The Last Dance Takeaways – Episodes 5 & 6

INGLEWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 1: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends against Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls on February 1, 1998 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1998 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Will Linhares-Huang

Big Brother Jordan and Little Brother Kobe

First things first, rest in peace Kobe. Episode 5 begins at the 1998 All-Star Game, where Kobe Bryant was making his first appearance. On the other hand, it was believed that it could be Jordan’s last appearance playing at ASG weekend. 

In 1998, Kobe Bryant was far from the legendary player that we think of now. He wasn’t even a starter for the Lakers at the time and was often mocked for his infamous four-air-ball performance against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 playoffs, but his play attracted the attention of Eastern Conference All Stars nonetheless. Episode 5 offers some of the backstage unseen footage that everyone has longed for when we see Jordan take a couple of jabs at a young Kobe Bryant in the locker room saying, “That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one on one,” Jordan says. “… He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take it. ‘I’m gonna make this s— happen. I’m going to make this a one-on-one game.’ … If I was his teammate, I wouldn’t pass him the f–ing ball. You want this ball again brother, you better rebound.”

It’s comical to see Jordan talk this way about a young Kobe knowing that their student-teacher relationship will evolve and eventually grow into a strong friendship. And it’s bittersweet to hear Kobe Bryant refer to Jordan as an older brother since his public memorial included a tearful goodbye from Jordan and a reference to Kobe being like a little brother to him.

Passing of the Torch – From Bird and Magic to MJ

Episode 5 of ‘The Last Dance’ puts a lot of attention on the infamous Dream Team practice in Monte Carlo which serves as an event that firmly secured Jordan as the alpha-dog of the team and the league as a whole. 

The footage from this practice reminds us of the extreme competitive nature of the NBA legends as we see Magic and Jordan go head to head in a scrimmage with their respective stacked teams. Our knowledge of Magic now seems to be limited to his outright terrible general manager skills for the Lakers and smiling teeth memes, but it’s refreshing to see proof of his greatness as a player and leader in this scrimmage. 

By the end of practice, Jordan’s team was on top and the entire NBA landscape had changed despite Magic’s efforts to prove his worth. This drastic shift and passing of the torch is perfectly displayed when Magic and Bird are talking amongst themselves and Jordan nudges them and says, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” And Magic can no longer deny saying, “He’s not wrong.”

Jordan Almost Went to Adidas? – Mom Knows Best

Yeah, you read that right, Jordan almost didn’t sign with Nike. At the time, Converse was the basketball shoe superpower. The company had signed all the biggest stars including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Irving. Jordan recalls that Converse couldn’t fathom Jordan being bigger than any of their current athletes, and Adidas wasn’t willing to give Jordan his own signature shoe considering it was a huge investment with a mere rookie. 

David Faulk, Jordan’s agent, said that MJ was so driven on signing with Adidas that “he wouldn’t even get on the plane” to go visit Nike and hear out their proposal. It was Jordan’s mother, Deloris, who reasoned with her 22 year-old son to go down and visit the Oregon-based company known for track. Her pitch to Jordan was simple and straightforward saying, ‘you’re going to go listen. You may not like it, but you’re going to go listen,’.

Nike made an offer that Jordan could not refuse. Their deal included giving MJ in the realm of $250,000 and his own signature shoe, the “Air Jordan”. According to Falk, “Nike’s expectation when we signed the deal was that at the end of Year 4, they hoped to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans,” Falk said. “In Year 1, we sold $126 million.”

This story offers one of the biggest “what if” in sports business history.