Longtime Chicago Tribune Bulls writer Sam Smith joined GN Sports to discuss Michael Jordan, the Bulls, and ESPN’s documentary “The Last Dance.”
Smith is featured heavily in the series as an authority on the saga, but said he was surprised it actually happened due to Michael Jordan’s disappearance from the public eye.
“That was the biggest surprise to me. I never expected we’d ever see him again,” said Smith. “I remember he used to say it to us a lot in the early 90s and late 80s: When I leave, you’re never going to see me again.”
While Smith said Jordan’s involvement with the series was surprising, his candor with the producers wasn’t. Smith recalled how easy it was to get access to Jordan when he was covering the Bulls for the Chicago Tribune.
“It was remarkable how much fun he was and how open and accommodating he was,” he said.
Smith also weighed in on how former general manager Jerry Krause was portrayed in the documentary.
“I’m not glad that Jerry passed away, but I’m glad that he’s not here to defend himself, because he would’ve made a mess of it,” said Smith. “And that was part of the issue with Jerry, he wasn’t particularly articulate. You know what he’s trying to say, but you almost want to say it for him.”
Smith likened the portrayal of Krause to a classic story in need of a foil.
“Every great story has — and every great novel ever written — needs an antagonist. And this is like a novel with a plot and characterizations and all the elements. Every great story needs the bad guy and he’s the villain.”
Smith’s 1992 book “The Jordan Rules” chronicled the Bulls’ 1990–91 championship season and most likely struck a nerve with Krause.
“As you remember from that time the community was kind of judging it like I’ve created the ’85 Bears,” joked Smith. “The one and done hit. It’s over. I’ve exposed the internal devastations and workings in this team and as a result Michael Jordan is never going to win again. The Bulls are done. That was kind of the narrative playing out in Chicago a little bit.”
When asked about how Smith felt about cultivating Horace Grant as a source for “The Jordan Rules,” Smith defend the former Bull.
“Horace gets treated unfairly here,” said Smith. “I think the notion of people in journalism is the only way you can do anything of substance is to have Deep Throat with Watergate and ‘All the President’s Men.’ But that’s not the way sports works. In politics and in Washington, people don’t want to talk to you. In sports, they do want to talk to you. Everybody wants to talk to you in sports.”
Episodes 7 and 8 of “The Last Dance” premiere on ESPN Sunday night, and will cover Jordan’s retirement and baseball career.