Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls are the focus of the upcoming — and highly anticipated — ESPN documentary, The Last Dance. But the NBA legend is warning casual fans that the 10-part film series will show a side of him that some might find too intense.
“When people see this footage I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said,” the 37-year-old said in an interview with The Athletic ahead of the documentary’s premiere on Sunday.
Jordan — considered the best basketball player of all time — was famous for his intensity on the court, often trash-talking opponents and even his teammates. But he was undoubtedly the pivotal piece to the Bulls’ six championships during the 1990s.
The Last Dance takes a deep dive into the 1997-1998 Bulls, which saw the team enter the NBA season as two-time defending champions. Despite their success, it would be the last time the team’s core players, such as Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman and coach Phil Jackson, would all be together.
“Winning has a price,” Jordan says in the documentary, according to CBS Sports. “And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured.”
Jordan said his treatment of teammate Scott Burrell, who joined the Bulls in the offseason when Pippen was sidelined due to injury, may give viewers the wrong impression.
“When you see the footage of [me riding with Scott Burrell], you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy,” Jordan told The Athletic. “But you have to realize that the reason why I was treating him like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs and we’re facing the Indiana’s and Miami’s and New York’s in the Eastern Conference.”
“He needed to be tough and I needed to know that I could count on him,” he continued. “And those are the kind of things where people see me acting the way I acted in practice, they’re not going to understand it.”
In an interview with Good Morning America, Jordan said the team went into the 1997-1998 season knowing a breakup was on the horizon. Jackson would not be returning as coach, and Jordan, at the time, couldn’t imagine playing without him at the helm.
“It was a trying year. We were trying to enjoy that year knowing that it was coming to an end,” he said. “Knowing that I had married myself to him so if he wasn’t going to be the coach, then I wasn’t going to play. He started out the year saying ‘This is the last dance,’ and we played it that way. … As sad as it sounded at the beginning of the year, we tried to rejoice and finish it off the right way.”
Like most of the country, Jordan is mostly staying indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he is currently in Florida with his wife and their two children together.
“We are very blessed, especially with what is going on in the world,” he told GMA. “My heart goes out to the families that are enduring this in America and in the world. It’s an unbelievable tragedy.”
The first episode of The Last Dance will debut on April 19 at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.