Day 54 without sports 🏀: Michael Jordan’s greatest game that didn’t count and five other ‘Last Dance’ takeaways

Be Like Mike.

So many people said that phrase when that Gatorade commercial with those words saturated American television in the early 1990s.

Be Like Mike? Hold that thought.

After time spent in the never-ending glare and heat of the spotlight, Michael Jordan wondered if he actually wanted to Be Like Mike.

In Sunday’s episodes of “The Last Dance” on ESPN, a major theme emerged: fame and the price Jordan paid for it and the point at which he decided he had paid enough.

By the time the Bulls were closing in on their first three-peat in 1993, Jordan had grown tired of being a superstar and all that entailed.

The legendary 'Air Jordan' logo from Nike almost didn't happen as Jordan originally didn't even want to meet with Nike. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)

Here are "The Last Dance" takeaways from episodes five and six:

The explosion of sneaker culture

Michael Jordan didn’t want to take a meeting with Nike. Jordan acknowledged he wanted to sign with Adidas, but his mom convinced him to at least visit Nike. His bank account is glad he ended up with Nike – and today’s popular Jordan Brand under the Nike umbrella.  

“When I negotiated the Nike deal, I said to them, ‘You’re a small company and if you want Michael Jordan, he’s got to have his own shoe line,’ ” Jordan agent, David Falk, said.

It was fortuitous timing. Falk explained that Nike had just introduced air soles and since Jordan played in the air, they wanted to call the shoes Air Jordan.

“Nike hoped to sell $4 million worth of Air Jordan by the end of four years,” Falk said. “In year one, we sold $126 million.”

While basketball sneakers were popular, Jordan changed the sneaker marketplace. Now, today’s most popular players have their own line of shoes: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Paul George. Jordan and Kobe Bryant shoes remain popular, too.

Jordan’s shoes were must-haves, if you could afford them.

“I would cut grass, do chores and save up money and wait in line at Foot Locker,” Justin Timberlake told filmmakers.

A Knicks-Bulls rivalry?

Jordan’s Bulls first played the Knicks in the 1989 playoffs and last met Jordan’s Bulls in 1996. They also played in 1991, 1992 and 1993, and not once did the Knicks beat Jordan.

Said Patrick Ewing: “We hated each other. … It wasn’t a foul until you drew blood.”

But as much as the Knicks were physical, the Bulls had dealt with the forceful Pistons. They were used to that style.

While the Pistons eventually got past the Celtics and the Bulls past the Pistons in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Knicks and Ewing never ousted Jordan.

“Mentally, they were a hard-working team, but I firmly believe that when we were playing at our best and they were playing at their best, we were the much better team,” Jordan said. 

The Jerry Krause pettiness continues

In Episode 5, we are introduced to Toni Kukoc, but really, it’s just another way for viewers to see how Jordan held grudges and wanted to stick it to then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. 

See, Krause drafted Kukoc, then a young Croatian forward, in 1990, and Kukoc didn’t join the Bulls until three years later. At the 1992 Olympics, Jordan and Pippen were ready to shut down Kukoc because of Krause. Kukoc was 2-for-11 in first game between U.S. and Croatia. They smothered him.

“Do everything we could to make Jerry look bad,” Pippen said.

To Kukoc’s credit, he came back with 16 points and nine assists in the gold-medal game.

Jordan acknowledged he came to appreciate Kukoc. But it was all about Krause.

When the Bulls played the Suns in the 1993 Finals and Dan Majerle guarded Jordan, Jordan said, “I knew that Jerry Krause loved Dan Majerle and just because Krause liked him was enough for me. 'You think he’s a great defensive player, OK fine. I’m going to show you that he’s not.' ”

In another post-game celebration scene, Jordan had a cigar and told the short Krause, "You can’t smoke it, it’ll stunt you growth.”

The Krause piling on has become gratuitous. After all, he constructed rosters that helped the Bulls win six titles.

The greatest game rarely seen

On one team: Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner. 

On the other team: Jordan, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Scottie Pippen.

It’s not an All-Star Game, it’s a 1992 Dream Team scrimmage in Monte Carlo. And Jordan and Magic are talking trash.

There are highlights of this game in “The Last Dance,” but “Dream Team” author Jack McCallum has the entire scrimmage on video.

More on 'The Last Dance': Why was Isiah Thomas left off the Dream Team?

“Man, everybody asks me about that game,” Jordan told McCallum. “It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court.”

Magic’s squad jumped to 11-2 and 16-7 leads and taunted Jordan: “We ain’t in Chicago Stadium no more.”

Magic even says: “If you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re going to blow you out.”

Magic then admitted: “Man, what did I say that for?”

The comeback begins and Jordan’s team eventually wins 40-36 with Jordan scoring 17 points. In his book (go buy it, it's wonderful), McCallum provided a box score.

Jordan, according to McCallum, continued the trash talk on the bus, singing. “Be Like Mike.”

The cost of fame

On Sunday, Gatorade gave the "Be Like Mike" ad an updated look with Elena Delle Donne, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson appearing in a new "Be Like Mike" commercial.

We wanted to #BeLikeMike then.
We want to #BeLikeMike now.
We want to #BeLikeMike forever.⚡️@[email protected]@JayTatum0pic.twitter.com/BzBb0PTbz1

But in one scene of “The Last Dance,” Jordan is on the set of a commercial shoot.

“It’s funny, a lot of people say they’d like to be like Michael Jordan for a day or for a week. But let them try to be MJ for a year. See if they like it,” Jordan said.

The toll was obvious. Jordan was mobbed everywhere he went and was under constant scrutiny especially as the gambling noise grew louder, was going for a three-peat with the Bulls and was unwilling publicly to support a black candidate opposing Jesse Helms in a U.S. senate race.

Was Michael Jordan's gambling a problem?: 'The Last Dance' delves into infamous side of MJ

People took Jordan to task when Jordan allegedly said, “Hey, Republicans buy shoes, too.” It was a quote loosely attributed to him, and Jordan says in the documentary, “I don’t think that statement needs to be corrected because I said it in jest on the bus with Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. It was thrown off the cuff.”

Still, Jordan wasn’t interested in speaking out: “I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player. I wasn’t a politician when I was plying my sport. I was focused on my craft.”

By 1993, Jordan wanted some anonymity.

“I’m at that stage of my career and my life I’d rather get behind closed doors than be out there in the spotlight to be taking shots from everyone that really don’t know you as a person,” he said. “If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would never want to be considered a role model. It’s like a game that’s stacked against me. There’s no way I can win.”

He also hints near the end of the 1993 Finals, “Physically, I was getting exhausted. But mentally, I was way past exhausted. When you try to do something repetitively, you lose some of the hunger and some of the edge.”

Loose ends

Spectacular cameo: Jerry Seinfeld inside the Bulls locker room talking to Jordan, and as he’s leaving, he points to a play design on the whiteboard and says, “This is not going to work by the way. I’d get that out of there.” …

Charles Barkley won the 1992-93 MVP award, and Jordan said, “I was a little bit upset that I didn’t get the MVP that year, and they gave it to Charles. But with that said, ‘OK fine, you can have that. I’m gonna get this' ” meaning the 1993 title and Finals MVP. … 

Jordan also didn’t appreciate the comparison with Clyde Drexler: "Clyde was a threat. You know I’m not saying he wasn’t a threat. But me being compared to him, I took offense at that," Jordan said. 

Jordan saw every slight and carried the grudge, mostly to his benefit on the court, too.

Sports video of the day

Thankfully, there IS video of that amazing Olympic Team scrimmage in Monte Carlo. Some highlights are here in this NBA TV documentary.

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May 4 in sports history 

  • 1965: Willie Mays hits his 512th career home run to break Mel Ott's National League record. 
  • 1975: Houston Astros first baseman Bob Watson becomes the answer to a trivia question by scoring the one millionth run in Major League Baseball history.
  • 2018: Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels collects his 3,000th career hit in a 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners.
  • 2019: Kentucky Derby stewards disqualify apparent winner Maximum Security for interference as long shot Country House is declared the victor. It's the first disqualification of a winner in race history.

Sports on TV today 

MLB

In celebration of Pujols' 3000th hit, MLB Network is replaying two of his greatest postseason performances. At 7 p.m. ET, enjoy Pujols gargantuan home run off Astros reliever Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS.

Then at 9 p.m. ET, Pujols joins Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson in hitting three home runs in a World Series game when he accomplishes the feat in Game 3 of the 2011 Fall Classic.

NFL 

ESPN takes viewers back to Week 3 of the 2012 season as the Green Bay Packers battle the Seattle Seahawks in a game that featured replacement referees and the infamous "Fail Mary" ending.

Women's soccer

7 p.m. ET: 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final — USA vs. China (FS1)

– Brandi Chastain wins it on the last penalty kick, helping herself and her sports bra become legendary.  

9 p.m. ET: 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal — USA vs. Brazil (FS1)

– Abby Wambach rallies the U.S. to the near improbable win with a game-tying goal with only seconds left in overtime before the team converted all five penalty kicks to complete the miracle comeback.

Games we're missing today 

NBA and NHL playoffs

MLB

  • Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians
  • Milwaukee Brewers at Miami Marlins
  • Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
  • Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays
  • Colorado Rockies at Detroit Tigers
  • Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets
  • San Francisco Giants at Minnesota Twins
  • San Diego Padres at St. Louis Cardinals
  • Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals
  • Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
  • Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

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