The world is abuzz over ESPN’s 10-chapter documentary about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. Which NYC squads should get “The Last Dance” treatment?
While it has provided a welcome return to sports on television, “The Last Dance” has been a bit of a nightmarish experience for fans in the metropolitan over.
The fifth and sixth episodes of ESPN’s documentary centered on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, which premiered on Sunday night, were particularly hard on New York Knicks fans. Episode five opened with Jordan’s final visit to Madison Square Garden in a Bulls uniform, a game that saw him score 42 points in the sneakers he wore in his Manhattan premiere (Chicago prevailed 102-89). The following segment went back in time, centering on the sides’ intense meeting in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan and company fell behind 2-0 but won four straight en route to the first three-peat of His Airness’ career.
In essence, it was almost like asking a Moscow resident to watch the third act of Miracle.
Which New York squads deserve their own Last Dance? ESNY investigates…
1975-76 New York Nets
The final stand of the New York Nets was a last dance for not just the franchise’s original glory days, but for the American Basketball Association. New York was the final champion, topping the equally NBA-bound Denver Nuggets in the final championship series.
Before the red, white, and blue ball was deflated for good, the Nets were perhaps the biggest threat to NBA supremacy. They went 12-6 against NBA competition over the American’s final three preseason campaigns. A two-game sweep of the Knicks came in their final year, but the Knicks had their revenge. Upon the Nets’ NBA entry, they had to pay a $4.8 million fee for “infringing” upon the Knicks’ New York territory in addition to their new franchise dues. Such payments necessitated the sale of Julius Erving’s contract. Until their title run in 2002, the Nets won only a single playoff series.
1982-83 New York Islanders
Jordan’s baseball sabbatical perhaps ensured that the New York Islanders‘ quartet in the 1980s ensured that they would remain the most recent winners of four consecutive championships in the so-called “big four” North American sports leagues. This final run to glory was monumental on the hockey landscape in more ways than one.
The Islanders struggled to the tune of a 19-16-7 mark when the calendar flipped, but enjoyed a sudden surge in power, going 23-10-5 the rest of the way. Part of the surge came from the goaltending tandem of Billy Smith and Roland Melanson. A career backup, Melanson posted career-best numbers while Smith remained his usual dominant self. The playoffs were quite the odyssey for the defending champions. Not only did they deny a Rangers revolt in the Patrick Division Final (topping the Blueshirts in six games), they denied Wayne Gretzky and the surging Edmonton Oilers their first title with a four-game sweep. Edmonton had their revenge a year later, but a deeper look into the changing of the guard would be informative to the casual and die-hard hockey viewer alike.
1986 New York Mets
Many have tuned into “The Last Dance” to hear of the antics of Dennis Rodman, whose in-season “vacation” to Las Vegas served as the basis of a previous episode. Even Rodman, however, might’ve been impressed about the antics of the 1986 New York Mets, a team known for hard-drinking, cocaine-snorting antics that made them beloved in New York and hated everywhere else. The team’s magnum opus of partying may have on the flight back from Houston after a victorious National League Championship Series trek. Six digits in damages were accumulated in a raucous celebration at 10,000 feet that was later adapted into an animated short film starring Kevin Mitchell, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, and Dwight Gooden.
The Mets showed no ill-effects from their hedonistic ways, winning a franchise-record 108 games and taking home their first World Series title since the miracle ruin in 1969. Such a victory came in the middle of a dominant five-year stretch that saw the Mets win at least 90 games in each circuit. That World Series run, however, was truly a last dance for several players. The Mets wouldn’t win another postseason round until 1999.
1986-87 New York Giants
Recent history notwithstanding, the New York Giants have built a sterling reputation as a consistently victorious franchise. But two decades into the Super Bowl era, they were gaining a reputation as a team that couldn’t win the big one. Entering the 1986 season, they had never advanced to an NFC Championship Game and had amassed only five winning seasons since The Big Game’s inception.
But under an army of brilliant coaching minds (Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick), smart drafting that led to powerful characters on both sides of the ball, the Giants broke through for a 14-2 season and laying down the San Francisco beat with an ironic 49-3 shellacking in the divisional playoff round. To see how things would progress and develop toward the eventual 39-20 win over Denver in the 21st Super Bowl would be quite the football journey.
1993-94 New York Rangers
Some of the documentary’s most dramatic segments thus far have stemmed from Phil Jackson’s contentious relationship with Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. As the Rangers closed in on an elusive Stanley Cup, a similar stirring played out between head coach Mike Keenan and GM Neil Smith.
New York longevity wasn’t meant to be for Keenan, but he stayed long enough to oversee the Rangers’ first championship in 54 seasons. The Rangers’ roster was packed to the brim with Final alumni making what became their last Stanley Cup hoist, including Glenn Anderson, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen, and captain Mark Messier. That Cup didn’t come easy; the Rangers recovered from a slow start (4-5-1) before going to the brink with the upstart New Jersey Devils (Messier and Stephane Matteau erased hopes of an upset). They nearly lost a 3-1 lead in the Final matchup with Vancouver, but a 3-2 victory ended this magical season on the right note.
1998 New York Yankees
While Jordan and the “Last Dancers” were finishing off the Jazz, the New York Yankees were in the midst of entering baseball immortality. The season began with George Steinbrenner asking if any team had gone 162-0. That obviously didn’t happen, but they came closer than anyone would’ve thought.
The Yankees’ 125-win season (114 in the regular season, 11 in the playoffs) set a new record for an MLB champion. Their title trek was landmarked by several monumental occasions, such as David Wells’ perfect game (which he claimed to have accomplished hungover), a bench-clearing brawl with Baltimore, and Shane Spencer’s spectacular September debut. Such a look-back could focus on the baseball renaissance that was the 1998 season. Elsewhere, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in a since-tainted home run chase, while the league welcomed in new franchises in Arizona and Tampa Bay.
2002-03 Syracuse Orange Men’s Basketball
It’s hard to truly ever envision Syracuse basketball as an underdog, but the 02-03 edition came close. They had just one senior on their roster (Kueth Duany) and dealt with two transfers and a suspension to freshman guard Billy Edelin. Things began with a shocking loss to Memphis at Madison Square Garden, but a brilliant sign of things to come was in display in Carmelo Anthony.
The freshman scored 27 points and then went on to become their top contributor. Fellow freshman Gerry McNamara and sophomore Hakim Warrick also came up big, with the young group taking over the power Big East. It culminated with a national championship, as the Orange narrowly topped Kansas in New Orleans. The rise of the underclassmen would make for a compelling March Madness supplement.
2006-07 Rutgers Scarlet Knights Women’s Basketball
What C. Vivian Stringer’s Scarlet Knights had to go through en route to Garden State immortality would shake even the most seasoned of professional teams. The program’s first-ever trek to the NCAA National Championship Game was unrightfully overshadowed through racist comments from shock jock Don Imus and his team. Called upon to rise beyond the parameters of the sport, the athletes rose together as leaders, creating a legacy of unity. While the team handled the situation with class, their fight against Imus’ comments brought attention and awareness to the strides necessary to eliminate society’s far-too-prevalent. racism and sexism
On the court, the Knights were equally as iconic. They eventually fell to Tennessee in the national title game, but would recover from a 2-4 start to not only reach the last game, but win their first conference tournament triumph in over a decade. The final was a classic 55-47 triumph over the Huskies in Hartford, their first Big East championship. Loaded with underclassmen, the Knights held the high-scoring Huskies to their lowest total of the season. Junior Matee Ajavon took home Most Outstanding Player honors.
2012 New York Jets
Technological advances would perhaps deny us an inside look at the Super Bowl trek of 1968, but one of the New York Jets‘ most eventful seasons would be ripe for the documentarian’s plucking. The Jets provided one of the most memorable preseason observances in recent memory with their turn on “Hard Knocks” during the summer of 2010. Their following campaign, however, might’ve been even more intriguing.
2012 was the year of Tim Tebow, the year of the Butt Fumble, the year of the last stand of Rex Ryan. It may bring back painful memories, but an inside look at one of the most insane seasons in not just Jets, but NFL history as a whole, would officer fascinating insight.
2012-13 New York Knicks
In recent times, the New York Knicks have had very little seasons worth remembering. Logic says to focus on the 1993-94 squad, but we already gave that honor to the Rangers. A lone recent exception is the 2012-13 squad, which still stands as the Knicks’ most recent playoff invitee. They were a 54-win team, one that enjoyed a Carmelo Anthony at the height of his power. He was assisted by a cast of characters that included Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Tyson Chandler, and Raymond Felton, among others. This Knicks squad finally exorcised Boston demons…ending the Celtics’ Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett eras with a six-game ousting…but were upset by the Pacers before they could face the defending champion Miami Heat.
To make matters worse, this was a Knicks team that had Miami’s number. Nearly a quarter of the Heat’s losses from their 2012-13 championship came against the Knicks, and New York was the only team to top Miami three times in the regular season. Of that tally, two of three wins each came by 20 points, good for the Heat’s biggest defeats that season.
“The Last Dance” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags