‘Nobody saw that coming’: Jordan documentary offers inside look at superstar

“The Last Dance” gives a behind-the-scenes look at the Chicago Bulls 1997-98 season, which had trying moments for superstar Michael Jordan and his teammates. (Photo by Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – Although Michael Jordan is one of the most famous athletes in the world, there’s a lot that isn’t known about the NBA legend.

However, the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” – a revealing glimpse behind the scenes of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ road to their sixth NBA title in eight years – also offers a look at Jordan himself.

When Jordan was drafted in the first round in 1984, it was understood the North Carolina star would be a talented NBA player, but his teammates were shocked to realize how far beyond average his talent was.

“We knew he was going to be an All-Star, but anybody who says he was going to be the GOAT and win six championships is lying, because nobody saw that coming,” former Bulls center Joe Kleine told Cronkite News. “I don’t even think Michael saw it coming.”

During that landmark season, NBA Entertainment was able to follow the Bulls for a 10-episode documentary series, including some never-before-seen footage, that debuted April 19 on ESPN. Episodes 5 and 6 were featured Sunday and included the Bulls’ NBA Finals meeting with the Phoenix Suns in 1993 that featured John Paxson’s game-winning three-point basket, securing a three-peat for Chicago.

Before Joe Kleine, left, was a teammate of Michael Jordan on the Bulls, he played for the New Jersey Nets. He was later a member of the Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Vincent Laforet/AFP via Getty Images)

The first two episodes had more than 6 million viewers on ESPN and ESPN2 in the U.S., and via Netflix outside the U.S., according to a ESPN press release.

The series came at the right moment as stay-home recommendations during the COVID-19 outbreak spread nationwide, canceling games and entire seasons. That has created a large captive audience, thirsty for any opportunity and fresh way to watch sports.

“People are stuck at home and there are no live sports, people are starved for anything having to do with sports,” said Bill Goodykoontz, TV critic at the Arizona Republic. “And another big thing is Michael Jordan.”

That audience includes older generations who saw Jordan play and younger generations who only know his footwear and the story of his dominance of the game.

“This documentary for the older people that were able to see it the first time around is like a trip down memory lane,” Goodykoontz said. “For the other generation that has never seen him play, he’s just the name on their shoes, but now they can watch him play and see how great he really was.”

The Bulls drafted Jordan as a shooting guard and small forward, and with him, Chicago won the NBA championship six out of eight years: 1991-93 and 1996-98 seasons. In 2001, he joined the Washington Wizards, where he played his final two seasons.

Jordan, who was Rookie of the Year in 1984, played 15 seasons and was league MVP five times, an All-Star 14 times, made the All-NBA First Team 10 times and the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times.

Before the ’94 season, as the Bulls were aiming for a “four-peat,” Jordan stunned the league and his fans by announcing his intention to retire from basketball to play professional baseball. He briefly played for a minor league team in the Chicago White Sox system before returning to the Bulls for the ‘95 season.

“If he would’ve kept playing and not taking the baseball thing, he might’ve won eight championships in a row,” said Kleine, who played several seasons for the Phoenix Suns.

One thing that struck Kleine was how driven Jordan was about the game.

“He was a constant professional,” Kleine recalled. “Always on time, first guy there, last one to leave and expected greatness from himself but also great effort from everyone he played with. You don’t see people with drive like that.”

Four new installments of The Last Dance will be aired on ESPN over the next two Sundays, two per day starting at 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Valerie Gonzales

Sports Reporter, Los Angeles

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