The stories in between Episode 7 of 'The Last Dance'
Michael Jordan with Horace Grant in 1992
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images/Netflix
The stories in between Episode 7 of 'The Last Dance'
Rick Olivares (Philstar.com) - May 12, 2020 - 1:16pm

MANILA, Philippines – It is said that the Chicago Bulls didn’t have much competition; hence, their sweeps of many an opponent (except in the finals). Sweeping doesn’t necessarily mean the opponent was bad.

During the 1998 Eastern Conference playoffs, the Bulls met the New Jersey Nets in the first round. The Nets had a 43-39 record in the Atlantic Division, the same as the New York Knicks. but the latter had better percentage. The Bulls and the Nets played each other four times in the regular season with Chicago winning all four. One match though went into overtime.

The first two games of the series were close at the Bulls won by an average of four points. The Nets caved in the third game at the Continental Airlines Arena, losing by 15 points.

New Jersey had five players averaging double-digits in the three match series while the Bulls’ trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc led the way.

Interestingly, on that Nets team was David Vaughn, who Chicago traded for mid-season. They let go of productive forward-center Jason Caffey in order to give Dennis Rodman more responsibility. Vaughn didn’t stay long in the Windy City and was released. 

This was a good New Jersey team that had Sherman Douglas, Kerry Kittles, Chris Gatling, Keith Van Horn, Jayson Williams and Chicago native Kendall Gill. 

History is unkind to those Nets, who did put up a fight in the first two games. In fact, it might be remembered more for the post-Game Three press conference where Jayson Williams said that Jordan ranks high up there (for him) alongside his father and Bill Cosby.

The then-31-year-old Jordan’s statistics with the 65-74 Birmingham Barons (managed by Terry Francona, who gained fame as a two-time World Series champion manager with the Boston Red Sox) during the 1994 season are not bad at all. In 436 bats, he had 88 hits, three home runs and 51 runs batted in for a .202 batting average. He also finished with 30 stolen bases. Yes, he whiffed 114 times, and that was in his first competitive baseball season since he was young. Not bad at all. 

Now, not many people know it but Jordan had some pretty famous teammates on that Barons roster. One of them was second baseman Steve Sax, who came into prominence with the Los Angeles Dodgers before moving to the New York Yankees. He was at the tail-end of a 16-year career and only suited up for the Barons for seven matches. 

There was native New Yorker Dan Pasqua, who played for the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox. Pasqua was twice sent down to the Barons. The first was in 1992 where he used that season to rehab and find his groove after an injury. He returned to the White Sox and played a season and a half before being sent once more to the minors and the Barons. He played four games then called it quits. There were 15 other Barons in the line-up that 1994 season who all played in Major League Baseball, but Sax and Pasqua were the only ones to somewhat make a name for themselves. 

On a team that 18 infield players, Jordan was eighth best in batting that season. 

In the Arizona Fall League suiting up for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Jordan batted .252. 

The other key story from Episode Seven was the 1993-94 season, where the Bulls lost only one more game than the previous one with Jordan. They went 55-27 that year and made the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs where they finally fell to the New York Knicks in seven games.

The Bulls were just fun to watch that season. As Pippen said in the episode, no one was yelling at the team and everyone got a lot more shots. That was the in-between team of the first three-peat wave and the second. That season saw the entry of Steve Kerr, Kukoc, Luc Longley, and Bill Wennington. The following season where Jordan returned late in the campaign, also saw the entry of Ron Harper and Jud Buechler.

The 1993-94 Bulls were fourth in 3-point shooting percentage, sixth on offense, seventh in assists, and 12th in rebounding and steals. Four Bulls averaged in double-digit scoring — Pippen, Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong and Kukoc. Aside from Pippen, Grant and Armstrong made their only appearance in the NBA All-Star Game. Kukoc was huge. He hit four game-winners that season. Four.

In my opinion, the documentary omitted two things — Phil Jackson taking the Bulls on a Staten Island Ferry cruise in between Games One and Two; and the infamous Hue Hollins call with 2.1 seconds left where Pippen supposedly fouled New York’s Hubert Davis. 

The ferry cruise where the Bulls went to see the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street among others is classic Zen Jackson. We see moments of that early in “The Last Dance”, but yet, all the seasons under him were sprinkled with moments like that. And for that to happen right in the middle of a crucial playoff match — how big was that? The Bulls went on to lose Game Two but they returned to the Windy City and held serve.

As for Hollins? He cost the Bulls that series. Davis hit two free throws that helped the Knicks win Game Five. Had the Bulls stolen that they would have advanced to the Eastern Finals.   

But think about it. Had the Bulls made the finals, would Jordan have come back at all? Because making the finals would show they had really moved on without him.

However, history — the baseball strike of 1995 that prompted Jordan to the return to the Bulls that culminated in three more titles that cemented the team as perhaps the NBA’s best and Jordan as the GOAT — is much brighter and better.

BULLS MICHAEL JORDAN
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