Joe Benigno’s WFAN Departure Leaves Huge Void: A Tribute to One of My Radio Heroes

After 25 years on the airwaves of WFAN, Joe Benigno calls it a career on Friday with his final show.

I will never be able to properly describe the impact that Joe Benigno has had on my life, but I’ll do my best. He has been a major part of my routine for many years. Joe became the WFAN overnight host in 1995. I was an avid listener, but rarely called the station.

That changed in 1998. I started calling Monday-Friday. Most of the callers were regulars. You could name them, and even predict when they would call. We were a family. You know how that goes. Think of a holiday gathering. There are some people that occasionally get on your nerves. Perhaps you make up with them and move past disagreements. Other people annoy you to no end. It was like wrestling. One feud would eventually fizzle out, and another would develop.

I was pretty shy before becoming a regular caller. It was big for my confidence. I felt comfortable. People were often given several minutes. Especially if they could contribute something interesting. I would talk about betting. Maybe antagonize one of the callers. Joke around. Get into basketball and football or baseball. Some people would say I was their favorite caller. Others hated me. You might think getting through was easy at about 2:45 in the morning. Far from it. You could spend an hour or two trying to get through, and then wait a long time on hold. The wait was worth it.

Many people either stayed up to catch the start or woke up early for work. There were also a lot of older people who had retired and would wake up during the show. Having just left my job, I was able to stay up through the overnight and hear Joe’s entire program. He even inspired me to attend CSB (Connecticut School of Broadcasting) so I could land a job in the sports world like he did. Older folks were impressed with somebody who was decades younger than them but knew his sports.

WFAN's DraftKings pitchman Joe Benigno on fantasy football: "I want nothing  to do with it..." | Bob's Blitz

Yes, I was actually a youngster back then. Just 20 years old. I had a great memory, but could look up things on a computer as well. This wasn’t true for everybody before 2000. It also wasn’t that easy to find things back then. There were far fewer sites. Information was pretty limited compared to today, so I mostly went off my general knowledge and memories. 

Lots of people enjoy reality TV. Well, Joe’s show was reality radio. Kind of like a show where different people are crammed together in a house. Like I said, some of us went after each other. People from Canada even listen and call WFAN. Joe tried to fix me up with somebody from Nova Scotia. She talked about betting on sports. We never ended up meeting, but there were times when callers seemed more interested in discussing us than the games and teams.

Joe watched Lennox Lewis fight Mike Tyson with me at my Sportsphone job in 2002. I think my boss was jealous when I eventually told him about it. My former boss and I rarely keep in touch these days. He recently sent a text about Joe. It was the first time he sent me a text in years, with the last one also pertaining to Benigno. 

After nearly a decade of hosting overnights, Joe was promoted to middays in 2004. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Life would not be the same. He now had a partner. There were more guests. Shorter show. Additional commercials. Phone calls from callers were measured in seconds instead of minutes. Overnights were also not the same. Some hosts were better than others, but nobody was Joe. Even today you can hear fans fondly remember his overnight days. Not just the epic rants. It was a show for the callers.

Although the number of times I called Benigno had been drastically reduced, we remained close. Even before leaving overnights, Joe had started to host a Monday night football show with Tony Siragusa at Tiff’s in Pine Brook, NJ. Meeting up with him before the show gave us time to chat off the air. I ended up making it my hangout spot for the next 15 years. Joe’s last time there was probably 2005 or 2006, but his shows there had an indirect impact on me for many years to come.

His popularity continued to grow with the daytime shift, and he made numerous appearances. Some were in Yonkers, but he popped up in various locations. New Jersey. Long Island. I followed him around. A number of callers would show up, but I was his most loyal follower. John from Glen Cove was one of the callers I met. We often joined Joe at Buffalo Wild Wings or Dave and Buster’s. Again, Joe helped me without knowing it. I was getting out and enjoying myself. Meeting new people. Changing and growing as a person. 

Joe And Evan Appear On 'Good Morning Football'

There is talk that Joe might do some part-time work on WFAN in the future. One can only hope. Joe will never understand the impact he has had on people. Especially me. We will treasure whatever time remains. Oh yeah…thanks for including me in your book!

Remembering the Late Wrestling Superstar ‘Kamala’

Another great has left us. The Ugandan Giant Kamala, whose real name was James Harris, died this weekend at age 70. Despite being from Mississippi, he had many fans convinced that he was just an uncivilized savage. A lot of people who got to know him had nice things to say. It seems that most considered him a gentle giant.

Kamala feuded with the biggest (literally and figuratively) stars in wrestling. His first WWF stint featured matches against Andre The Giant. In 1986, Kamala returned to the World Wrestling Federation. Again, a string of three bouts against a rival at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens culminated with a steel cage match. This time, the opponent was Hulk Hogan. These two wrestled twice at Madison Square Garden. Both cards were sold out. A match between Hogan and Kamala at Boston Garden also brought a sold-out crowd. There were even bouts between Kamala and King Kong Bundy. It was very odd for two major stars who were both bad guys to battle at that time, but this only added to the intrigue.

I can remember being on vacation in 1987 and watching wrestling from a store television as Paul Roma and Jim Powers were on the receiving end of top rope splashes from Kamala. My eyes were glued to the action. Kamala’s team was counted out, but it didn’t matter. The message was sent. This man needed to be feared. Hulk Hogan had a title defense on NBC against Sika less than two months later. It seemed like an odd and random match.

Years later, I found out that Sika was a substitute for Kamala. This would have been an awesome match with incredible hype. That was the night when Hulk Hogan became friends with Randy Savage after Elizabeth ran back for help. She was brutally shoved down by the Honky Tonk Man. Hogan came out and was triple-teamed before gaining the advantage. I remember a comment about how Hogan could possibly lose his title after he already had been worn down. You couldn’t really buy in. However, if Kamala was his opponent, you could believe!

In September of 1987, Kamala left the WWF over frustrations with his pay. He claimed that they would tell him none or only a small amount of his action figures sold. Between the crowds he drew with Hogan and his action figures, Kamala should have been well compensated. I wish he had stuck around longer for selfish reasons. His third WWF stint was much different. Kamala became a good guy, but lost most of his matches. The character became a joke. It made no sense. The character didn’t know how to roll over opponents and pin them. He had been doing it for years. Pretty ridiculous. Even for wrestling. There was one other major feud before his face turn. Kamala battled the Undertaker. Their match at Survivor Series was the first-ever televised casket match. They also met a few months earlier at Summerslam. Kamala claimed that he was paid $13,000 for that bout, while Undertaker’s pay was $500,000.

Although his wrestling run as a good guy was awful, there is one funny moment that lives on. Kamala learning to bowl is pretty funny.

There were numerous health battles in Kamala’s life. Each leg was amputated below the knee in recent years. Last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Four days later, he was gone. His death apparently took place in Brooklyn. I had no idea that he was there. If his health was better and we were in different times, it would have been very cool to see him. Definitely one of my favorite characters ever. Rest in peace, big man.

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Bad Pizza, Ripping Utah’s Hearts Out & Leaving a 7th Ring on the Table Bring ‘The Last Dance’ to a Close

Once again a topic from The Last Dance has actually taken off after the show. Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” might have actually been the “Food Poisoning Game.” Well, maybe. Apparently this pizza rumor was already out there, but we hear about it in great detail. This story has gone in all different directions. We’re told that five people showed up to deliver Jordan’s pizza. However, a man has since stated that he made the pizza and wanted to personally deliver it. Just two people total. This guy said he is a Bulls fan, and disputes that something was intentionally done to cause Jordan harm when he ate his dinner.

Jason Hehir directed the ESPN documentary, and added that Michael spit on the pizza to prevent anyone else from eating it since they had already eaten without him. This part was another subject that didn’t make the final cut. I’ll get back to what else was left out later. There is also a rumor that Jordan went to Vegas and was hungover. I don’t know what to believe. WFAN’s Joe Benigno talked about how he felt at the time. Joe didn’t think anything was wrong with Michael. Another host chimed in after the latest story came out. Craig Fite is the Chicago fan who spoke about making Jordan’s pizza. Fite said he bet on the Bulls, and obviously would not poison Jordan. WFAN’s Maggie Gray could not understand why somebody would bet on the Bulls. This is probably the dumbest take I have heard in quite some time. Nobody bets favorites. The team that is expected to win. Your favorite team. The one that has won championships before and would do so again. I’m not even getting into series prices and spreads. Sometimes she makes me want to rip out my remaining hair.

SB Nation on Twitter: "The Kings brought up an old food poisoning ...

Hearing about Jordan’s ordeal brought me back to 2002. I took Sacramento in game 2 after they lost to Kobe’s Lakers in the opener. Bryant was suffering from food poisoning. The spread seemed to indicate that he would either be out or most likely ineffective. Bryant played more minutes than any of his teammates. Sacramento covered by hitting late free throws. I searched to find information on the game, and stumbled upon a new conspiracy theory. An article said that a New Jersey mob guy was the one responsible for Kobe’s food poisoning. Supposedly there was a heavy mob bet on the Nets to win it all. Or, you could believe another story in that article. Kobe was too drunk to even find his hotel room.

This weekend’s episodes opened with footage of the feisty Pacers-Bulls rivalry. Reggie Miller and MJ going at it. Mark Jackson gets a ball thrown at him. No mention of how Jackson was on both teams that took Jordan to 7 during his championship seasons. Patrick Ewing used to lose and afterwards say that his Knicks were the better team. Miller said this about his Pacers. At least they went right down to the wire in a game 7 on the road. Speaking of Patrick, there was a trivia question about Jordan eliminating HOF players. It claims that he knocked out Ewing 4 times. It was actually 5 if you count 1989. That wasn’t a title season for Chicago. Throw in the college days if you want one more Ewing loss to MJ.

Since I referenced things being left out a couple times so far, I’ll get into that. The teams split games 5 and 6. That was their way of skipping over Jordan falling down late in game 6 against Indiana. As the documentary rolled on, it seemed like the blatant omissions became even more egregious. MJ hits a winning shot at the buzzer against Utah to begin the 1997 NBA Finals. Nothing about Karl Malone’s missed free throws just before that. Scottie Pippen said, “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays.” Totally left out. They didn’t even put that Jordan finished up with Washington when listing how players moved on after 1998.

Dan Patrick talked about Jordan’s career on WFAN. He took a shot at the 90s Knicks. I have tried to explain how people thought they were ruining basketball. Ratings dropped. Rules were changed. It’s funny how Detroit didn’t seem to get this criticism. There was a 1994 Sports Illustrated cover saying that the NHL was hot, and by contrast the NBA was not. Obviously MJ went through the Knicks quite often. Basketball really suffered when he wasn’t around. Patrick’s point was about how low NBA scores were. Cleveland limited possessions by draining the shot clock. Final scores were often around 80 points. James Harden might put up impressive offensive numbers when his team scores 120-130 points. Jordan would likely average much more in today’s game with higher final scores.

You knew we would see that MJ was motivated to face different players. Malone won an MVP. Bryon Russell made a comment when Jordan was retired. Good thing these players gave Michael some extra motivation. I’m not sure if he would have been able to take the NBA Finals seriously. MJ somehow had the urgency when he won the MVP award all those years. You can tell that certain things were wearing on me as this documentary was winding down. Jordan also brought back his old security buddy. Gus Lett returned to inspire MJ in game 7 against the Pacers. Lett died in 2000 after a long battle with cancer.

We learned about the murder of Steve Kerr’s father in Beirut 36 years ago. That was clearly the most emotional part of these latest episodes. Kerr said that he never discussed this with Jordan. It was unfortunately something they had in common. Kerr talked about John Paxson taking Steve under his wing. I often thought of Steve as the later version of John on that team. Steve mentioned his early years with Cleveland. I became a fan of his back then. He threw in a long heave against the Nets, and seemed like a Mark Price clone to me.

Dennis Rodman always has to cause trouble. He missed practice during the 1998 NBA Finals so he could attend a wrestling show. Maybe I should rephrase that. He participated in a wrestling show. I liked Phil Jackson’s response about it being a distraction. Players play. They don’t sit around crying about something stupid. Unless you are Bill Cartwright getting upset that Scottie Pippen asked out. Media members will keep asking if something is going to be a distraction. Maybe, if they keep bringing it up. Anyway, Jackson said it might be a distraction for the reporter.

Scottie Pippen had an injured back against Utah in the 1998 series clincher. He was only able to score 8 points. Tough to kill him for it, but with that guy somehow it was always something. Migraine in game 7 against Detroit. Not wanting to ruin his summer and missing regular season games because surgery was put off. The infamous final 1.8 seconds of a virtual must-win contest during the 1994 playoffs. Dealing with Pippen and Rodman only adds to Jordan’s legacy in my opinion.

The Time Michael Jordan Almost JOINED The NEW YORK KNICKS! - YouTube

One ridiculous Jordan story is that he would have missed time in 1999 due to a severed tendon in his finger. He suffered the injury attempting to cut a cigar. People argued that playing only 50 games would have helped Chicago, but I just don’t see how it could have worked. Apparently Phil Jackson was not interested in waiting through a rebuilding stage. That’s what I figured based on his reputation.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said just that Sunday. The relationship with GM Jerry Krause seemed damaged beyond repair. Michael might have thought he could convince Pippen to return for another year, but Scottie was going to get paid. He definitely wanted big money and a long deal. Scottie was starting to break down, and big bucks were finally coming his way. Jordan and Phil were pretty spent. They could have tried to reload, but there were certainly changes coming. I think Reinsdorf had no interest in breaking the bank for potentially one more championship. He had told Jackie MacMullan that they wouldn’t be the 90s Celtics. That team got old and guys were injured. It ended unceremoniously.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan did not come off looking very sharp. He apparently had no idea that Jordan was less than 100 percent, although Michael still played well. Jordan wasn’t just a decoy. The Jazz only scored 54 points in one of their losses. Sloan looks down and asks if that was really the score. I’m not sure if Sloan was kidding either time. Karl Malone has asked people to say prayers for Jerry. The coach has had health issues in recent years. Jerry has battled Parkinson’s disease and dementia since 2016. Speaking on a 90s NBA Zoom call, Malone said that Sloan is not doing well.

Watching highlights from Chicago’s games against Utah and Indiana brought me back to my early days betting NBA games. There were some close calls each way. One of my friends took the Bulls giving 5.5 in one game. He lost on a shot at the buzzer. Scott Van Pelt played it along with Uncle Brent’s radio call for a final vintage Bad Beats segment.

In recent days there has been a video circulating of Bob Costas putting a bow on the Chicago dynasty. He knew that it was at least possibly their last run. I can remember Bob speaking after the 1993 championship. He speculated that perhaps they could come back for a fourth straight title and be known as the “Quad Squad.” It would have been interesting if that really happened. I wonder if Costas trademarked the phrase. Hopefully I can speak with him one day. I have a lot of questions. We can get into his classic 1989 interview with Bobby Heenan.

Finally, there was an interesting exchange between Jordan and Larry Bird after the Pacers-Bulls series. Colorful language. It really was strange to hear the curses flying on ESPN. Getting back to 1993, I vividly remember watching a press conference after Phoenix stayed alive with a win in Chicago. Businesses were boarding up windows in anticipation of a wild celebration. Charles Barkley told people that they could take the “stuff” off their windows. It always stuck with me. I never expected ESPN to air this clip 27 years later. Especially an unedited version. 2020 certainly has been unpredictable.

With that, I thank you for taking the time to read this. Hopefully you enjoyed the documentary and my recaps.

Emotions Run Deep as ‘The Last Dance’ Heads Toward Anticipated Finale

As we entered this past weekend, the world was fascinated with security guard John Michael Wozniak. Unfortunately, the security guard for Michael Jordan passed away before he could become famous after his appearance in ESPN’s documentary. This guy would have done more appearances in these last 10 days than anyone could possibly keep track of.

Sunday night introduced many of us to a new person. LaBradford Smith. He was one of Jordan’s sources for motivation, but this story was pretty ridiculous. Michael made up a story that Smith said something. First of all, I don’t understand how you make up a story to fool yourself. Overlooking that, the offensive comment by Smith was apparently, “Nice game, Mike.”

George Karl avoided speaking to Michael when they both attended the same restaurant. He knew of Jordan’s tendency to twist any comments. Michael then motivated himself over the snub. I didn’t think this was a mistake by Karl. Many thought George should have had Gary Payton guarding Jordan sooner. MJ watches a video of Payton speaking and laughs hysterically. If you want to talk about a mistake, Karl told Scott Van Pelt after the documentary that Seattle flew home following Friday’s game and played a 12:30 Sunday contest. It was 4:30 out there. 7:30 where us normal people live.

They barely acknowledged a Knicks-Bulls series in 1996. Just showed that Chicago had advanced with their series win over New York. Chicago was 14-1 in the postseason and just one win away from wrapping up the title until Seattle won twice at home. Sticking with the motivation topic, Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy once talked about how Jordan was basically a con man. He would be friendly with a player before lighting him up for 45. Naturally this didn’t sit well with Jordan. Michael hit the Knicks up for 51 when they next met. MJ also had some choice words for Van Gundy after the game.

Another Knicks moment that was glossed over and could have been featured would be the Hue Hollins foul call against Scottie Pippen. This might have been the difference between Chicago getting past New York without Jordan and a loss in 7 games. Some speculated that it was left out because maybe Chicago could’ve advanced and possibly won it all when Michael wasn’t there. One caller to WFAN had an interesting take about this. Perhaps the NBA didn’t want to highlight a controversy involving an official. Apparently somebody who was announcing criticized Hollins and was reprimanded. I am not convinced that Chicago would have defeated Indiana, and Houston certainly wouldn’t have been easy.

There were so many major storylines in Sunday’s episodes. Probably none more interesting than Jordan’s decision to retire in 1993. I was watching the ALCS when CBS broke that shocking news. No tweets back then. If everybody was telling lies, they did a good job. It seems like Jordan definitely was suffering from burnout, and reportedly talked about retirement a year earlier. The last few weeks have shown us that people in this country enjoy conspiracy theories. I don’t know the details about his father’s murder. People just assume that it was tied to Jordan’s gambling. If you believe that, I probably will not be able to convince you otherwise. David Stern says there was no secret suspension.

I side with those who feel Stern probably would not willingly sideline his cash cow. Let me put it another way. Has anyone ever assumed something about you that wasn’t true? They just decide that you are guilty of something because it makes sense to them. No shred of evidence. It’s hard to prove a negative, so you’re powerless. Throw in the part about your father being murdered. As you grieve, people decide that this was your fault. Things either happened or didn’t. This isn’t some fun sports debate where we can talk strategy and what would have happened if certain teams met. It might be interesting to hear from the people accused of Mr. Jordan’s murder. Maybe it should be looked into a little deeper. The thing that makes absolutely no sense to me is when people say they wanted Jordan to step away for a year or so and let things cool off. It’s 2020, and people are still talking about it. They were before this documentary. Michael leaving would only increase speculation and conspiracy theories.

A huge topic was Scottie Pippen’s refusal to play the last 1.8 seconds of game 3 against the Knicks in 1994. I remember this leading to a big argument on WFAN between Mike Francesa and Chris Russo. Occasionally I’ll question myself. Maybe I was too hard on someone or didn’t judge fairly. Usually, I’m reminded to trust my judgement. This guy always was an idiot. He says he’d do the same thing today. Thanks for your honesty. You are honest, but can still be considered stupid and a jerk. So, the play was called for Kukoc. Pippen said he at least wanted to be a decoy. You would be. On the floor. Knicks players don’t know that you’re not an option. They do when you are not on the floor. I can’t spend much more time on this. It makes me angry. I hate him so much. However, Bill Cartwright crying over this was a little much. Pippen proved that he didn’t deserve big money. The guy was not a leader, and he should not be mentioned among the greatest ever. Anyway, Kukoc made the shot. Phil Jackson’s choice was a good one.

Jordan’s return was so big. I usually watched games at home, but that day I went to watch with a friend who rooted for Chicago. As you see in the documentary, Bob Costas spoke before the game started. Without knowing it would be in the documentary, that came to mind as I was getting ready to start watching Sunday night’s episodes. I also remember that there was another NBC game on that day. Jordan announced his return the day before his first game back. NBC had no idea that this would happen. Obviously just about everybody saw Michael, but I remember feeling bad for those local markets that couldn’t. It was the highest rated regular season game in 20 years. MJ must have been pretty nervous. His shorts were on backwards. Doug Gottlieb wasn’t the only one who did this. Maybe Doug was just trying to be like Mike.

Bill Wennington speaks throughout the documentary. I kept thinking about his final shot when Jordan scored 55 against the Knicks. We finally saw that. People talk about how the 1993-94 Bulls were very good without Jordan. Chicago was 34-31 the next year when Michael came back. They went from barely having a winning record to 72-10 one season later. Yes, Rodman was added, but I think we know who deserved more credit.

Game 1 in 1998 against the Nets went to overtime. We don’t see that the Nets nearly won it in regulation on a desperation heave. This documentary has been great, but youtube is often a better way to discover exactly how things played out. I didn’t watch all of that game. The Knicks-Heat opener was also scheduled for that night. It started earlier. When they finished, I flipped over to Nets-Bulls.

Steve Kerr and MJ had a feisty exchange in practice. Coach Jackson sent Jordan home. I don’t think Chicago was necessarily great because of incidents like this, but we have definitely seen Michael’s competitive spirit. Even when struggling. It seemed as if Michael willed his teammates to championships. I definitely think that he was capable of elevating others around him. He tried to beat other strong teams instead of joining them.

Episode 7 started with a question from Craig Sager. Jerry Krause was annoyed, and walked away from the gathering. It ended with a surprising moment. An emotional Jordan spoke about how he played the game and his mentality. Jordan then asked for a break to compose himself. We also saw Michael crying on the locker room floor after winning the 1996 championship on Father’s Day. SVP spoke about hearing it. The image was famous. Actually hearing him cry was shocking.

One other note. Jackie McMullan talked about Scottie Pippen in 1994. She said it was more than 15 years ago. This is technically correct, but sounds like a mathematical error. 1994 was 26 years ago. Those of us who remember that era don’t want to admit we’re getting old. It was a long time ago. I graduated high school that year. Just two more episodes remaining!

1992’s Dream Team & Michael Jordan’s Gambling Highlight ‘The Last Dance’ Episodes 5 & 6

Jerry Krause continues to be annoying by emphasizing the organization, and Michael Jordan wants to crush Toni Kukoc and Dan Majerle because Krause has praised them. Jordan isn’t interested in speaking out about politics. A young Kobe Bryant at the 1998 NBA All-Star Game has Michael’s attention. Jordan is making commercials. Those are just some of the topics that I’m NOT diving into, because there is so much to go over. I don’t think people want to spend hours reading these reviews, so not every subject will be covered thoroughly.

One topic that was unintentionally left off from last week’s recap was Isiah Thomas getting snubbed from 1992’s Dream Team. I’m sorry. My notes are quite messy. Fortunately, this came up again. Also, it was discussed during the week in great detail. Bill Laimbeer chimed in. Isiah was interviewed. Stories have been taking off following episodes. It’s almost as if these things are just happening. They are brought back on Sunday night, and given a new life. Shows scramble to interview players featured in the documentary. People have accused Jordan of being the reason why Isiah wasn’t a Dream Team member, but maybe that’s not the case. Thomas was disliked by multiple players. Michael said he asked who would be his teammates. Apparently that decision had already been made.

Since I mentioned last week, one other thing involving Isiah stood out. Detroit won and advanced to the 1990 NBA Finals. CBS throws it to an interview on the court with Jordan. How many times have you seen a losing player interviewed on the floor immediately after his team was eliminated? This didn’t really sink in at first. I was so used to seeing MJ win both back then and in the documentary.

It seems like they could do 20 episodes. I’m not the only one who feels that way. A lot of people on the radio and Twitter have agreed with a number of my takes. One is that the jumping from one year to another is confusing. Especially since 1993 and 1998 were pretty similar. Chicago is looking for the third straight title. It makes sense from a comparison standpoint, but your goal should not be to mix up the audience. Scott Van Pelt’s show has basically become a documentary postgame on Sunday nights. Even his guests were mixed up when he asked a question about one year and their answer was about another.

In other SVP news, they have been doing Bad Beats from the 97-98 Bulls season. These kids don’t understand. Gambling was a lot different back then. You had to find someone who took basketball bets. It wasn’t easy. SVP teased announcer Wayne Larrivee for saying that basically a final basket didn’t mean much. I’m sure he didn’t know the posted total, and I definitely think that Scott was just kidding. Pretend anger. I heard Kevin Harlan calling one of Minnesota’s games against Chicago in another bad beat from that segment.

Social media reacts to Michael Jordan's disrespect of Clyde ...

The Jordan shrug seems to be something that has lasted for many years. He may not have been the first person to do that, but it seemed like he took it to another level. Guys who have done it in recent years may not even realize that they are being influenced by Jordan. Perhaps one player might be taking after somebody else who shrugged, but that guy might have been imitating Michael.

Although the 1992 Knicks-Bulls series is not specifically mentioned, their rivalry comes up in the 1993 rundown. There are times when the documentary doesn’t really lie, but misleads people. Footage is shown of Xavier McDaniel and the 1992 Knicks. Obviously we have to remember that this comes from a Chicago and Jordan point of view. Michael went 3-18 in game 3 after his AC trip became a big deal between games 2 and 3, but there was absolutely no mention of that. It doesn’t fit the narrative.

If Knicks fans were looking for somebody to say that Charles Smith was likely or even possibly fouled in at least one of his many late attempts during game 5, they went to the wrong place. Not that I’m surprised. It wasn’t about Knicks fans. You were not going to hear about their 15 missed free throws. Maybe people are starting to realize that we’re not going to get some Jordan bombshell involving his father’s murder, or even Michael’s hiatus. David Stern has already spoken about his gambling. Anybody who is waiting for a revelation about MJ being secretly suspended is lost. Also, we see NBC reporter Ahmad Rashad being driven to the arena by Jordan. Another person not exactly coming from an unbiased or neutral position.

Michael would use anything to motivate himself. We see that with Clyde Drexler. Earlier, Kukoc and Majerle as I mentioned. Reminds me of when people suddenly started saying that Gerald Wilkins was a Jordan stopper. By this time, Wilkins was with Cleveland. He had played for the Knicks before that. It didn’t end well for Wilkins.

Apparently there has been a lot of nonsense on Twitter (shocking) about Draymond Green being better than Charles Barkley. That seems to be over now after we all saw Barkley doing work in 1993. I think that season was probably where my NBA interest peaked. Recording games. Just having my life revolve around the playoffs. Even though that has been the case for many years, I just had a special passion back then. So much anticipation, and a special enjoyment while watching live. Finally, I have all kinds of memories and still love watching these old games. Not to mention this documentary.

Next week: Phil Jackson’s 1993-94 Bulls. Scottie Pippen has success, but does not get past round two. Should be another great weekend.

Overcoming Detroit’s Bad Boys & Dennis Rodman’s ‘Vacation’ Dominate ‘The Last Dance’

Sunday night gave the quarantined world two more fantastic hours of Chicago Bulls entertainment, and I don’t know where to start. I’m not even sure what the beginning is, as we continue to bounce around. Still my top complaint, but I digress.

It seems like even more topics were buzzing around social media after this weekend’s episodes. Scott Burrell gets embarrassed (destroyed) by Michael Jordan, and his wife tweets about it. Jerry Krause dancing on the plane will not be forgotten anytime soon. However, Carmelo Anthony’s contribution will be. His big addition was remembering that Dennis Rodman one time talked about a regular season game against Washington and how there was no incentive for him to play. This is what he’ll never forget from the Chicago dynasty. It was quite the head-scratcher.

One more complaint before I move on. They chose to skip over some things. There is mention of being on to New York after defeating Cleveland, but no highlights are shown from that series. Joe Benigno actually thanked ESPN for skipping that. As a Knicks fan, Joe wasn’t interested in seeing that series. Somebody apparently didn’t believe it was important, and I am okay with the decision. One can only imagine what was left on the cutting room floor.

I really couldn’t understand why they chose not to show Jordan scoring with seconds remaining in game 3 to force overtime against the Lakers. It was a big moment for MJ and his teammates in their first NBA Finals. Also, we see highlights of Chicago blowing a lead in Utah. There were no highlights of these teams playing in January. That was the marquee game. Super Bowl Sunday on NBC. Bob Costas called the game before flying to California for the football game, but I’m getting off topic. Utah won in Chicago. It was a rematch of the 1997 NBA Finals. Utah was apparently hungrier after losing in June.

We only get a brief comment about the Jazz sweeping both regular season games after they complete that February comeback. Ironically, there is footage on the plane after Jordan wins money on Denver’s win against Green Bay. As I described, the Super Bowl took place just hours after Chicago’s home loss to Utah.

Getting back to Rodman, he was featured in one of the episodes. Saying that he was troubled is an understatement. We see that in the early 90s he drove to the Palace of Auburn Hills parking lot with a gun. You don’t see many athletes kick a cameraman in the groin. Rodman often talks about how he doesn’t care what people think. That’s exactly what someone says when they care a lot. Dennis himself has talked about wanting to be loved. Partying with Carmen Electra in Vegas certainly got plenty of attention. Although I can’t really condone that, it would have been one thing if Dennis was all business other than the 48 hours away. Well, we know it was longer than that. Still, perhaps this could be overlooked if there were no other incidents.

The Last Dance: Carmen Electra Once Hid From Michael Jordan

Rodman claims that he was never a bad teammate and he could be counted on. It’s always something with him. That story Melo mentioned is another example of how Dennis didn’t always have his heart in the right place. I don’t care if he ran fast in practice. This guy was like the total opposite of Allen Iverson. Inconsistent when it came to games, but boy would he give 100 percent during practice. Rodman was a distraction for San Antonio. Chicago could overcome his flaws with Jordan. Yes, he helped at times. I can’t ignore the negative.

When Pippen returned, Dennis didn’t feel important. I think his salary included games when other people were playing. You assume that Rodman knew about Scottie being on the team when his contract was signed. Even if Pippen was out when the season started. Rodman gets away with far too much, and enjoys playing the victim. One of his many flaws is not being able to apologize or take blame. Apparently, asking MJ for an extra cigar was his way of apologizing for getting kicked out. I would think he should be buying cigars to apologize, but Dennis took one instead. Definitely seems like a strange apology. Maybe it’s just me. Pistons coach Chuck Daly was very close to Dennis. I remember him coming out when Rodman was a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show.

Ron Harper was very upset that Lenny Wilkens wanted Craig Ehlo to guard Jordan before Michael’s famous shot in Cleveland to win the deciding game. He makes this quite clear in the documentary. I remember watching those exciting final 6 seconds live. Seems like yesterday. It was actually more than 30 years ago. Amazingly, that classic Bulls game was not nationally televised. Part of the country saw game 1 between Seattle and the Lakers. Luckily, that game ended first. Dick Stockton welcomes the other audience in time to catch a very dramatic finish. As for Ehlo, he was not interviewed Sunday. Perhaps it was his choice.

I had always heard that Jordan was responsible for Doug Collins getting fired. Apparently that was not the case. I wondered why Jordan would bring Collins to Washington when he was part-owner if they didn’t like each other. Phil Jackson wanted Chicago to play more of a team game, and taking the ball out of Michael’s hand didn’t really appeal to MJ at first. Jackson replaced Collins in 1989 after Detroit defeated the Bulls in 6.

Since we saw Chicago’s championship in 1991, I wonder how much time will be spent on the 1992 Knicks. They defeated Detroit and took Chicago to 7. Only the 92 Knicks and 98 Pacers took the Bulls to a seventh game during their title runs. The Knicks were another group of bad boys. Pat Riley didn’t have his Lakers squad in New York, so he molded a team with physical players that was quite similar to Detroit.

Hearing about the Pistons brought back memories of those Knicks-Bulls games. I can specifically recall one time in particular when Jordan went streaking toward the basket but decided to pull up for a shot. His choice was described as a wise decision. So, it will be interesting to see if any of this comes up. Horace Grant is teased to be part of next week’s lineup. He will be an important character down the road. Should be another great Sunday night.

ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’ Lives Up to the Hype With Record-Breaking Premiere

The nation has been buzzing about what they watched this weekend…and it has nothing to do with tigers. ESPN was sitting on something big. With the country quarantined, they decided to move up their documentary on the Chicago Bulls.

Parts one and two debuted Sunday. Michael Jordan and his teammates were rock stars in the 90s, and apparently nothing has changed. Millions of people tuned in. ESPN has a history of terrific documentaries, but this one produced record numbers. Often events or programs that are heavily hyped lead to disappointment and negative feedback. Especially with today’s short attention spans and social media. “The Last Dance” seemed to be universally praised. Particularly by those of us who lived through MJ’s brilliance and the Chicago dynasty. It was strange to hear curses allowed. ESPN2 was bleeping the bad words. ESPN decided to go with the salty version. I enjoyed seeing Bob Costas from 40 years ago. He called Bulls games during the 1979-1980 season.

I had one complaint, so I’ll get it out of the way. Too much jumping back and forth. It is primarily about the 97-98 season. Ten hours provides plenty of time to cover other years and various people. It’s just inconsistent. We’re in 1986. One episode focuses on a specific person. Then we are back to their final season together. Oh yeah. That’s where we were. A very minor inconvenience. Honestly, that’s about all I could find that bothered me in the first two episodes.

Obviously, footage has been tremendous. It was expected, but we see all kinds of interesting things. Later interviews with players. Game footage. The team at practice. Jordan’s mother speaking. Everything you could ask for and then some. John Andariese teamed with Skip Caray to call a playoff game on TBS. Did anybody catch the green and blue tie? TBS colors. Several characters other than Jordan were spotlighted. Some really had fans talking (or tweeting). Here is a recap of people that stood out so far:

Our country has a new national enemy. It is Jerry Krause. Although America was shocked to see how players treated the Chicago general manager, most people felt he deserved it. The guy could not wait to take this team apart. He didn’t even want them back for 1998. Telling your coach that was going for a third straight championship and sixth in less than a decade that he was not coming back under any circumstances takes onions. Not even if they went 82-0. It’s interesting that he died before this documentary came out. It was first teased in 2018. Krause passed away back in 2017. I just read that Jordan’s cooperation for the documentary was secured six months after Krause died.

Following his attempt to start rebuilding, the GM’s team barely won a quarter of their games in the next five seasons. Krause resigned in 2003. Chicago has not sniffed another NBA Finals appearance since 1998. Their best chance was when Miami easily disposed of them in 2011. The Bulls fell 4-1 to Miami, and the Heat moved on to face Dallas. Krause wanted more credit for putting the team together. Despite making some good trades, Krause was not responsible for drafting Jordan. He did nothing when given the opportunity to start from scratch. Although he isn’t around to defend himself, I think the actions and results speak for themselves.

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf stuck with Krause. He apparently stepped in and made sure that the team came back intact for 1998, but allowed them to be disbanded after a third straight title. One can only assume that the decision was about money and bringing down payroll. That is the only possible defense for Krause. He might have been taking the fall for Reinsdorf. Choosing to play Jordan after a major injury was also puzzling. Reinsdorf seemed to be logical in explaining his thought process. Not sure how doctors concluded that seven minutes per half would dramatically reduce the chances of Jordan hurting himself again. Also, he was fine to completely let loose in the playoffs. Michael couldn’t go a few extra seconds as Chicago competed for a postseason spot down the stretch. I’m sure Jordan was a total nightmare to deal with, but these things don’t really add up.

Finally, we get to Scottie Pippen. I was not his biggest fan. Pippen always seemed to be a mixed bag, or an enigma. This documentary did nothing to change that for me. We learn about Pippen’s family members. Two of them were in wheelchairs. You start to feel sorry for him. His contract was ridiculously unfair, but Scottie signed it. He wanted security for himself and the family. Having surgery in October and missing games during the season so he could enjoy his summer was not fair to his teammates. Imagine being spiteful and hurting your team because they were only giving you 18 million over 7 years. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago. Contracts had yet to take off when he signed his. It should have been ripped up for a better deal, but that wasn’t going to happen.

MJ felt that the choice Scottie made was selfish. It’s hard to disagree. Reminds me of 1994 when Pippen didn’t take the court for a final shot because the play wasn’t designed for him. God forbid someone else take a key last shot other than the top star. I guess he couldn’t remember John Paxson just one season earlier. Kukoc made a shot to win the playoff game with Pippen on the bench, but Scottie should have been out there as a decoy. For all the talk about him not getting paid fairly, Pippen earned more in his NBA career than Jordan. He was paid a total of more than 109 million.

I’m looking forward to next week’s episodes. Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman are featured. Should be great!

 

Remembering ‘The Fink’: WWE’s Howard Finkel Gone at 69

Many celebrities and athletes are called legends. The term is thrown around way too often. However, few people earned that title more than ring announcer Howard Finkel. We lost him today at age 69. The cause of death was not announced, but in 2018 Finkel was slowed by a serious stroke.

He was hired by the World Wide Wrestling Federation more than four decades ago. In fact, he became the company’s first employee. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon confirmed this on twitter today. Kids growing up in the 1980s and 90s were fans of the WWF. It became WWE in 2002 following an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund.

Howard was much more than a ring announcer. He came up with the name for Wrestlemania, and was affectionately known as a walking encyclopedia for his terrific memory. WFAN’s Maggie Gray described him as the soundtrack of our childhood. She mentioned him voicing an introduction for Jimmy Traina’s podcast. He also recorded an introduction for Frank Isola that was played on WFAN. “The Fink” can be seen on youtube doing introductions for a wedding party. Other WFAN personalities have been talking about their interactions with Howard over the years. He was definitely a major part of so many lives.

I grew up watching Finkel on television, and also attended events at MSG when he was working. In the last 10-15 years I have spent countless hours watching wrestling from my youth. Howard is almost always there. He was a big Mets and Jets fan. Finding out that Howard enjoyed listening to WFAN was exciting for me. Obviously that was something I could relate to. Also, it made me think that Howard actually might know who I was!

The Jets were a playoff team in 2010. That season technically finished in early 2011. Their regular season concluded on January 2. I assumed they would be playing on NBC against Indianapolis the following Saturday, but wanted confirmation. Howard Finkel confirmed it. I tweeted to him asking how he knew that for sure, and he answered me. Howard followed media members who covered the Jets. He was locked in. I had not been on twitter for very long at the time.

NBC then announced that the Jets-Colts game would indeed be Saturday night on NBC a few minutes after that. Finding out for sure was good so I could tell my friend, but getting a tweet from Howard was definitely a thrill. He loved wrestling and sports. Howard was one of us, and we wanted to be him.

RIP Howard. Heaven must have needed you to introduce some really big matches.