NBA Nation just finished consuming ESPN/Netflix’s riveting 10-part documentary The Last Dance. While the five-week Michael Jordan-centric show hit many of the highlights, die-hard Chicago Bulls and ‘90s NBA fans have longed for more.
Most of Jordan’s teammates received shoutouts, ranging from dedicated episodes for Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, to specific segments for Horace Grant and Toni Kukoc. Popular bench players like Steve Kerr and Bill Wennington also got their moments.
However, three key Bulls not only didn’t get their shine but were oddly omitted altogether despite major contributions to Chicago’s three-peats. Some may attribute this to the narrative choices made while others might blame the rushed series production due to the deadline being moved up two months earlier than its original release date.
Whether you want to blame Jordan’s narrative control or ESPN’s hand being forced by COVID-19, the following players deserved better than they got.
Because they deserved anything at all.
UNJUSTLY RuN OUT OF the LEAGUE
Look in the dictionary for dead-eye shooter, and Craig Hodges’ picture accompanies the definition.
The 6’2” Hodges ruled the league as its premiere marksman long before today’s game morphed into a three-point chuck fest.
Hodges graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 1982 where he played under future Bulls assistant coach Tex Winter. He suited up for the San Diego Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns before settling with Chicago in 1988.
A local kid who hailed from Park Ridge, Illinois, Hodges fit like a glove in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. His 40-plus percent three-point shooting stretched the floor for Jordan and Pippen to drive the lanes for easy points. If the defense collapsed, Jordan or the ball-handler would kick it to the arch or sides and Hodges drained the trey.
Hodges knew his role and played it effectively. The savvy veteran combo guard averaged 14.8 minutes per game during his Bulls’ tenure. He shot 42.5 percent from three, 52.8 effective field goal percentage and dished out 1.7 assists per game over 0.5 turnovers.
His three-point shooting reached legendary status. He won the 1990-92 Three-Point Shooting Contests, the only other player besides Larry Bird to earn that distinction. Hodges bested top marksmen in Bird, Mark Price, Tim Hardaway, Reggie Miller, Mitch Richmond, Clyde Drexler and the late Drazen Petrovic.
Jordan knew Hodges was straight-up money, too.
Below, MJ strips the ball from Milwaukee Bucks power forward Frank Brickowski with help from a Horace Grant trap. He runs the break, drives and kicks out to Hodges, who audaciously celebrates before the ball swishes the net.
Remember, kids, this is about 20 years before the famous no-look Dwyane Wade to LeBron James’ early celebration slam!
Hodges came up big in Game 1 against the Knicks in 1991. He poured in 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, adding three steals for good measure in only 18 minutes. Not a bad showing against some key Knicks guards like Maurice Cheeks, Mark Jackson and John Starks.
The thoughtful Hodges’ NBA demise occurred rather suddenly, however.
After winning the 1992 NBA Finals, he and his teammates visited President George H.W. Bush at the White House. Hodges boldly wore a white dashiki to honor his cultural heritage. He then gave Bush’s press secretary a letter respectfully requesting the president address the plight of African Americans following the Rodney King Los Angeles riots earlier that year.
Hodges also criticized Jordan’s apolitical outlook, and the Bulls waived him shortly after. No one signed Hodges after his political stand, which echoes what has happened to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Both never played in their respective leagues again following speaking up for disenfranchised citizens.
With Hodges’ views of Jordan placing marketing over helping the disenfranchised and suing the NBA for $40 million, Jordan and the film crews might have thought Hodges was too “controversial” to interview.
That he was never mentioned even once, much less shown on camera (while fellow shooter John Paxson was repeatedly) seems outright vindictive.
However, the marksman helped the Bulls win two titles, and his political awareness proves U.S. racial inequalities even affect NBA champions.
QUIETLY MANNING THE MIDDLE
Luc Longley is another key figure curiously missing from the 10-part documentary.
That’s pretty odd considering Longley anchored the starting center position throughout the second three-peat. His 7’2”, 265-pound frame clogged the paint, grabbed rebounds and altered drivers’ shots.
He might have been the least talented starter on those teams, but Longley was a three-time Olympian for the Australian National Team (1988, 1992, and 2000) and came through in the clutch.
If you look at his 36-minute rates, he produced adequate numbers. The big Aussie averaged 13.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.1 apg and 1.6 blocks during the second three-peat. In fact, his per 100 possession numbers were even better at 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.3 blocks.
Longley would occasionally dust off some nifty moves in the paint, knowing how to stand strong against defenders and leverage them for shots. He could catch the ball at the elbow, spin toward the hoop and nail a baby hook shot.
Familiar with how to effectively box out, Longley could spin off a drop step to score with his off hand or use the triangle to his advantage, hitting the cutter with a great interior pass.
Longley probably received his loudest cheers when he thunderously blocked driving Utah Jazz center Greg Ostertag while recovering and protecting the weak side in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
The New Mexico product registered 26 games with three or more blocks, including playoff action. Some of his best defensive efforts came against the Seattle Supersonics during Game 1 in the 1996 NBA Finals (four blocks) and the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals (six blocks, two steals).
The affable Longley did have some problems catching laser interior passes from Jordan and Pippen, sometimes fumbling away the ball. They chided him for the mishap, but he just went back to work and knew he wasn’t bigger than the team.
The film crew noted they couldn’t get a flight to southwestern Australia in time for the expedited production schedule. While that’s a more plausible excuse than the Hodges omission, the documentary loses points for missing a funny guy who did the dirty work in the post during an era when elite centers roamed the NBA.
And the fact he was never even mentioned by the protagonists seemed more than a little odd.
THE HEADY, STEADY FORMER STAR
How do you fail to highlight your starting point guard?
Ron Harper surprisingly got short shifted in the doc. Though there was an early episode mention of the Bulls acquiring him, Harper’s biggest contribution was voicing complaints that Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Lenny Wilkens should’ve let him faceguard Mike instead of the soon-to-be-infamous Craig Ehlo.
Maybe Harper had this 1988 playoff game in mind that Lenny just forgot about?
Harper lacked noticeable screen time in the segments dedicated to the second three-peat team. While Longley’s similar omission had a plausible explanation, none have surfaced for The Ohio Flyer’s.
The documentary’s filmmakers (and younger NBA fans) might have forgotten that Harper jetted on a star-track early in his career before numerous knee injuries slowed him down. He worked as a primary scorer for the Cavs and Los Angeles Clippers, notching 19.3 ppg while collecting 5.2 rpg, 4.9 apg and 2.1 spg.
In his athletic prime, Harper possessed the speed and skills to even give the GOAT problems. ‘Hollywood’ casually stuffed the stat sheet with 36 points, 10 boards, six dimes and four steals during the 1989-90 season opener against the Bulls.
Keep in mind that he did this with a hyperextended knee and without key injured teammates like Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and Larry Nance.
Jordan needed overtime and 54 points just to survive for a close home win.
Before the Bulls signed Harper, he posted a triple-double against the Dallas Mavericks (26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists along with six steals March 11, 1994). He just missed one two days later against the Golden State Warriors (39 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists plus another six steals).
The 6’6” combo guard struggled as the 12th man off the bench during the 1994-95 season. Not as fast or spry as he once was, he focused on stifling defense and serving as secondary ball-handler. This allowed him to carve out a role in the starting lineup by the 1995-96 season and never look back.
Harper came up big for the Bulls, especially in 58 playoff games. His cumulative 5.2 Win Shares and 2.4 Value Over Replacement helped the Bulls inch past tough opponents. One example is against the Indiana Pacers in 1998: Harper notched 15 points, three blocks and two steals during Chicago’s 85-79 Game 1 win.
Pippen scored only four points that night.
After sitting out a year, Harper joined the Los Angeles Lakers with Jackson and Winter, proving he still possessed gas in the tank.
wHY NO LOVE?
While The Last Dance provides a survey-level history lesson of Michael Jordan’s Bulls tenure, most of its content turned out to be well-known facts. With that many hours and epiodes of documentary time, two starters and a key contributor should have been recognized, even in some small way.
Hodges, Longley and Harper may not have been the Big Three of MJ, Pippen and Rodman. None of them possessed the current media connections of some players like Wennington, Kerr and Will Perdue. But they all played with Michael four or more years and filled their roles to near perfection.
Legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that a basketball team has five fingers. He wanted the players to come together and form a fist. Hodges, Longley and Harper provided MJ with the unity that made the Bulls into a blunt force.
But Jordan’s documentary often seemed to focus (especially in the later episodes) on his singular heroic exploits at the relative expense of everyone else.
The trio may have been overlooked by Jordan, ESPN and Netflix, but hardcore basketball fans won’t forget those guys’ championship contributions.
Bob Bajek is an award-winning investigative journalist and TBW staff writer who has extensive experience in news and sportswriting for various outlets including Bleacher Report, The Chicago Tribune and Pro Football Weekly. He firmly believes Drake spread the Gospel of Steph before his official coming… and fans need to forgive the Warriors after providing free tacos for four NBA Finals.