The world will get to see “The Last Dance,” starting this weekend. But Michael Jordan and the rest of the Chicago Bulls knew 1997-98 would be their last dance together from the very beginning of that championship season.
Speaking to “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts on Thursday, Jordan said his sixth and final championship season with the Bulls was a “trying year,” and that the knowledge that it would be the group’s final season together loomed from the start.
“It was a trying year,” Jordan said. “We all were trying to enjoy that year, knowing that it was coming to an end. … At the beginning of the season, it basically started when [Bulls general manager] Jerry Krause told Phil [Jackson] that he could go 82 and 0 and he would never get the chance to come back. Knowing that, I married myself to [Jackson], obviously, and if he wasn’t going to be the coach, then I obviously wasn’t going to play.
“So Phil started off the year saying ‘This is the last dance,’ and we played it that way. Basically, it just kind of tugged at you through the course of the year, knowing that this had to come to an end. But it also centered our focus to make sure we ended it right.
“As sad as it sounded at the beginning of the year, we tried to enjoy the year and finish it off the right way.”
The documentary series, which will begin Sunday night on ESPN and run over the next five Sundays, chronicles that final season Jordan played in Chicago, which saw the Bulls win their third straight title, and sixth in the prior eight seasons. But it also covers Jordan’s life leading up to that year, including his time at North Carolina, where he won a national championship in 1982 after hitting the game-winning shot in the national championship game against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown.
Jordan says in the documentary that moment was when he went from “Mike Jordan” to “Michael Jordan.”
“Up until that point, no one knew who I was,” Jordan said. “Outside the university, I was just known as ‘Mike Jordan.’ And when I hit that shot, my whole name became ‘Michael Jordan,’ and I think it resonated with a lot of people outside of UNC. And I just started palling(?) on that name itself, from the successes that I endured throughout the rest of my career. It wasn’t about ‘Mike.’ It was more about ‘Michael.'”
The interview with Roberts also showed a clip from the documentary highlighting Jordan’s recovery from a broken foot during his second season, and the battle he waged with owner Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of Chicago’s management team to try to come back from the injury sooner than doctors told him he could.
Jordan said the determination and perseverance that he showed throughout his career came from the example set for him by his parents growing up in North Carolina.
“My father worked at General Electric for years,” Jordan said. “He was trying to provide for his family. He moved all over southern North Carolina. My mom worked for a bank, she worked for Corning Glass … they were hard-working people, and they instilled it in not just me, but my brothers and sisters.
“I just lived vicariously through them, and lived and learned through them. It just became a part of my nature, and I always look at a negative and turn it into a positive. Unfortunately, things like that happen in our lives. And, as I try to teach my kids, just take that negative, learn from it and turn it into a positive. And that all came from my parents.”
“The Last Dance” will premiere Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.