With the increases in technology the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls may be getting more viewers now with the hoopla surrounding ESPN’s The Last Dance that debuted Sunday night with the first two episodes.
It’s even bringing back things some had forgotten.
“It was even educational to me and I was there,” Former Arkansas player Joe Kleine said Monday morning on ESPN Arkansas’ Morning Rush with Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft. “I thought it was fantastic.”
Like a lot of championship teams there was an undercurrent of dysfunction under the surface that seldom bubbled up into the public eye.
Michael Jordan, without question the greatest player of his era, is obviously the center of attention. Don’t whine at me because I don’t say of all time because I don’t believe you can compare different generations. Too much changes. He would be on the all-time team.
But the drama in that season, the last of six championships for the Bulls over four years surrounded Hamburg native Scottie Pippen, who grew about seven inches and developed into a first-round draft choice at Central Arkansas.
The tension surrounded general manager Jerry Krause, who was basically the hatchet man for owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a crusty guy who managed to take advantage of some real estate tax loopholes to become rich.
Then, as a CPA and lawyer, he refused to re-negotiate contracts and players weren’t going to be able to come back in and get a new deal. That was the sticking point with Pippen and it drove coach Phil Jackson and Jordan crazy.
“That’s the thing they got the most correct,” Kleine said of the drama. “I was wondering how they were going to do that. It was every bit of that.”
Kleine knew none of this coming in. He was a tall role player brought into a team that had just won five championships over seven seasons and going for a sixth. He thought it was paradise.
“You’d hear rumblings of other things on other teams because of contract squabbles,” he said, “but you didn’t know how deep it ran. How contentious and personal things were between the three guys (Jordan, Jackson and Pippen) and management.”
At that point in his career (13th year), Kleine was just playing for a dynasty team.
“I wasn’t very good at that point,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot left in the tank. I feel very, very lucky. To get to be a very small part of that last ride with that crew of players I just sit back and go, ‘how lucky am I?'”
The series will continue airing on Sunday nights with the final two episodes to air May 17.