So that’s a wrap on “The Last Dance,” the 10-part ESPN series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan, in case you didn’t notice, was the big winner.
As if he would have had it any other way.
The series gave MJ the last word on just about every controversy and aspect of his career. It steered clear of or merely dabbled lightly on many potential pitfalls.
Even his least appealing qualities — the mind games he played with himself and the unforgiving way he pushed those around him — are cast as positives in the service of success.
But over the last five weeks, there have been plenty of other winners and losers for anyone keeping score. Here are but a few.
Winner: Sports media
How many thousands of words have been devoted to “The Last Dance” over the last few weeks?
This series was a godsend, giving everyone something to talk about. ESPN was a double beneficiary in that not only could it turn two hourlong episodes each Sunday night into daylong material that wasn’t about Tom Brady for the rest of the week, but also the series itself was a hit.
Loser: Jerry Krause
Despite his critical role in ensuring Jordan was surrounded by the supporting cast necessary to triumph, Krause too often was cast as a villain. The late Bulls general manager’s personality made him an easy mark, and the way the dynasty came to an end was unfortunate.
But it wasn’t all Krause’s fault. He wouldn’t have kissed off coach Phil Jackson, lighting the fuse on Jordan’s exit and the organization’s implosion, without Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval.
Winner: Phil Jackson
The Bulls coach probably got no compensation for giving “The Last Dance” its title. But the series was one long reminder of what a brilliant job he did of managing the egos and varying needs of his players, keeping them focused and getting them to work together.
Loser: Bulls fans
Great as it was to revel once more in the glory years, it does make the last 22 years seem that much emptier.
The megabrand escaped scrutiny despite the many controversies that arose during its MJ-fueled ascendance. Air Jordans poured out of factories overseas, changed the industry and the culture and were a virtual footnote here represented by Justin Timberlake and Nas.
Loser: Sonny Vaccaro
Vaccaro deserved at least a mention as the visionary who played a critical role in enlisting Jordan for Nike. But he and Nike boss Phil Knight had a falling out, which probably explains why he’s absent. For that matter, where was Knight?
Winner: The 1997-98 Pacers
“The Last Dance” reminded everyone just how close the Larry Bird-coached team came to ending the Bulls’ bid for a second three-peat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Perhaps it elevates Reggie Miller and company in the minds of some.
Loser: Isiah Thomas
While he might be right that the Celtics treated the “Bad Boys” Pistons as shabbily in passing their mantle as the Pistons did to the Bulls, this series in no way made him look good.
Winner: Hue Hollins
The Jordan-less Bulls’ 1994 playoff loss to the Knicks was distilled to Scottie Pippen sitting out the final 1.8 seconds when Phil Jackson opted to have Toni Kukoc take the final shot in Game 3, which Kukoc nailed for the win, and the Knicks taking the series in seven games. Completely unmentioned was Hollins, who called Pippen for a phantom foul of Hubert Davis that cost the Bulls Game 5. “The Last Dance” forgot Hue. Bulls fans haven’t.
Loser: The White Sox
If you buy the proposition that Jordan eventually would have made it to the big leagues had he not circled back to basketball because he didn’t want to cross a picket line, Major League Baseball’s 1994-95 labor stalemate cost the Sox even more than a World Series shot.
Apparently there were no wives or even girlfriends associated in any meaningful way with the Bulls in the Jordan era, except for Carmen Electra.
Winner: Sports documentaries
The success of “The Last Dance” surely will lead to a rash of other nonfiction sports productions. One imagines a documentary on the life of Steve Kerr getting greenlighted by the end of this sentence.
Loser: The other teammates
Ron Harper, Luc Longley and Jason Caffey were among the nine Bulls players to appear in more regular-season games than Kerr in 1997-98. It didn’t translate to a lot of screen time for them, though Harper at least got to talk about playing against Jordan.
Former Chicago resident Barack Obama recalled that, with Jordan joining the Bulls in 1984, “suddenly you have a sports figure that puts Chicago on the map and that everybody was able to rally around.” But the Bears’ Payton had been doing that since 1975.
Because that “Be Like Mike” jingle is back rattling around in your head again for the first time in years. Good luck getting rid of it again.
While “The Last Dance” refrained from showing Jordan drinking Miller Lite (despite implying it was his postgame beverage of choice rather than Gatorade), it unhesitatingly showed him with his smokes in the locker room and on the golf course.
Loser: Jordan’s golf game
We didn’t see that much of it in “The Last Dance,” but the documentary reports on the great sums of cash he lost on the links and, in one amusing clip, shows him nailing someone’s cart with an errant shot.
Loser: Lance Armstrong
ESPN is following “The Last Dance” the next two weeks with “Lance,” a documentary on the scandal-scarred cyclist. Good luck following MJ. Not even doping can help win this one.