Do we really believe the pizza story? Was there a push-off? These are only a couple of the questions that have been raised since ESPN blessed an audience of around 6 million live viewers with the last two episodes of “The Last Dance,” the ten-part docu-series about the Bulls ‘97-’98 championship season. The revelations from the last episode all ultimately led up to MJ watching a clip of Jerry Reisendorf explaining why the team had to break up, and MJ heavily disputing the claim in an almost remorseful and regretful tone, saying that all of the players would have taken one-year deals to win one more championship; A “What-If” that will always remain a mystery.
Before the release of “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan stated that, once the docuseries aired, people would view him as a ‘horrible person’ because of his intensity [even during his practices with his teammates] and his attitude that he carried during his relentless pursuit of rings. So, after the conclusion, would you view MJ as a ‘horrible person?’ For me, the answer is no; If MJ had failed in his many quests for rings, that question may have more merit. MJ’s continuous dominance of the NBA and the best talent they had to offer highlights how that dedication and intensity can lead to earning that sweet piece of jewelry that lines 6 of Michael’s fingers.
The year of “The Last Dance,” concluded with a shot that many consider the pinnacle of Michael’s illustrious career, dropping Bryon Russell and rising above the moment to drain the series-winning shot. But with greatness always comes controversy: Did MJ push off? Yes and no. Yes he guided Russell as he was moving the opposite direction, but if that Reggie Miller push-off on MJ in the ECF that year wasn’t a push-off, neither was MJ’s. Firstly, for both of these situations it’s important to remember the perspective of the referee and the situational perspective. It is very rare that a shot taken in that situation has a foul called in the process unless the contact is blatant and directly affects the shot. An article on referee.com titled “When a No-Call is the Best Call,” details why it is so difficult for referees to make that split second decision in crucial moments, with the unnamed author stating “Officials face two primary situations where a no-call is the appropriate response. In the first case, the “gray area” scenario, the circumstances of the rules violation are so murky and ambiguous they don’t justify an official’s intervention. In the second case, the rules violation is evident but there are other factors that prompt an official not to intervene.” (referee.com). ‘The Shot’ is a primary example of the second situation. In the case of MJ, sure you could have called a push-off and cited his hand guiding Russell as the reason, but there are so many other factors. Firstly, precedent: If it hasn’t been called all game, then it won’t be called in the clutch moments. Secondly, this is a situation with a possible championship on the line, rarely is that situation resolved with a late-game call. There is no way Dick Bavetta, who refereed a few of the tough and physical ECF games between the Pacers and Bulls, was going to call a push-off, no matter if it was MJ doing it to Bryon Russell or if the situation was reversed. To put the cherry on top of the sundae, ‘The Last Dance’ gave us a new angle of the shot that shows MJ lightly touching Russell’s leg when he pulled back, not nearly enough contact for a push-off. People will complain about calls no matter which way they go, but I guarantee, if the call had been made, there would be outrage at the NBA and the officiating crew for such an influential whistle to be blown at such a crucial time.
Ok, the pizza. Where in the world did this story come from? Before we dive into this elaborate tale of Pizza Hut somehow knowing they were delivering to the best player in the world and coming up with a way to give him food poisoning, it is incredibly important to note that the entire docu-series was produced by Michael Jordan’s production company! So in reality, MJ’s team could spew any narrative they wanted on the big screen as long as they kept the same story. But the story just doesn’t make any sense. Firstly, how did they know they were making a pizza for Michael? Did someone call Pizza Hut and say ‘I need a pie for Michael Jordan?!’ There was absolutely no way to figure out his precise location in that short period of time. Secondly, the man who supposedly made the pizza came out and described in vivid detail how he made the pizza and the falsifications in the story told on television. Craig Fite, the man who claims to have delivered the pizza, stated that there were not five people delivering a pizza, (which would have been absurd) in fact, he didn’t even have five employees working deliveries at the time. In an article on Forbes, Fite claims that not only was he an admirer of Jordan, he named his child after Michael Jordan. Ahmad Rashad and all of the other journalists that told this story can look at the camera as sincerely as they’d like, there is no way I am buying that story. Those who spoke in the documentary claimed that MJ couldn’t have had the flu because he wasn’t showing symptoms until he ate the pizza, however, according to several health and wellness sites including onehealth.com, the flu hits an individual extremely quickly. “The flu hits you fast and hard and affects your entire body.” (Onehealth.com). It is much more believable to think that MJ caught the flu. The question is why create this elaborate tale? Well first of all, it goes along with the theme that played throughout the docu-series that everyone was determined to stop MJ and he pushed through anyway yada yada…. But honestly, what I think happened here (strictly my opinion, I am not making any claim or accusation about the production) is that Michael had the flu, and that’s how they were planning to tell the story until the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s possible that MJ and his crew thought it may be a bad idea to show someone with a serious virus ignoring it and playing 44 minutes of basketball and interacting with dozens of people, at least that would be understandable. But instead we will never know the real truth, but one thing that I am not afraid to assume, claim or even accuse the docu-series crew of is telling a lie to millions of viewers with a story that has so many holes, you wonder how it made it through editing.
So what did I learn? I learned that Michael Jordan said people would think he’s a horrible person to drum up continued interest in future episodes to see what bad thing he may reveal. I learned that Steve Kerr is the most likeable person possibly in NBA history, I learned not to always trust a documentary, especially if the person the documentary is about is producing it himself. And finally, I learned [even though I still maintain the story is fake] to never order pizza in Utah, better to stay on the safe side anyway.