Picking up where the first two episodes left off, we learn more about the colorful Dennis Rodman, the coach at the heart of it all, and of course get plenty of phenomenal highlight footage of the GOAT at his best.
This recap of The Last Dance Episode 3 and The Last Dance Episode 4 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous two episodes by clicking these words.
The Last Dance Episode 3 picks up where we left off, with Scottie Pippen still out of action and the Bulls looking weakened without their acknowledged number two guy. As Pippen licks his wounds and considers his future, there is an opportunity for someone else to step up. The next guy in line is one of the most colorful characters to ever play professional sport, Dennis Rodman.
The Last Dance Episode 3 largely focuses on giving us more background on the Bulls’ mercurial star. Originally drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 1986 draft, Rodman was a defensive powerhouse. A player whose goal was to disrupt the play of the other team as successfully as he could. Rodman would of course play against the Bulls in several crucial playoff games before eventually joining them and playing his part in their success.
The picture of Rodman that emerges from this sequence is one of a guy who was undoubtedly a unique character, one that in many locker rooms would have been divisive but who earnt the respect of his teammates through his competitive approach to games and willingness to put in the work when he needed to. He may have crazy hair, date glamour models (and Madonna), and live a party lifestyle, but when the time came to work, Rodman would be a key figure in the Bulls’ title defense.
As usual, the narrative splits between 1997/98 and the past with plenty of archive footage and interviews to provide context and a bigger picture. One imagines the producers would have looked forward to putting this one together, with plenty of material available about Rodman. The story cuts back to the late 1980s with Jordan and the Bulls struggling to take the next step under coach Doug Collins, whose coaching philosophy hinged around a ‘get the ball to Michael and get out of the way’ approach. Finding themselves undone by the more physically imposing and ruthless Detroit Pistons, the Bulls fail to progress to the NBA finals in successive seasons. It is their response to this setback that provide Jordan and Bulls the fuel needed to change their approach and become the champions they would.
The Last Dance Episode 4 continues the story with the flashback sequences focused mostly on the evolution of the Bulls under coach Phil Jackson. Jackson is presented as an unusual figure himself, one who has embraced Native American culture and finds ways to incorporate it into his coaching. It is implied that perhaps this outlook is what allowed him to get the most out of free spirit Rodman.
We learn that as Jackson takes over head coach duties, one of his first priorities is to adapt the way the team plays; Jordan will no longer be the center of the team’s focus, favoring instead a ‘Triangle’ system that would get the most out of his squad as a whole. Initially reluctant, Jordan comes around as he begins to understand that this philosophy gives him a better chance of winning championships.
As the Bulls improve under Jackson they come to terms with successive defeats to Detroit and Jordan starts to hit the weights, bulking up so he can impose himself more physically on his opponents. It is in these clips where his former trainers, teammates, and coaches are talking about his work ethic that you understand just how high Jordan set his standards, not only for himself but those around him. He expected that everyone around him makes the same level of sacrifice that he was willing to in order to win.
The change in approach pays off, however, as the Bulls overhaul their long time rivals Detroit in the Eastern Conference championship before beating L.A. comfortably to win their first NBA Championship. A dynasty is born.
The Last Dance Episode 3 and The Last Dance Episode 4 both maintain the high standards of the first two as we are further introduced to the key figures at the heart of the drama more and more layers are peeled back to reveal the full picture behind the 97/98 Chicago Bulls.
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