The Last Dance

Last Sunday “The Last Dance” ended on ESPN. This was a ten part docuseries on the Chicago Bulls during Michael Jordan’s reign with specific focus on the 6 championships won during 1991 and 1998. This team and their star were a phenomenon for the U.S. and the world during the 90s. Jordan as a brand is still going strong today.

The documentary was great and it captured America’s attention in a way few things have over the last decade. This was because we’re all stuck at home and everyone is tired of searching for things on their random streaming service. A well made show focused on a cultural icon with relatively positive memories for America means we watched. The show was all over Twitter. Podcasts that have nothing to do with sports were covering it. There was review content on TV and all over the web. What struck me is that this team and their accomplishments have been a cultural event twice over. First during the actual time of the events and again roughly 25 years later.

This show had special meaning for those who were a fan of that team in the 90s and I include myself as one of those individuals. My dad spent some of his youth in Chicago and we have family that still live there. I grew up in Northeast Indiana and we always rooted for the Chicago teams as a kid. I remember the 85 Bears and specifically the Superbowl Shuffle. I remember the 80s Cubs with a roster including Ryan Sandberg, Shawn Dunston, Mark Grace, Andre Dawson and more. I was born in 1979 so the Bulls breadth of greatness spanned middle school through the end of my freshman year of college.

I can be defined as a fair-weather fan as I don’t remember the Bulls until they won their first championship and after their last I’ve never seen another professional basketball game in its entirety. Fair-weather fan or not, it was an awesome time to be infatuated with the team. From middle school, I remember the merchandise more than I remember the games. After their first championship I bought a hat commemorating their feat. For some reason they were selling it at the checkout of our local ACE hardware store.

We always bought the majority of my clothes at Kohl’s. Sometime during the Bulls’ first three championships, one particular shopping spree ended with multiple MJ, Bulls and Championship t-shirts added to my impressive wardrobe. I know that one of my white t-shirts was washed with a red at some point, turning it pink. I continued to wear it. I wasn’t much for fashion. My very favorite middle school shirt was a Looney Toons Marvin the Martian shirt.

I do remember the final series of 93. I remember hating Charles Barkley and Kevin Anderson. For some reason I always seemed to direct most of my ridiculous fan rage at the point guards rather than the big men. John Starks was my mortal enemy. I don't believe I was his. After the season ended, I had Jordan’s book Rare Air displayed in my bedroom.

Michael retired but I kept watching the Bulls. I continued to root on Scotty Pippen as he beat up on the Knicks but failed to win a championship. Then the savior returned. At the time his absence felt like a lifetime but with the assistance of the decades it was just the blink of an eye.

Upon Jordan’s return the new nemesis was the Indiana Pacers. God I hated Reggie Miller. I don't believe he held any ill will towards me. Michael's first game back was against Indiana and they spoiled his return. I will never forgive them. The Northeast Indiana fan base was split fairly evenly between these two teams so factions were created and divisions among friends played out at school. But the Bulls always won when it mattered. My Pacers friends left every season empty handed.

My uncle and cousins invited my dad and I up to the United Center for a game between 96 and 98. I saw Michael Jordan play. We were in the second to last row so someone could have been dressed in his number and I wouldn’t have known the difference. It didn’t matter. I saw Michael Jordan play.

The Bulls won the 98 championship at the beginning of the summer after my freshman year of college. I called off sick from my summer job. Four of my friends crammed into my Chevy Prizm with me one morning and we made the three hour drive to Chicago. We parked on a random side street and walked to Grant park for the rally celebrating the win. We arrived much later than we should have and once again I got to see the championship Bulls but once again if they’d all been impostors I wouldn’t have known the difference. We had a great time not only at the rally but in the city.

Fair-weather fan or not, I enjoyed watching that team during that time. If you ask me to think of something fond during that window of my life, I'll include watching the Bulls as one of those things. I remember playing RISK with my friends while one of the Finals games against the Seattle Supersonics played behind us. In my memory that is a moment of pure joy. Playing with friends while the Bulls won in the background.

I remember smiling.

I’d summarize my thoughts as this, the Bulls made me smile in the 90s and “The Last Dance” made me smile in 2020.