It seemed like nothing but the Chicago Bulls themselves could end their dynasty in the 1990s. As we see in The Last Dance, that’s just what it took.
Winning is the only thing in the NBA and all of professional sports. But sometimes, there can be something that creeps in and overwhelms the need for victory, and perhaps the winning itself can build the hubris that allows this to happen. That seems to be the case laid out in The Last Dance, ESPN’s documentary focusing on Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls and the curious case of coach Phil Jackson and general manager Jerry Krause.
As the documentary shows, before the beginning of the 1997-98 season, Krause announced that it was going to be Phil Jackson’s final season. No matter what. Seriously.
In Krause’s own words: “I don’t care if it’s 82-and-0 this year, you’re f***ing gone”.
Imagine a general manager declaring this in today’s NBA. Suppose Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced before the 2018-19 season, about to begin their fifth NBA Finals run, that no matter what, head coach Steve Kerr was out at the end of the year.
It’s rather unfathomable.
Of course, the Bulls had a remarkable run of continuity at that point. It was the beginning of Phil Jackson’s ninth season as head coach of the Bulls, an equally unfathomable thing in today’s NBA. It’s a long time for a front office and head coach to co-exist, let alone the general continuity of the players on the roster.
Scottie Pippen was a permanent fixture, although Michael Jordan took a two-year hiatus to go play baseball in between three-peats.
As Jackson himself believes, a head coach has a seven-year window with a group of players. Now, it does make sense to let the coach and players decide this, not the front office or ownership when a group has the unparalleled success that this Bulls organization had.
Jordan wouldn’t play for a coach other than Jackson, so if Krause forced him out, that was officially a wrap for the Bulls dynasty.
While maybe you could replace a successful coach like Jackson, you can’t replace a Michael Jordan. If you force him out, there’s no going back or way around what comes next.
Make sure to watch ESPN’s The Last Dance as we continue to learn about one of the most fascinating careers, teams and eras in NBA history.