Michael Jordan is a legend. There is no question about that. Is he a saint? That remains to be seen. The Chicago Bulls of the '90s has often been called 'his' team. But in painting this picture, some people forget about the drive and attitude it takes one to get there. Some blame the break-up of his Chicago Bulls on Michael Jordan's larger-than-life attitude and others blame it on Jerry Reinsdorf or Jerry Krause. For what ever reason the disassembling happened, one thing is true: Michael Jordan made the Bulls into a great team during his time there and so did a few other key players. Blood on the Horns by Roland Lazenby explores the power struggle the Chicago Bulls were caught up in during the 1997-1998 season. This book is not just a chronicle of experiences or books read, either. Roland Lazenby gained insight through personal interviews specifically for this book with Michael Jordan and other key players. With a market so saturated with books detailing the trial and tribulations of MJ, this one has the most credibility so far for me since it goes that extra mile and for its attention to detail. It's a great book to debate with friends and get into heated discussions over since it presents so many options as to why '97-'98 season was such a tumultuous one for the Chicago Bulls. For now, let's discuss a few key areas.
Just thinking about the Future
The first red flag that went up was when Jerry Krause started putting out feelers for a Scottie Pippen trade. The Bulls were already paying Michael Jordan $33 million per season and at the close of the 1998 playoffs, Scottie Pippen's contract was up. According to the book, the going rate for Pippen at the time was $45 million over 3 years. So naturally, if you are Scottie Pippen and you find out through the rumour mill your boss is looking to unload your services, you are not going to be happy. I see what Bulls management was trying to do in that they didn't want to end up like the Celtics in 1992. According to Roland Lazenby, some people thought the Celtics were too busy giving kudos to Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to plan for the future. The Bulls (in NBA years) were aging and Jerry Krause was fully within his rights to look to the future. The way it was handled and the way Pippen found out? Not so nice. Riff number one.
Riff number two: Phil Jackson. Jerry Krause found Phil Jackson in the CBA and gets no real credit. Think about it. In 1985, Jerry Krause calls Jackson in to interview for the Assistant Coach position and Chicago Bulls Head Coach at the time, Stan Albeck says no way ho say. So two years later, Albeck gets fired and Doug Collins takes over as Head Coach and Phil Jackson is brought on to assist. In 1989, Doug is fired and Phil Jackson is now the Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls. It took a few years, but he got there. There is always the constant debate over who gets credit for the success of a team. Is it the coaching staff and players on the front lines every night? Or is it management pulling the strings? I would say both deserve credit but the bulk of it should go to the coaching staff and players. Think of this analogy. You create opportunities and pay for your son or daughter to play basketball. Their team wins the championship. Was it your skills, hard work and determination that got them there? No. The opportunities you created for them and lessons learned by your support certainly helped along the way but they were the ones practicing, shooting baskets and winning games. I think this is where Krause can take some blame. He tried way to hard to be "one of the boys" and he didn't know his place sometimes, didn't know when to sit back and give credit where credit is due. And the fact he told Phil at the beginning of the season it would be his last and still expected him to be all smiles and giggles, leaves nothing to the imagination.
Riff number three: Michael Jordan. Remember during the 1985-1986 season when Michael Jordan broke a bone in his left foot and missed 64 games? An injury like this has ended some NBA careers but not for Jordan. He was determined to come back. This is where author Roland Lazenby gets real credit for providing a look at both sides by getting personal interviews from key individuals to gage reaction. So, in March of '86, Jordan comes back and says he's ready to play. Jerry Kraus informs him they have consulted 3 doctors and says no to Jordan about playing. Krause says he was protecting Joran's career and MJ felt like a piece of property. Again, control becomes the source of conflict.
Dennis Rodman is a Misunderstood Individual
This was the fun part of the book. Sometimes when you read a book about everyone arguing it can get you a little edgy, too. One chapter in this book is dedicated to Dennis Rodman and his exploits. Sure, he left one girl hanging to go hang with Madonna, tried out wrestling and gambled a lot, but he was a good basketball player. No one really expected a guy with Rodman's image to be bugging Assistant Coach Tex winter for game tape to study. He does make an interesting analogy between the Bulls driven by Jordan's will and his former Pistons (he's referring to the Pistons here): "It wasn't just one person who had the heart of a lion. I think everyone on that team had the heart of a lion and the heart of a tiger and the demeanor of an elephant. We'd just run right over you". That's the problem with putting all your eggs in one basket/ player.
The one thing I love about Dennis Rodman is how he speaks in the moment, like an open book. It would have been interesting if this book was written now and not twelve years ago. Look at what he says to Roland Lazenby when asked about the pressure to play knowing Phil Jackson was on his way out: "There ain't no pressure...Who gives a shit really? I'd like to say take me, Scottie and Michael and Phil to another team. Let's go play for the minimum and win a championship". Remind you of anything? Incidentally, NBA minimum wage at the time was about $260,000 a year. Peanuts, right?
Flick Pick of the Week
The movie I want you to watch this weekend is The Air Up There. It's about this American coach who travels to Africa to recruit this kid he sees on a home video. Parts of the movie were actually shot in Toronto and Hamilton with Copps Coliseum as the fill -in for the University arena shots. I watched it a while ago - not a top ten movie of all time but definitely worth watching.
Next week we will be reading Raise the Roof by Pat Summit (with Sally Jenkins). Pat Summit is a legend in women's college basketball. She is known for winning more national championships than any of her colleagues (man or woman) during her time since John Wooden. I picked this one since it describes another important moment in basketball history which also took place during the 1997-1998 season. It gives you the inside scoop to the Tennessee Lady Vols and is a great read. As always, happy reading and see you on Tuesday for another serving of "Jiggly Bits".