Editor's note: This story contains spoilers. Episodes 3 and 4 will be available on Netflix Philippines at 3 p.m.
By now, everybody knows Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls needed to go through the Detroit Pistons before he could legitimize his claim as the planet’s best player.
But there is a story in Episode 4 of “The Last Dance” about Jordan and the Bulls’ efforts to beat the Pistons that hasn’t been as publicized that is still particularly noteworthy.
After Chicago had bowed to Detroit in Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference finals, thereby ending what Jordan said was supposed to be their year, he acknowledged in an interview for the documentary that he took that series-ending loss hard.
“I was devastated. I was absolutely devastated,” Jordan says in the documentary. “I cried on the bus. My father came to me and said, ‘Look, it’s just one game. Bounce back and come back next year.”
Before this reduced Jordan to an internet joke to a generation that didn’t see him in his playing prime, the image of Jordan bawling his eyes out was only associated with his first championship in 1991 and his fourth in 1996, his first title since his father James was killed in the summer of 1993. (Fact: Jordan, who turned 57 in February, has relatively the same age now as James, who died 8 days short of his 57th birthday.)
For a majority of his career and his public persona, Jordan was portrayed as a cold-blooded assassin on the basketball court who didn’t have time for feelings.
At his basketball peak, people only threw out the phrase “crying Jordan” when the Bulls were being crowned kings of the NBA and His Airness was clutching the Larry O’ Brien trophy.
That’s why Jordan telling that bus story was revealing for two reasons — first, it showed how much he was personally invested in beating Detroit and how it tormented him not to be able to do that when Chicago was in the best position to do so until that point (or until Scottie Pippen developed a migraine in the deciding game of their series).
The bus episode also hearkened back to the time when Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and he went home in tears.
Seeing his devastated teenaged son, Deloris Jordan, in a recollection of that moment in Episode 2, told him to work on his game if he really wanted to make the team. Bounce back and give it another go next year.
The difference a decade later, though, was Jordan wasn’t fighting for a spot at Emsley A. Laney High School in a quiet rural town; he was looking to topple the Goliath that were Isiah Thomas and the “Bad Boys” Pistons, who plotted the so-called Jordan Rules meant to not just beat Jordan but beat him up.
“We knew Michael Jordan was the best player, and we tried to use it as a rallying cry to come together,” Pistons ringleader and Chicago native Thomas says.
“We had to do everything from a physicality standpoint to stop him.”
When the Bulls finally got over the hump in May 1991, their victory was accompanied with a bizarre scene that saw Thomas and co., two-time NBA champions until that point and widely acknowledged as the league’s premier bullies, walk off their own home floor without congratulating the Bulls.
In the documentary, Thomas justified his team’s conduct by saying it was normal in those days for losing teams to not acknowledge their opponent’s victory, an explanation Jordan was having none of.
“There’s a certain respect to the game that we paid to them,” Jordan says. “That’s sportsmanship no matter how much it hurts. And believe me it f—ing hurt.”
Which brings up the second reason why Jordan crying in the bus from the previous season holds some significance — Jordan may have harbored contempt for the Pistons, but he was careful not to let that sentiment spill over into how he acted in public as a basketball player.
Whether he was motivated purely by sportsmanship as he says or he was ultimately being conscious of his brand, Jordan recognized that refusing to shake hands with the Pistons after that loss in 1990 would be misguided for a player acknowledged as the game’s ultimate ambassador.
“All you can do is wish them good luck,” Jordan said in the post-game interview in the middle the Pistons and their fans celebrating their East finals-clinching win.
“We wanna be where they are. We still gotta wait our turn, and try to improve our team. They were the better team, and played better today.”
This was one thing I remember most about Jordan in his heyday — how his responses were always well thought out when microphones were in front of him. Granted he occasionally gave banal answers, but people sensed he made an effort to offer a fresh perspective, especially if questions were equally well-articulated.
And also I don’t recall him being foul-mouthed at all in his televised interviews back in the day.
That’s why hearing present-day Jordan letting f-bombs and the occasional “a—hole” and “bulls—t” fly when he faced the camera for “The Last Dance” was an odd experience, but satisfying nonetheless.
While he threw in a few expletives in the first two episodes, Jordan really went to town with the cussing in Episodes 3 and 4. The count goes: 12 f-bombs, 4 s—ts and bulls—ts, and 1 a—hole.
(Worth mentioning here: Even the classic postgame quote from former Bulls head coach Doug Collins ran unedited. That f-word had always been bleeped out, but for some reason the un-bleeped version of that statement made it way funnier.)
Toward the end of Episode 4, when “The Last Dance” crew showed Jordan a video in which Thomas was justifying the Pistons walking off the floor, Jordan called Thomas an “a—hole” and his explanation “all bulls—t.”
This is the best version of His Airness, when he lets down his guard and allows his emotions to flow unfiltered. More of crying and cussing Jordan, please.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).