The Last Dance recap, episodes 1 and 2: Setting up drama, tension that would drive season

The Last Dance recap
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In some ways, the primary challenge for the makers of “The Last Dance” documentary is the same one that Christopher Nolan faced making “Batman Begins”: Everybody already knows the story. It has become mythology. What new details, what new twists can be added to pull everyone into a story arc they may love but already know where it leads and ends?

With this Bulls documentary, it is the details and honest commentary we have not seen before. The new footage. It made the old feel new again (and the lack of basketball, or any sports, on our televisions for a month helped fuel that hunger).

Episodes 1 and 2, broadcast Sunday on ESPN, gave us a lot of details setting up the drama and tension that made the 1997-98 Bulls so memorable. So legendary.

And so you don’t miss anything, here’s The Last Dance recap of those episodes.

Ego was at play early on

Episode 1 worked hard to show how general manager Jerry Krause — with the blessing of owner Jerry Reinsdorf — was ready to blow up one of the great teams of all time. Krause’s ego was on full display, rather than trying to keep the greatest and most marketable player in the world happy, rather than keep a coach who could reach the players, rather than keep the core of a team that had won titles five of the last seven years together, he was ready to break it up.

“We’re entitled to defend what we have until we lose it,” Jordan is shown saying after winning the 1997 title. “If we lose it, then you look at it and change. Rebuilding? No one is guaranteeing rebuilding is going to be two, three, four, five years. The Cubs have been rebuilding 42 years. If you want to look at this from a business thing, have a sense of respect for the people who have laid the groundwork so you could be a profitable organization.”

Krause was convinced he could rebuild quickly. It was a terrible miscalculation. It’s also worth noting just how much the power has shifted in the NBA toward star players: If LeBron James wanted Rob Pelinka fired, if Giannis Antetokounmpo wanted Jon Horst fired, there’s no doubt who wins that battle. (Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf is the exception, he did stick with Gar/Pax far, far too long.)

What Krause did was give Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan a target they used to unify the team. Jackson seized on it early, he was the one who titled the season The Last Dance.

Pippen’s rise

Krause, unfortunately, is not alive to defend himself. Episode 2 does get into the things Krause did right in building that team, such as drafting Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, trading Charles Oakley for Bill Cartright, and more. Krause put this team together, but as Steve Kerr said well, he couldn’t get out of his own way. He set himself up as the villain.

Episode 2 also tells the Scottie Pippen story, starting with his rise from rather “meh” 6’1″ guard entering college to 6’8″ dominant forward owning small college games a couple of years later. His game, like his height, progressed much faster than anyone expected.

Pippen came to the Bulls and became the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, one of the league’s elite players and a perfect second option for the team. He also had agreed to a seven-year, $18 million contract — he came out of real poverty and wanted the security for his family — that left him woefully underpaid. The Bulls would not renegotiate the contract (something that could have been done under the rules at the time, but the Bulls would have had to do it with cap space, and they didn’t have any). It’s a situation no modern player would find himself in because the CBA mandates shorter contracts (the owners wanted that to prevent long, bad contracts, opening the door for today’s player movement and power).

And then Pippen wanted to move on

By the time of the 1997-98 season, Pippen was done with Krause. Pippen admitted delaying foot surgery until close to the season because he didn’t want to spoil his summer, and implied his contract issues were part of the reason.

“I’m not going to f*** my summer up to rehab for a season,” Pippen said to the camera. “They’re not going to be looking forward to having me, so I’m going to enjoy my summer. I’ll use the season to prepare.”

Jordan called Pippen’s decision “selfish.”

Episode 2 also has more Jordan highlights — of course — including the 63 point game against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the 1986 playoffs. It’s the game that led Bird to say he played against “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

There were other highlights from the first two episodes. There was Bulls GM at the time Rod Thorn admitting he would have taken Hakeem Olajuwon over Jordan.

“Olajuwon would’ve been first by anybody who picked, including me,” Thorn said.

In that era, teams were built around centers and Olajuwon went on to be an all-time great — two NBA titles, MVP, 12-time All-NBA, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and eventual Hall of Famer. With hindsight, you can say Jordan should have been the top pick, but nobody could or should question that pick. The episode briefly touches on Portland thinking they already had Clyde Drexler so they took Sam Bowie over Jordan.

Then there was Reinsdorf talking about how Krause — a scout/front office guy for the MLB’s White Sox — came up to him and said he wanted to be GM, everyone told Reinsdorf it was a bad idea, and he did it anyway. Can you imagine if a baseball scout tried that in today’s NBA?

And now, Barack Obama

The funniest moment of the first two episodes was the description they gave Barack Obama.

A close second was Jordan’s reaction to the Bulls before and just after his arrival being described as a “traveling cocaine circus.” Jordan talks about distancing himself from that drug culture on the team at the time.

Mostly, however, the first two episodes of the 10-part Bulls documentary laid a foundation for the drama to follow. That drama includes a lot of Dennis Rodman in Episode 3, airing next Sunday.

Report: Trail Blazers trying to extend Grant (with no luck), open to trade of Hart, Nurkic

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The Trail Blazers maxed out Damian Lillard last summer and promised to try and build a contender in the West around him. It hasn’t worked out that way, the Trail Blazers are 23-25 and sitting 12th in the West with a bottom-10 defense.

Which has pushed them to be possible sellers at the trade deadline — but not with Jerami Grant, who they are trying to extend, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports. Grant, however, can get more from Portland as a free agent.

Jerami Grant became eligible for a contract extension with the Trail Blazers earlier this month, and Portland has offered the athletic forward his maximum possible deal of four years, $112 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Grant has not accepted the offer, sources said, largely because the Blazers can extend him a larger contract with an additional fifth year once free agency begins June 30.

While Fischer notes that this summer the Trail Blazers could max out Grant (five years, $233 million) he’s not getting that contract either. Maybe the middle ground is in the five-year, $160 million range, but whatever the number is Grant isn’t looking to bolt the Pacific Northwest. Look what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“I definitely like it here; love it here,’’ Grant said. “The guys have been very welcoming, it’s definitely a family environment, everybody is super cool, got good guys on the team, great organization — Joe, Chauncey, everything. I’m definitely enjoying it here…

“I ain’t really plan on leaving,” he said.

Two players who could be leaving — via trade — are Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic. They are drawing interest as Portland considers shaking things up, Fischer reports.

Portland has given rival teams the impression that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, particularly Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, sources said, as the franchise remains committed to building a playoff contender around Lillard. Portland has engaged teams with an eye toward size with athleticism, plus wing-shooting defenders, sources said. Hart has become one of the buzzier names among league executives this week, as he’s expected to decline a $12.9 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hart is a front-office favorite around the league — at least on his old contract — and is seen as a versatile role player who has become a plus defender, can hit some 3s (33% from deep this season but 37.3% last season), and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He could fit in a lot of teams’ rotation, there will be interest, but with him on an expiring contract, the offers will not be high.

Nurkic, who signed a four-year $70 million contract last summer, is averaging 14.1 points per game, is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is grabbing 9.7 boards a night. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.6 turnovers a night (one of the culprits of the Blazers’ sometimes sloppy play), and while not a negative defender has not been the kind of anchor the Blazers hoped for this season.

Portland needs to do something. Lillard has returned from injury to play at an All-NBA level — even dropping a 60-spot the other night — but even after all their summer moves this is the same old Portland team with not enough around Lillard to threaten the top teams in the West.

Watch Curry score 35, help Warriors pull away in fourth to beat Raptors

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stephen Curry had 35 points and 11 assists, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 129-117 on Friday night.

The high-scoring affair was close until the Warriors pulled away with a 31-point fourth quarter, securing a sweep in the season series.

“It feels like we took better care of the ball tonight,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “When Steph plays like that, the whole game opens up. The whole floor opens up.”

Klay Thompson added 29 points, knocking down six 3-pointers despite beginning the night 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. Though Thompson played in the Warriors’ 126-110 victory in Toronto on Dec. 18, the game Friday was his first time facing the Raptors at home since he tore his ACL in his left knee in the deciding Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals won by Toronto in Oakland.

Kevon Looney returned to the starting lineup and had 12 points and eight boards as six Warriors players scored in double figures.

The Warriors have won consecutive home games after dropping four straight at the Chase Center.

“We’ve been teetering on either side of .500 for a very long time. I’m kind of sick of it at this point,” Curry said. “(We’ve) got to figure out how to keep moving in the right direction and stack wins no matter how we can get ’em.”

Golden State’s bench outscored Toronto’s 39-26, highlighted by 15 points from Jonathan Kuminga. The 20-year-old missed his first three shots from deep before making four straight 3s in the final three minutes of the third quarter, giving the Warriors a 98-94 lead they did not relinquish.

“He just showed another element to his game that some might have doubted,” Thompson said. “To get on the hot streak he did was very impressive, and for that man, the sky’s the limit for his talent.”

Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 11 assists and the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 24 points in his 33 minutes off the bench.

“We knew what we were coming up against, and we’ve had fairly good success guarding and executing, and tonight we just didn’t do it,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “We missed a lot of communication, we just got beat physically.”

Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 10 assists for the Raptors, who began their season-high, seven-game road trip 1-1. Scottie Barnes had 24 points and Pascal Siakam had 21, while Gary Trent Jr. added 17.

Precious Achiuwa contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

LeBron, Grizzlies, NBA world reacts to death of Tyre Nichols

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Hours after the excruciating video of Memphis police fatally beating Tyre Nichols was released, the Memphis Grizzlies chose not to open their locker room and not speak to the media about it — it was too raw, too painful.

“The senseless loss of life for Tyre Nichols has really hit us hard,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said pregame in an interview with local broadcast partner Bally Sports (via the Associated Press). “It’s been tough being on the road, not being home. I wish I could extend my arms through this camera right now to the family. They’re going through a lot.”

The Grizzlies weren’t the only ones who felt that way around the NBA, emotions were high around the league Friday (as they were around the nation). Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Milwaukee released states echoing what the Grizzlies said.

LeBron James used his platform to make a statement, as he has in the past.

Statements were released from the NBA, WNBA, players, the players union and more.

“This is just crazy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said unprompted to open his press conference, discussing the video and incident.

Nichols, 29, was pulled over in a traffic stop by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7 and was beaten to death by five officers. The bodycam footage shows Nichols being brutally beaten as he calls out for his mother and is defenseless. Nichols died in the hospital three days later. The five officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.