“The Last Dance” docuseries by ESPN has been a wild success and a fun program for basketball viewers in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Chicago Bulls teams led by Michael Jordan in the ’90s were lauded as some of the best in NBA history and the 10-part series has given fans a close look behind the scenes during their run.
In one of the latest episodes, the program explored the 1992 Dream Team that was headlined by Michael Jordan but also featured fellow Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Shortly after its airing, Johnson appeared on First Take and discussed an infamous scrimmage that signaled a changing of the guard in the league:
“We got out on them by 10, 12 points. So I had to make Michael go to the Air Jordan level. So I said, OK, I’m going to go over here and talk a little trash to him and see what’s going to happen. This is when the torch got passed. So I said, ‘Look M.J., if you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re going to blow you guys out.’
“Max, I’ve never seen a man take something so personal and then go out there and just take that scrimmage over. It was amazing to see him come to and just dominate. And I’m talking about dominating the best in the game. That’s when we knew the torch was being passed from myself and Larry onto Michael.
“But I’m going to tell you the moment that really got us. We got back to the hotel, the NBA had built a nice lounge for the players, so Michael is up there smoking on his cigar. Larry and I are just sitting there having a coke or whatever. And [Jordan] puts his hands on my shoulder and on Larry’s shoulder and says, ‘Guys, there’s a new Sheriff in town.’ What could we say? We said you’re right. It’s your league now.”
Like most up and coming stars, Jordan faced his fair share of adversity with several playoff failures before finally breaking through and winning his first title against Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals.
This would kickoff the Bulls’ first three-peat in the 90s and established Jordan as a bonafide NBA superstar.
Jordan’s rise came at the perfect time as Johnson and Bird were on their way out after dominating most of the ’80s. The Celtic and Laker greats helped revitalize professional basketball, but Jordan pushed the envelope and helped turn it into the global phenomenon it is today.