The way Michael Jordan sees it, the public perception of him could change after April 19. That’s the date ESPN’s ten-part documentary on the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-’98 season begins.
The documentary is titled “The Last Dance,” and it will show Jordan’s win-at-any-cost approach, and how he spurred on his teammates, sometimes aggressively, to be their very best.
Jordan said the footage shown in the documentary could put him in a negative light, especially to people who don’t understand why it was necessary for him to be so intense.
Director Jason Hehir spoke to The Athletic about the project, and he revealed something Jordan told him some time ago.
“When people see this footage, I’m not sure they’re going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did the things I did, why I acted the way I acted, and why I said the things I said,” Jordan explained, according to Hehir.
There’s a part in the documentary where Jordan is dealing with his former teammate Scotty Burrell, who averaged just 5.2 points in the 1997-’98 season.
“When you see the footage of [me with Scott Burrell], you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy,” said Jordan. “But you have to realize that the reason why I was treating him like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs, and we’re facing the Indianas and Miamis and New Yorks in the Eastern Conference.”
“He needed to be tough, and I needed to know that I could count on him, and those are the kind of things where people see me acting the way I acted in practice, they’re not going to understand it,” he added.
There’s a good chance that many won’t be surprised at Jordan’s intense approach, since there have been stories floating around for years about how he dealt with teammates. Rodney McCray, who came to the Bulls in the 1992-’93 season, was one of those players who Jordan stayed on.
“This guy is a killer,” said a Bulls insider told Sports Illustrated in a 1993 article about Jordan. “He’s the most viciously competitive player I’ve ever seen. That’s what makes him, I think, the greatest player ever. He has practically ruined Rodney McCray for us.”
“[Jordan] is in Rodney’s face [during practice scrimmages] screaming, ‘You’re a loser. You’ve always been a loser.’ Rodney can hardly put up a jumper now,” added the source.
As for Burrell, he spoke about the treatment that he received from Jordan and said it truly improved his skills.
“It was just to make me better and to prepare me for helping that team win,” Burrell told Essentially Sports on Tuesday, April 14. “Everybody has a job. You better do your job to the best of your ability. He pushed, which is what he’s supposed to do. There is no easy ride with the Bulls.”
Jordan explained his approach in one of the episodes of the documentary as well.
“I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled,” he stated. “I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged, and I earned that right because my teammates who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured.”