“The Last Dance” is great. The documentary on Michael Jordan and the Bulls tells an interesting story with satisfying audio and visuals.
But for everything discussed in the first two episodes, they didn’t cover much new ground. Even the cocaine story wasn’t novel. By 1992, Sam Smith in the Chicago Tribune called it a “famous story Michael Jordan likes to relate.”
Again, this isn’t a complaint. Nobody remembers/has already heard every detail of Jordan’s time in Chicago. These stories are new or at least feel new to many, and they’re told well.
The documentary has also caused other stories that slipped through the cracks to reemerge.
Like the time the Bulls tried to swing a draft-day trade for Tracy McGrady, the No. 9 pick in 1997.
McGrady, via ESPN:
What a lot of people don’t know about that night is that Jerry Krause was actually trying to make a trade for me and Scottie Pippen in it. And MJ called and axed that whole deal.
They brought me in for a secret meeting. Yes. They did.
It was a couple days before the draft. I flew in to Chicago to meet with those guys.
It was all secret. It was all secretive, and it didn’t get out.
As the documentary covered, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was eager to rebuild. Especially if dealing Pippen, Chicago probably would have moved on from Jordan.
But I’m most fascinated by a potential Jordan-McGrady pairing.
In 1997-98, McGrady was like nearly all rookies – not actually good – but he showed flashes. In 1999, he became quietly quite productive off Toronto’s bench. In 1999-00, he mostly maintained that efficiency while moving into the starting lineup. In 2000-01 with the Magic, he won Most Improved Player and became an All-Star to begin a high-level prime that lasted several years.
Playing for the Wizards in 2001-02 and 2002-03, Jordan was no longer near the peak of his powers. But he was still pretty good.
Could Jordan and McGrady have overlapped enough to open another championship window for Chicago?
There are so many unknowns.
How would Jordan have aged if continuing to play? He was 34 during the 1997 draft. Remember, Jordan took three years off before his Washington comeback.
How would Jordan and McGrady have gotten along? Jordan was notoriously tough on his teammates. As we’d later see, McGrady struggled to translate his individual talent into team success, especially in the playoffs. Perhaps, Jordan would have hardened McGrady for those battles. Or maybe Jordan would have broken a kid coming straight from high school.
How would Chicago have built around Jordan and McGrady? Pippen, Rodman and the rest of Jordan’s supporting cast was getting old. That’s part of the reason Krause wanted to rebuild.
According to The New York Times at the time, there was a talk of a Bulls-Celtics trade that would have sent Pippen and Luc Longley to Boston for the Nos. 3 and 6 picks. The article speculated Chicago could use the picks on Keith Van Horn and McGrady.
The top of the 1997 NBA draft:
1. Tim Duncan, Spurs
2. Keith Van Horn, Nets (via 76ers)
3. Chauncey Billups, Celtics
4. Antonio Daniels, Grizzlies
5. Tony Battie, Nuggets
6. Ron Mercer, Celtics
7. Tim Thomas, 76ers (via Nets)
8. Adonal Foyle, Warriors
9. Tracy McGrady, Raptors
10. Danny Fortson, Nuggets (via Bucks)
Van Horn was off the board before the No. 3 pick. But perhaps the Bulls could have swung another deal to get Van Horn and McGrady. After all, the 76ers traded down from No. 2 to No. 7.
Or maybe Chicago would have landed Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady. That would would have been a special grouping, especially with Jordan. However, Billups took even longer than McGrady to reach his prime. Jordan definitely didn’t have that kind of time. Then again, maybe Billups would have developed more quickly in a different environment.
Or if they recognized McGrady’s special talent while still having Jordan, the Bulls could have re-routed the other young player for more-immediate help.
Again, there are so many “what ifs?”.
Here’s what I know: The Bulls won another championship with Jordan and Pippen. That justified keeping the duo intact for 1997-98, even if it meant missing out on an intriguing long-term future with McGrady.