Michael Jordan’s entire story is too long to fit into any documentary. As detailed as “The Last Dance” is on most of the important moments of his career, it would be unrealistic to expect every worthwhile element of his legacy into 10 hours. Cuts had to be made for the sake of narrative consistency, time and approval from the parties involved.
But just because certain stories didn’t make it into “The Last Dance” doesn’t mean they aren’t worth telling. Quite the contrary. Some of the most fascinating parts of Jordan’s legendary career missed the cut, but still deserve to be heard. And so, below are the best Michael Jordan stories that didn’t make it into his 10-part documentary.
The trade offers
The Portland Trail Blazers infamously passed on Jordan at No. 2 in the 1984 NBA Draft. That is confounding in itself, but looks even worse in light of the broader basketball world’s opinion on him at the time. Everyone wanted Jordan. Bobby Knight coached Jordan’s Olympic team in 1984 and was enamored with him that when his friend, Blazers GM Stu Inman, told him that he wouldn’t be picking Jordan because his team needed a center, a frustrated Knight told him to just play Jordan at center.
Before Chicago made its intentions known, a number of suitors begged the Bulls to consider trading down. The Philadelphia 76ers offered Julius Erving for the pick, or a combination of the No. 5 pick (which became Charles Barkley) and All-Star guard Andrew Toney. They talked to the Seattle Supersonics about a trade involving star center Jack Sikma, and rumors linked Jordan to Dallas Mavericks star Mark Aguirre as well.
The most unbelievable rumor of them all, though, came directly from a potential teammate. In his book, Living the Dream: My Life and Basketball, Hakeem Olajuwon claimed that the Rockets discussed trading star center Ralph Sampson to Portland not only for the No. 2 pick, but Clyde Drexler as well. They would have taken him No. 1 overall and Jordan No. 2. Combining those two with Olajuwon would have created the greatest trio in NBA history. But Houston said no to the offer, and Jordan landed in Chicago.
Trade rumors didn’t leave Jordan once he was drafted. In The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith’s legendary book on Jordan’s early tenure in Chicago, it is revealed that the Los Angeles Clippers offered the Bulls any five players or draft picks that they had in exchange for Jordan. This presumably would have included the Nos. 1 and 6 picks in that summer’s NBA Draft. Chicago said no for obvious reasons, but at least toyed with the idea. With Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in place, that offer could have given the Bulls one of the NBA’s youngest and deepest rosters.
But the Bulls never did trade Jordan. Suffice it to say they don’t regret it.
Jordan may be known for his scoring, but he was no one-trick pony. During his early years in Chicago, he had to do a little bit of everything. That culminated in a brief stretch in 1988 in which he had to change positions. With the Bulls’ offense sputtering and the playoffs approaching, Doug Collins moved Jordan to point guard.
The results hardly even look real. Between March 11 and April 23 of 1989, Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 10.7 assists and 9.2 rebounds per game. At one point, he notched 10 triple-doubles in 11 games. In the 1989 postseason, he notched seven double-digit assist games. Longtime friend Kobe Bryant had nine … in his entire 20-year career.
Most arguments surrounding Jordan and LeBron James boil down to playing style. Jordan is typically viewed as the superior scorer, whereas James is praised for his all-around game. The truth lies somewhere in between. Both were more than capable of playing like the other. They chose their own paths to greatness.
“The Last Dance” spent quite a bit of time discussing what Jordan said to his own teammates, but it largely ignored his attitude toward opponents. Jordan was a relentless trash-talker. Below are some of the highlights:
- In 1987, Jordan dunked over 6-1 Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton. A fan in Utah that many believe to have been team owner Larry Miller screamed something to the effect of “pick on someone your own size.” So Jordan dunked on 6-11 Mel Turpin. He proceeded to ask his heckler if he was big enough for him.
- According to former NBA forward Roshown McLeod, Jordan was known for singing Anita Baker songs to opponents in an effort to psyche them out. McLeod names Jerry Stackhouse as a target, though Stackhouse denies this took place.
- Early in his career, former NBA guard Steve Smith told a reporter that he felt good about defending Jordan. When the game started and Jordan made his first basket, he said “38.” After the next one, he said “36.” He was counting backward from 40, the total he planned to score in the game.
- During the 1995 playoffs, the Bulls led the Charlotte Hornets by only one point late in a game. While guarding 5-3 Muggsy Bogues, he backed off and infamously declared “Shoot it you f****** midget.” Bogues missed badly. According to former Bulls assistant Johnny Bach, who by then was coaching in Charlotte, Bogues believes the moment ruined his career. He’s not entirely wrong. Bogues never again reached his 1995 scoring, rebounding, assist or steal numbers.
- According to Shaq, Jordan would tell Nick Anderson exactly what moves he would use against him, down to the number of dribbles, before he did it in order to get into his head.
This list could go on and on. Whether Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history is ultimately a matter of opinion, but what is largely indisputable is his status as the trash-talking GOAT.
New York’s enormous offer
Aside from his two Wizards seasons, Jordan never played for an NBA team besides the Bulls. That doesn’t mean he didn’t consider it, though. In 1996, the New York Knicks made him an absolutely staggering offer: one year, $25 million. This represented a 653 percent raise on his previous salary of $3,825,000. The cap itself was only $24.3 million that summer, so how did the Knicks make such an enormous offer?
According to Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune, they engaged in some blatantly illegal cap circumvention that was somehow approved by commissioner David Stern. The Knicks had around $12 million in cap space that summer, but at the time, were owned by a combination of Cablevision and ITT-Sheraton. The rest of the money would have come from a marketing contract with Sheraton allowing the Knicks to land Jordan by putting him in hotel commercials.
Jordan’s agent, David Falk, recently suggested that the Knicks didn’t really come all that close to landing Jordan, but their offer provided meaningful leverage. Chicago increased its offer to $30 million. A year later, his salary was bumped up to $33.14 million, or 129 percent of the cap at the time. The 2019-20 equivalent of that would be a modern player earning $134.4 million. No player even topped Jordan’s raw salary until Stephen Curry made just under $34.7 million … in the 2017-18 season. If you’ve ever doubted that current star players are underpaid based on their true market value, I trust you have since been disabused of that notion.
The Wizards years
Jordan and his fans like to pretend that the Washington years never happened, but all things considered, he should be fairly proud of what he accomplished as a Wizard. While he didn’t make the playoffs in Washington, he averaged 20 points per game and made the All-Star Game in both seasons, becoming the second oldest non-specially selected All-Star in history (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Do the Wizards years live up to his run in Chicago? No. But there were still plenty of highlights. He dropped 51 points in a game against the Charlotte Hornets, giving him the record as the oldest player ever to do so until Jamal Crawford broke it last season. He hit a couple of game-winning daggers as well, beating both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns at the buzzer. He nearly did the same in the 2003 All-Star Game, putting the East up by two with only five seconds remaining, but the West managed to send the game to overtime and win it there.
Is it the storybook ending his shot over Bryon Russell could have given him? No. But Jordan played at an All-Star level into his 40s, and managed to do so after taking three seasons off. We can confidently say that we’ll never see that again, and that counts for something.
The Miami Heat didn’t even exist when Jordan reached the NBA, but their long-time coach certainly did. Pat Riley lost to Jordan in the postseason four times, twice with the Heat and twice with the New York Knicks. In those battles, he gained an uncommon respect for his longtime foe. Jordan was so revered by Riley that the Heat made an extraordinary gesture during Jordan’s final trip to American Airlines Arena: they retired Jordan’s number.
Jordan is the only player in any major professional sport to have his number retired by a team that he did not play for, aside from numbers retired at the league level like Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 and Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99. The jersey itself is a complete eyesore. Miami’s rafters would have been better served had Riley simply hung a Bulls jersey rather than the hybrid he landed on. But the sentiment remains the same. Jordan’s impact on basketball extended well beyond Chicago. He, in some small way, was responsible for the prosperity the Heat would one day enjoy.
And, as a slight bonus, this moment has since grown into conspiracy fodder. In 2009, LeBron vowed to give up No. 23 in Jordan’s honor and switch to No. 6. He did so, but returned to No. 23 for his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers and his current tenure as a Los Angeles Laker. Did LeBron know he was heading to Miami a year in advance, and make the announcement because he had to? We’ll never know.
The airing of the grievances
The dismissiveness with which Jordan treated his rivals in “The Last Dance” should have surprised nobody after Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech. It was his final moment in the basketball spotlight prior to the documentary, and he took full advantage by grinding every axe in his arsenal.
Jordan blasted Jerry Krause. He blasted Isiah Thomas. He even blasted Leroy Smith, the player who made the Laney High School varsity team over him. At one point, he even complained about having to pay $1,000 for tickets to his induction for his family. Anyone who has ever wanted to shove their fame in the face of their enemies can look at Jordan as an example. He roasted anyone who ever looked at him sideways.
To this day, Jordan remains incapable of dropping a grudge. That is the lesson of “The Last Dance,” and it’s the lesson of the parts of his life it didn’t show you as well.