Deep In the Pocket: “The Last Dance”

On May 13, 2020, Voyager Staff Reporter Aaron Arnstein sat down with NBA expert and fellow Staff Reporter Jonah Gutterman to discuss Episodes VII and VIII of “The Last Dance.”


NBC Sports

“The Last Dance” is a 10-episode miniseries documentary about Michael Jordan and the legendary Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.

Arnstein:  Welcome back to another Deep In the Pocket podcast! Here we will be talking about episodes 7 and 8 of “The Last Dance” documentary, our third part of this series! We’re joined by our NBA expert, Jonah Gutterman.. Jonah, how are you doing today?


Gutterman:  I’m doing well, thank you for having me again!


Arnstein: Of course! So, this is going to be our second-to-last podcast on TLD documentary, as episodes 9 and 10 air on Sunday (May 17). 


Arnstein (cont): So, at the start of Episode 7, the documentary makers touched on the death of MJ’s father, James Jordan, and I think it really shocked me that a lot of journalists were willing to go as far as connecting Michael to his father’s murder in some wild conspiracy theories. What were your thoughts on this bizarre accusation?


Gutterman:  Yeah, definitely. I thought the accusations that journalists made about connecting Michael’s father’s death to Michael himself is just sort of absurd. You know, I think, as we saw in many parts of this documentary so far, especially in Episode 7, touched on how Michael had a very, very close relationship with his father. One of Michael’s friends even talked about how in all of Michael’s celebrations, his dad was always right there by his side celebrating his accomplishments with him. So, I think the connecting of James Jordan’s death to Michael is absolutely ridiculous and actually pretty horrible on the reporters’ behalf. I don’t see any kind of potential correlation that leads me to think that it was even a realistic accusation. It was absolutely crazy and complete sensationalism by the journalists.


Arnstein: Yeah, I agree with you on that. I think it was all a part of MJ having to deal with all the huge press coverage. I think journalists really wanted to find a story to cover, and that was the big headline at this time, as crazy as it sounds. Also, I know some people had talked about David Stern when discussing the conspiracies about MJ’s retirement, which was touched on later on in the episode, and we’ll get to in a second. Of course, you know, when MJ shocked the world by retiring in 1993 for the first time. I know that there were definitely rumors circulating about how Stern might have even kicked Jordan out of the NBA for an 18-month suspension due to Michael’s gambling ordeals and such, so of course there’s yet another conspiracy theory. But, when you’re the greatest player of All-Time, there’s gonna be a lot of questions surrounding your life, in and out of basketball.


Arnstein (cont): So, now moving on to Jordan announcing his shocking and sudden retirement in ‘93. When you look at the press conference and the media coverage that was at the Bulls’ practice facility on that day when MJ made this famous announcement to retire after playing only 8 seasons of his career— Do you think there are any parallels that can be made in terms of media coverage within the sports world, surrounding just a retirement press conference?


Gutterman: I think, like you said, the media coverage that was there at that day’s press conference was just incredible. It was something we don’t see very often, obviously. As for parallels to other types of other events like this one that have gone down in sports, it’s hard for me to really compare it to anything else. When I think about ‘big moves’ in sports, like of course LeBron’s famous “decision” where he made the choice to leave Cleveland and go to Miami back in 2010, I think even that was a lot different than MJ’s press conference because there wasn’t any type of extreme press and media all over him all at once in the same fashion that Jordan had back in ‘93. So, honestly thinking about it, I think it is hard to compare it to anything else.


Arnstein: Yeah, I definitely agree; Maybe the one thing some people could say it was a little bit similar to the “LeBron decision”, but really, the thing between these two situations is that everyone knew this decision was coming for LeBron, he had announced it prior— but no one knew at all that this was happening with Jordan deciding to retire in ‘93 until the night before, when the news actually leaked and rumor got out during the Chicago White Sox baseball game! Of course, everyone went crazy, and the story broke publicly later that night, so everyone had only found out the shocking news the day before. It was definitely different than LeBron’s scenario, where everyone knew ahead of time that he was going to be making a decision when that day came.


Arnstein (cont): So now, let’s move on. What do you think it says about MJ’s competitive edge and his mentality to succeed by playing professional baseball, and actually proving a lot of people wrong with his decent play? Of course, we know a lot of people said “Yes, he hit .200”, but honestly, getting 2 hits out of every 10 at-bats in a professional minor league double-A setting like he did, is actually really impressive— especially when you consider that Michael hadn’t played baseball in 13 years!


Gutterman: Oh yeah, absolutely. Exactly like you said, there were a lot of rumors, a lot of people today even still say “Oh, Jordan went to play baseball, but he was mediocre, not that great.” And, of course, he wasn’t the best baseball player on the entire field, but again, like you just mentioned, this is the professional minor league, still with some high-level baseball players as your competition. So, in all seriousness, Jordan being able to hit .200 was quite impressive. Most regular people could not do that- – just come in and pick up a bat and start getting hits and succeeding in a professional sports league. Episode 7 in particular touched a lot upon how his baseball career was not a failure at all, and if anything, it was a really cool experience that Jordan had for himself that he wanted to have, and he was able to accomplish his goal of playing baseball again.


Arnstein: Yeah, and also, Episode 7 also discussed how MJ terminated his relationship with Sports Illustrated after they published the infamous title cover on one of their magazines that read “Bag it, Jordan!” in response to his baseball playing skills. Michael definitely felt slighted by that, understandably, so he never talked to Sports Illustrated again. And finally, just one other note that was mentioned in this episode, MJ actually had a 13-game hitting streak to start out his baseball career— so that’s another really impressive feat he achieved.


Arnstein (cont): Piggybacking off of this last question, what do you think it says about Jordan’s innate basketball ability, being able to come back after being out of the sport for almost 2 years, and succeed again the way he was able to? Of course, there was the famous “Double-Nickel” game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, where Jordan scored 55 points only ten days after returning to the NBA!


Gutterman: That game was incredible. When we take a look at the stat books, of course he came back in March of 1995, toward the tail-end of the regular season. He played 17 games, and over these games, averaged 26.9 points— literally after just returning to the court from the baseball field with no time in between for preparation or training! That’s almost unbelievable that he was able to do that. It seems like only something MJ and very few other people could do, because MJ really was that spectacular of a basketball player, unlike anything we had ever seen before. He was untouchable, on another level of greatness.


Arnstein: Absolutely, I completely agree with what you said there. Now, another thing about Jordan’s competitiveness, it’s funny how he only needed the smallest of slights to channel spectacular performances, as it was mentioned at the end of Episode 8… Seattle’s head coach, George Karl, ignored MJ in a restaurant right before Game 1 of the ‘96 Finals just a few years later, and that was all Jordan needed to fuel his fire. Then he went on to torch and dominate the SuperSonics in the Finals and send them home. Do you wanna talk a little bit about this?


Gutterman: Yeah absolutely. Just like you’re saying, it was these little minor slights that MJ said ‘drove him’ to wanna succeed. He said those little signs of disrespect was all he needed to motivate him to destroy and dominate his opponents on the court, like you said. Glen Rice, a former Hornets player in the ‘90s who was pretty close with MJ personally, talked in Episode 8 about how verbally instigating or trash-talking Michael was not a smart thing for an opponent to do. He literally said “Michael didn’t need more gas in his car to get him going, but when he got it, he was off.” So yeah, Michael was absolutely dominant, and all he wanted to do was win, at whatever cost that was. Winning championships was the most important thing in MJ’s mind. His competitive manner and edge was so strong. Jordan is so calm, cool, and collected, yet at the same time he’s such a fierce competitor. 


Arnstein: I think that’s very well put, I agree. Now heading onto the end of Episode 8– the show concluded with a somewhat iconic photo of Jordan clutching a basketball while sobbing on the ground in the locker room following his team’s Game 6 victory to win the 1996 Finals, which happened to be on Father’s Day that year. Can you just talk a bit about your thoughts on that photo and the importance of it?


Gutterman: Yeah, so as you just mentioned, this was on Father’s Day, which was definitely an extremely emotional day for Michael, this being just a few short years since his father’s tragic death. After winning yet another championship as well, but this time with his father not there to see it, that was a very emotional moment in particular for sure. This was the first championship that he and the Bulls won since his dad’s passing, which was their 4th out of their 6 total in the ‘90s decade. Episodes 7 and 8 both showed us how much MJ’s father really meant to him and how strong of a connection they had with each other. James was Michael’s role model growing up and the documentary really showed that they had a close relationship and bond.


Arnstein: Yes, absolutely, I think Michael’s father was a huge part of his life. Well, that’s gonna wrap it up here for today. We’ll be back next week to recap Episodes 9 and 10. Jonah, thanks again so much for joining us, and we’ll see you again for another Deep In the Pocket podcast.