With all sports currently on hiatus, fans are being forced to live in the past, which ESPN has thankfully obliged with the early release of The Last Dance, the much-hyped 10-part docuseries about Michael Jordan framed around his final season with the Chicago Bulls. (We're assuming the documentary on his later stint with the Washington Wizards will be shown exclusively on Quibi.)
It's been a riveting watch so far, particularly for 40-somethings who insist "real basketball" involves games where neither team scores more than 80 points, no one shoots threes, and flying clotheslines are considered regular fouls.
Of course, for Blazer fans, anything Jordan-related comes with an extra twinge of regret, on account of that whole "not drafting the most famous athlete of all time and instead picking the center with wet drywall for knees" thing. As former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn casually notes in the segment about the 1984 draft, "Portland had Clyde Drexler, who played the same position as Michael….So I knew Jordan would be there for us." And that sound you hear immediately after is every Blazer fan of a certain age throwing their remote against the wall.
So for anyone sharp-eyed enough to recognize the practice facility that briefly appears in Episode 4, it must've registered like a transmission from an alternate reality:
Yes, that's His Airness practicing at Pamplin Sports Center on the campus of Lewis & Clark College, along with the rest of the early '90s Bulls squad.
This is not some Mandela Effect thing where everyone collectively forgot that Jordan spent his college years playing for the L&C Pioneers. Back in the day, the Blazers practice facility was located on the school's campus, and they'd open the gym for visiting teams that didn't have another spot to put up baskets before games.
"I remember it well," says Mark Pietrok, the school's longtime head athletic trainer and current interim athletic director. "We used to have to have security when the Bulls came to town with Jordan or the Lakers with Magic."
The clip pops up during a montage about how Jordan pushed (read: intimidated) his teammates into improving enough to finally vanquish the Detroit Pistons on the way to winning the first of their six championships in 1991. But according to Pietrok, the footage appears to be from 1992, the year the Bulls faced the Clyde Drexler-led Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals.
Kurt Armstrong, director of facilities at Lewis & Clark, agrees with the time peg. He should know—because during that series, he stowed away inside the gym and watched the team practice.
Armstrong wrote out the full story for WW:
"Back then, the Blazers practiced at L&C and had an open-gym policy. I was used to watching them practice, and also had personal relationships with Danny Ainge and some of the other Trail Blazers, as I used to do sports massage back then, along with my full-time job at Lewis & Clark.
I knew the Bulls were scheduled to practice in our Pamplin gym first, I think at 8 a.m. I also knew that there was going to be a lot of extra security, along with our own campus safety staff, coming up to school to keep everyone out of the gym.
Working as a supervisor in Facilities Services, I had the 'keys to the kingdom,' and I told my guys that night before I was going to be stuck in meetings all morning the next day. This was before cell phones, and it was easier to be checked out.
I drove up to school at 5:30 that morning, dressed in all black, and let myself into the door in front of the gym that leads you up a spiral stair-case to the cat-walk over the gym and the media booth.
I cracked the door open a foot that leads out to the cat-walk and I hunkered down, in the dark. waiting for a couple of hours for the Bulls to enter the gym. First, in walks Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, and they immediately start running up-and-backs. One by one the team filters in and joins them running. You could feel this palpable energy, a vibration, a hum.
Last to walk in the gym was Michael. And it was different. I've been around a lot of great athletes—I was no slouch myself back then—but he was different. No exaggeration, it was like watching a God walk before me. He moved with a grace and a power like I'd never seen. MJ starts running with them and I just have this sense of imminent war building, I don't know how else to explain it.
Then in comes the coaching staff. Tex [Winter] starts in and right away starts breaking down individual scenarios, how best to get an advantage over the Blazers, specific in-bound plays, detail on how they handle who doing what. Then Phil takes over, and he's setting up plays, and his mantra is "Focus! Balance! High Energy!"—over and over again. They were on a mission.
Here I was, hiding up in this cat-walk door, dressed in black, the only person on earth covertly watching their practice, but by the just absolute power and focus and beauty of what I was watching for those hours.
I waited a couple of hours and I called Danny Ainge at home and told him how I'd spent my morning. When he asked me what I thought, I just said, 'You are in so much trouble.' And he just said, 'Yeah, I think you're right.'"
That particular part of the Bulls story should be coming up in next week's episodes. When they get to "The Shrug," make sure no Blazer fans of a certain age have a remote in their hand.