Like Titanic or Chernobyl, you always knew how The Last Dance was going to end. Michael Jordan already wrote this script in 1998, when he stripped Karl Malone in Salt Lake City and hit the jumper that clinched his sixth and final NBA title. But ESPN’s 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls dynasty managed to wring a little bit of mystery out of this old story, thanks to a poetic send-off from a surprising source.
The last episode of The Last Dance focused on that Game 6 win over the Utah Jazz, and the final 15 minutes were dedicated to tying up some loose ends, and giving Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf one last opportunity to justify his decision to run history’s greatest basketball player out of Chicago. (Which in turn gave us one more chance to cherish the documentary’s breakout star: incredulous iPad user Michael Jordan.) But the emotional climax of the series came via a smaller story from the end of the 1998 regular season, when head coach Phil Jackson held an emotional team meeting to reflect upon the team’s journey.
Jackson invited each player to “write what being on this team meant to you.” While Jackson often leaned on Eastern traditions for his team-building exercises, he credited a source closer to home for this one. “My wife had gotten her master’s in social work,” he recalled. “And she was part of a group that went in to help people who were grieving. One of the things they did was a ritual where they kind of put things to rest.”
“Every guy had emotional words to say,” Steve Kerr said. “And I remember Michael actually wrote a poem.”
After sitting through 10 hours of The Last Dance, one would have sooner expected Jordan to wear a pair of well-tailored jeans than to wax poetic. What’s more, this poem wasn’t even about Isiah Thomas being an asshole. “It was a depth of emotion that you never thought he had,” Jackson said.
“I’m not a poet. I just spoke what I felt at the time,” Jordan recalled while smoking a cigar. “We were always going to be bonded. You say thanks for the past, enjoy the moment, let’s make sure we end it right.”
Sadly, The Last Dance offered no further specifics or hints about Jordan’s poem. His brief spell as official team bard quickly turned to ash, as Jackson burned everyone’s missives in a coffee can.
While we may never know exactly what Jordan wrote, sports historian Jack Silverstein offers a little more information about his poem, via an earlier interview with Steve Kerr.
“The lights were out and there was this glow in the room,” Kerr said. “And it was like, ‘All those memories that you guys just talked about, they’re ours and nobody else is gonna see.’ He didn’t say that, but it was the metaphor. This is ours and they’re gone and they’ll forever live within us and nobody else will ever see ‘em.”
Sounds rather poignant. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Jordan wrote, probably. “I’m going to kick Scott Burrell and Jud Buechler’s asses tomorrow.”