 Australian’s Luc Longley’s take on his time in Chicago, as starting center for the last three (1996-98) Bulls championship teams. But the former New Mexico Lobo has been largely quiet since “The Last Dance” came out – rejecting numerous interview requests, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, before eventually changing his cell phone number.
It partly could be because, well, he was largely left out of the series. Its director Jason Hehir said it was for reasons of “geography and budget.” Apparently Hehir’s people didn’t want to go all the way to Western Australia for interview footage he’d barely have used – and was willing to accept the possibility that the number of those crying “What this needs now is more Luc Longley!” would be few.
The problem with that is Longley – and other Bulls like Steve Kerr – came in “riding high” on Chicago’s titles in 1991-93 and “didn’t have anything to … do with it.” – so said Jordan, using colorful language, in episode 8.
Use of that alone, as a measure of journalistic fairness, means Hehir & Co. should have gotten on the plane.
Longley still might have said preemptively not to bother. The Journal’s Rick Wright, about the time of this airing, contacted Rob Robbins, Longley’s former Lobo teammate, to see if he wanted to respond in defense of his friend. Robbins essentially said that Longley lives in the present and that any past conversations between the two about Longley’s time in Chicago will remain between them.
Fair enough. Meanwhile, a few clues are out there. Longley once wrote a book, “Running with the Bulls,” and about Jordan, said he “really didn’t like the guy” upon MJ’s return from his baseball hiatus.
“We were at each other’s throats in practice and that was a case of frustration from both of us, mostly from him,” Longley wrote.
There also is this anecdote form his appearance several months ago on “Hoops Capital Broadcast.” Longley said Jordan “was always on my back, that bloke” before they learned how to coexist and, of course, thrive.
Longley also offered an anecdote about a game in Detroit in 1996-97, the same season they first came here for an October exhibition against Seattle in the Pit.
Against the Pistons, Longley had a dominant 19-point first half, prompting ebullient halftime praise from Jordan.
Unfortunately, there was a second half. Longley got in foul trouble, came out of the game early in the third period, and never scored another point.
“Michael in the locker room after the game said, ‘I’m never ever going to say anything good to you ever again.'”
BULL-ET ITEMS: Here, in Crash Davis style, and in reaction to “The Last Dance,” I believe …
• That’s an offensive foul on MJ before he hits The Last Shot to end “The Last Dance.” Yes, Bryon Russell was moving that way, but MJ helped him along. Blow the whistle, maybe rightfully change history.
• MJ led in Machiavellian style. But some people respond to such. And as he said himself, he didn’t ask anything of teammates that he was unwilling to do himself.
• Jordan could have played Major League Baseball. Now by playing, that doesn’t mean he’d have starred. But I’ll gravitate to the camp of a manager (Terry Francona) who has managed in the World Series and says MJ could have done it, than to that of talking radio heads who … I mean, must that sentence even be finished?
• Jordan had a “competition problem,” but if he fixes that by gambling, then it’s a “gambling problem.”
• Isiah Thomas was unfairly demonized by MJ and the documentary itself. Bill Laimbeer, on the other hand, got off way too easy.
• “The Last Dance” deserves an A-minus or B. The behind the scenes footage was sublime, as were the cameos by otherwise invisible characters we never knew until now. It worked well with an actual plot (how coach Phil Jackson’s team would do in one last season before the evil general manager broke them up), a very flawed hero and an antagonist (said GM, the foil Jerry Krause). It was worth the watch unless “knowing how this all turns out” ruins it for you. Fine. Go watch that favorite episode of “Friends” or “Seinfeld” for the 667th time.
But it was still too soft on Jordan. It should have shown him in a Wizards uni after telling Ahmad Rashad that he’d leave the game while he still could play. Funny how he left too early twice, too late once.
It needed more Luc Longley, say we in New Mexico and on another continent. It could have been 40 minutes shorter in total. It should have devoted an entire episode on the Jordan-Kerr dynamic, including their big fight in practice, and how both lost their fathers to murder.
BRUSHES WITH BULL-ISH GREATNESS: Speaking of Krause, who died in 2017 at age 77, I ran into him in 2005 while staffing an Isotopes game.
The guy who was GM of likely the greatest team in NBA history, and for some reason was particularly eager to break it up, was then scouting for the New York Mets. His assignment was all things Kansas City Royals, whose Omaha farm team was in town that night.
“Please understand, I don’t do interviews,” he said politely as I tried to do just that, which made it a short conversation. He did say he’d been a scout for 16 years in baseball before he gave the hoops thing a whirl.
• The one time I crossed the path of Longley was in August 2001, when he was playing at a charity golf event at Santa Ana Pueblo. At his size, I wrote, his khaki golf shorts “would be longs” on everybody else.
Anyway, the assignment was to find him and ask if he was retiring, after a degenerative ankle condition held him to 25 games with the New York Knicks that season. He said his playing days indeed were over. All that was left to do would be to figure out his medical severance.
As for his NBA career, he said, “I could never say I’m completely satisfied.
“But I do have three rings.”