Michael makes a return

“The Last Dance” premiered last Sunday. Parts two and three will play this Sunday at 8 pm.

It was inevitable to hearken back on the 1990s Chicago Bulls and the “Jordan Rules,” to ponder on the dynamic offense the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can unleash in the NFL, and to envision how wet-in-the-ear dynamic athletes can help an NFL franchise.

These thoughts are devoid of anything to do with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, although it has forced Americans together to work as one to fight off a common enemy much like a sports team. Despite that we all pay attention to the daily spike in cases, the ways we can protect ourselves and our families, and when the stay-at-home orders may be lifted, this past week was one of the best moments in the history of sports. It took our minds off the mental anguish of the pandemic.

Fresh sports programming also helps people to stay at home, a cardinal rule postulated by the top medical professionals around the world to help stop the spread of the new virus.

Leading off at bat to defeat COVID-19 anxiety on Sunday were parts one and two of the “The Last Dance.” The docuseries is a spicy account of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls amid their last championship campaign, which is No. 23’s last Hall-of-Fame-caliber season.

Jordan’s prime (championship) years, 1991-98, were some of the years I started to really pay attention to the NBA and to recognize MJ as one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA. Take into consideration that I studied the “Jordan Rules” book by Sam Smith, an amazing former Chicago Bulls beat writer who is on the docuseries. The book is about the dynamics of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and how the “Bad Boy” Pistons would beat up on him in his quest of winning championships, as well as a report on the culture of the locker room and management led by owner Jerry Reinsdorf and late general manager Jerry Krause.

So while I’m delighted that Jordan finally released this footage to the public, especially in such a time when the world is craving sports, the content that is coming out is far from a surprise for me.

We know how much of a cultural icon the six-time champion is – the fighting in practices with his own teammates, the way he spoke to management to bolster the roster, coming across as a bully while razzing his teammates and management, the drinking, gambling, etc., are all a part of his illustrious career – but the snippet that sticks out to me is Jordan calling Scottie Pippen “selfish” because of a disagreement in not playing due to a contract not being up to par.

Understand that the cap in the 90s was 10 times smaller than it is today, Pippen agreed to an underwhelming contract billing of $18 million over five years in 1991 because he desperately wanted to ensure taking care of his family despite Reinsdorf warning him not to agree, and by 1998 Pippen was the 122nd highest paid player in the NBA.

Rules governing such a debacle in the 90s were nonexistent, allowing for owners to take advantage of the cap number (around $11.9 million) in an effort to build championship teams. But for Jordan to call Pippen selfish because the Central Arkansas alum sold himself short and didn’t anticipate the cap to significantly increase because of TV contracts spiking due to the Bulls’ popularity is utterly preposterous. It is easy for Jordan to lament Pippen’s standing when at the time the five-time Most Valuable Player was raking in around $33 million a year.

The timing of the documentary is weird, too. There is no coincidence that Jordan gave the okay for the release of this footage around the same time LeBron James won his third championship in 2016. Insecurity? Maybe. Greed? Definitely so. The nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player is worth around $2 billion, and he still wants more, specifically from this generation who questions his greatness.

These are debates for a different day, but I’m still glad this documentary is gracing airwaves across the land.

Tampa Bay Bucs

Batting next, on Tuesday the Patriots traded Rob Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fourth-round pick (No. 139 overall), which ousts Gronk’s retirement after just one year, one that included a World Wrestling Entertainment 24/7 championship nod as of April 6.

This move did wonders for the Buccaneers as they add a Hall-of-Fame tight end in the mix with the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, two stud wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, with an ascending tight end in O.J. Howard. The defense is underrated, too, and was always put in bad spots last season because of turnover machine Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions – the most since 1980.

To help Brady and those weapons, on Thursday night the Bucs drafted Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs – a top offensive tackle projected by some to be the best lineman on the board – after trading up one pick with the San Francisco 49ers. These moves instantly thrust the Bucs into Super Bowl contending status, and one more pass-catching running back for “Tompa Bay” in the draft will only add to their offensive weaponry.

Kansas City Chiefs

Batting in the 3-hole was the Chiefs, drafting LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire at pick No. 32. Edwards-Helaire is a dual-threat back who rushed for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns at 6.6 yards a clip on 215 carries last year. He also caught the rock 55 times for 453 yards and a touchdown on the National Championship-winning team.

In his college career, Edwards-Helaire amassed 2,698 yards from scrimmage (2,103 rushing) and 24 touchdowns in three seasons as an LSU Tiger. A comparison for the talented runner is former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who is a two-time Pro Bowler. And KC head coach Andy Reid believes he is better than his former player.

The addition of Edwards-Helaire is a gem of a pick and will only make the Super Bowl team that much more explosive if everyone stays healthy and out of trouble off the field. As of right now, the Chiefs are everyone’s No. 1 team on the power rankings list, and this new draftee certainly won’t hinder that mark.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles batted cleanup and to most, struck out.

Clearly I’m harboring doubts.

It isn’t shocking that the Eagles selected a wide receiver at pick No. 21 – the team has been desperate for offensive weapons the last two years due to a litany of injuries – but to most, drafting TCU’s Jalen Reagor wasn’t expected.

And just like that, the tumult of sports is back.

Yes, this year’s draft holds some of the most talented and deep receiving groups ever, but once Alabama’s Henry Ruggs went to the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 12, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy is drafted at No. 15 by Denver, and CeeDee Lamb is picked at No. 17 by Dallas, the next best receiver is LSU’s Justin Jefferson, plain and simple.

To my dismay, my Eagles didn’t see it that way. I admit, I decried not taking Jefferson, a 6’3” playmaking pass catcher who proved himself versus the best competition, the SEC. But according to Philly sports media, Reagor is the guy the Eagles were targeting after Ruggs all along because of his ability to blow the top off a defense, his wherewithal to track down passes and his bigger frame, giving him the chance to dominate on the outside. Reagor racked up 72 catches with 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns in his sophomore season, and just 43 receptions for 611 yards and five touchdowns last season due to some of the most incompetent quarterback play in the country.

Surely the Eagles have studied Reagor on a granular level and are rubbernecking Kansas City to build an explosive offensive like Big Red’s, a coach who has valued players like Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson. I’m hoping he can become those two burners or a T.Y. Hilton out in Indianapolis with speed.

The NFL season – and the NBA – can’t come soon enough. But for now, we have Michael Jordan and the NFL Draft to supplement the leagues and COVID-19.

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