With the NBA season on hold for the foreseeable future, basketball fans have been turning their attention to The Last Dance, a 10-part docuseries on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The series, which airs on ESPN and Netflix, features never-before-seen footage shot by a film crew during the 1997-98 season, Jordan’s last with the Bulls.
Eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted footage in the fourth episode of The Last Dance filmed prior to the Bulls taking on the Vancouver Grizzlies at General Motors Place in January 1998.
Jordan played three games in Vancouver, each an instant sell-out; fans paid scalpers as much $600 — about $950 in today’s dollars — per ticket for a chance to see the most popular athlete of the era.
During Jordan’s last visit to Vancouver, the Bulls were followed by a throng of media, including a film crew shooting behind-the-scenes footage that sat in archives for years before being used in The Last Dance.
Famed author David Halberstam was also in town working on his book, Playing for Keeps, which chronicled Jordan’s last season with the Bulls.
“It’s exciting to come as an ambassador to the game and bring awareness about NBA basketball to an area where hockey is the dominant sport,” Jordan told reporters in Vancouver prior to the Jan. 27 game.
Montreal-born centre Bill Wennington, the lone Canadian on the Bulls roster at the time, said he acted as something of a cultural ambassador who did his best to explain life north of the 49th parallel to his teammates.
“So I tell them, ‘Back home I used to have the quickest dogsled team on the block and I tell him that electricity is something that’s only been here for a couple years,” he joked.
“So they come up here and they say, ‘This is really nice.’ This is Vancouver, it’s really advanced.”
Bulls forward Dennis Rodman chose not to speak to the media assembled at General Motors Place that day, having just learned that he had not been selected for the NBA’s eastern conference all-star team.
“I’m not surprised,” Jordan said of the omission. “I’m pretty sure that they took into account his last little escapade.”
The “little escapade” Jordan was referring to was Rodman’s trip to Las Vegas earlier that month. As documented in The Last Dance, the mercurial forward asked head coach Phil Jackson for a couple of days away from the team to clear his head.
The sojourn lasted longer than 48 hours and ended when Jordan found Rodman holed up with his girlfriend, actress and model Carmen Electra.
Prior to the game at GM Place, fans followed Rodman as he strolled through Vancouver’s Pacific Centre mall with bodyguards at his side.
One fan said he asked Rodman for an autograph and the star forward gave him a one-word reply: “Later.”
Come game time, the Bulls took care of the sadsack Grizzles, beating them 103-85.
Jordan finished 20 points while Rodman had 22 rebounds.
Scottie Pippen was the Bulls’ leading scorer, finishing with 29 points. Pippen had missed 35 games earlier in the season following foot surgery and The Last Dance revealed that his decision to delay the procedure to October was a sore spot with teammates.
After the game, Jordan praised Pippen’s performance.
“Scottie can set the tone for us,” he said. “I’ve always said that and with him out, on the road, we’ve always struggled, especially in the closing minutes of the ballgame.
“His tone that he set early really dictated the rest of the game.”
The game marked Jordan’s last appearance in Vancouver. He retired from the Bulls after the 1997-98 season. He returned to the NBA in 2001 with the Washington Wizards, but by that time the Grizzlies had moved to Memphis.
While Jordan’s 1998 performance was his last in Vancouver, his first visit to GM Place proved to be his most memorable.
The upstart Grizzlies were leading the Bulls by two points through the first three quarters of their matchup on Nov. 30, 1995. Jordan, in an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance, had scored just 10 points up to that point.
Then Grizzlies point guard Darrick Martin, in a fit of misguided confidence, decided to talk a little trash.
“You ain’t so hot,” Martin told Jordan, according to Halberstam’s book Playing For Keeps. “I can stop you any time I want.”
Grizzlies head coach Brian Winters promptly benched Martin but the damage had been done. Jordan went on to score 19 points in the game’s last six minutes to give the Bulls a 94-88 win.
“Michael came by our bench and wagged his finger and said to Darrick, ‘Don’t ever talk to me like that again,'” Winters told Global News back in 2015.
“He got another win, and we got another loss.”
— With files from The Canadian Press