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Dance' Returns

Lady Gaga Returns to the Dance Floor on ‘Chromatica’ – Rolling Stone

If anyone was going to send a love letter to disco and house music at a time when going to the club feels about as alien as wearing a dress made of cleaved meat, it’d be Lady Gaga. Although she initially had reservations about putting out Chromatica at the start of pandemic shutdowns, there’s something comforting about the way the album captures the feeling of banging your feet on a sweaty dance floor and bumping into strangers during the loneliest, most isolated moment in history. It might not have been her intention when she recorded the album, which signals a return to her electro-pop roots, but between her hopeful choruses and floorboard-thumping beats, she has captured the longing for togetherness that people are now feeling while wearing headphones, squinting into their webcams, and dancing alone in their basements.

In the decade or so since Gaga introduced herself with “Just Dance,” she’s drifted from big-haired pop ingenue to jazz chanteuse to lite-rock balladeer to Hollywood belter, but with few exceptions, she’s best when she drops the guises and gets personal. On Chromatica, her sixth album, she shows off all the sides of herself that made people fall in love with her in the first place: She’s a romantic, a ham, a truth teller, a gossip, a flirt, and, most often, a woman who needs healing after being hurt too many times. Her goal may still be to just dance, but she seems more three-dimensional this time, more human than the “Fame Monster” title she gave herself all those years ago.

When the lyrics “All I ever wanted was love” bubble up on lead single “Stupid Love,” it sounds like a fresh revelation. When she declares “I’m still something if I don’t got a man,” on the single-ladies anthem “Free Woman,” it’s bold. And when she serenely tells herself “I’m not perfect yet, but I’ll keep trying” on “1000 Doves,” it’s like a breakthrough. You wouldn’t guess it from the cover art, which looks like an illustration torn from an old issue of Heavy Metal magazine, but Chromatica generally feels like therapy pop made by someone in search of an emotional breakthrough, and it rarely feels disingenuous, since dance music is the only vehicle that could deliver her over the edge of glory.

Two years after the TV series Pose pushed the world of late-Eighties/early-Nineties ballroom culture back into the mainstream, the record finds Lady Gaga reveling in the worlds of club music and voguing. Chromatica isn’t the only album to come out this year with a straight through-line back to the hypercolor Nineties — Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia leans beautifully on disco and synth-pop — but Gaga’s feels more deferential, more well-rounded as she reclaims the whooshing strings, horn spikes, and jump-roping beats and recasts them in her image.

At this point in her career, Gaga knows her signature moves, and she and her producers — a who’s who of pop and EDM luminaries, including BloodPop, Axwell, Max Martin, and even Skrillex — introduce new hooks about every other second, making for a fun and satisfying listen throughout. The album’s first real song, “Alice,” which follows the first of three easily skippable orchestral “Chromatica” interludes, opens with the chorus, “My name isn’t Alice, but I’ll keep looking for Wonderland,” which she sweetens with “ahhs” and an “oh ma-ma-ma” stutter that calls back to the “Ra-ra-roma-ma” of “Bad Romance.” It’s all different flavors of ear candy from there. “Rain on Me,” a duet with Ariana Grande about surviving a rough patch, echoes Nineties R&B with a stronger beat, “Sour Candy” mixes house with hip-hop yelps and K-pop bubblegum, thanks to an assist from the girl group Blackpink, and “Replay” bridges disco and deep house with time-warping beats as Gaga sings “The scars on my mind are on replay.”

She’s at her best, though, when taking musical risks, like on the New Wave-y “911,” which splits the difference between the Buggles and Kraftwerk, filtered through Gaga’s kaleidoscope, and on her duet with Elton John, “Sine From Above,” which has enough drama and funky synths to make it prog-pop. The two singers’ voices blend so beautifully, as they sing about acoustical physics (punning sine waves with “sign”), that it could prompt a spike in sales of oscilloscopes.

But on the other hand, as is often the case with Gaga, she stumbles when she gets too conceptual. “Plastic Doll,” a fantasy in which she uses a Barbie as a metaphor for her fragility in love (“I’m no toy for a real boy”), feels like too much of a stretch compared with the rest of the record’s more real-life personal epiphanies, and the closing track, “Babylon,” with its regrettable lyrics about spilling the tea with your friends, and the near-plagiaristic “Vogue” rap (seriously, just sing “Bette Davis, we love you” along with any of Gaga-donna’s lyrics and it syncs perfectly), deserves an Old Testament fate. It’s as if all the drama around “Born This Way” never happened. But those are just the shallows.

Mostly, Gaga has focused Chromatica’s spectrum on the kind of body-moving music that comes naturally to her. Dance music will always be her salvation, and her pop renaissance couldn’t come at a better time.

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Dance' Pacers

Pacers fan from ‘The Last Dance’: ‘I just had to get in those players’ heads’ – The Athletic

Kathy Martin Harrison remembers traveling through the Nashville airport in the early 1990s and encountering Pistons Hall of Famer Joe Dumars.

“He sees us and goes, ‘Oh my God, it’s those people from the Pacer games.’”

Dumars and other players from across the league remember her because, for years, she attended Pacers games and made it her mission to yell at opposing teams right in front of her.

The sports world was introduced to Martin Harrison Sunday night. Twice during episode nine of “The Last Dance,” which featured the Pacers pushing the Bulls to a Game 7, she was shown shouting behind the Bulls bench. When the documentary first aired Sunday night, she was home with Mark, her husband of 42 years, and recognized herself right away.

“I loved listening to Reggie,” she says passionately. “I love Reggie. And then all of a sudden they’re showing footage from the game and then ……

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Dance' Reggie

‘Last Dance’: Reggie Miller’s Pacers weren’t Michael Jordan’s best opponent, but they were his smartest – CBS Sports

The 1997-98 Indiana Pacers are about as unspectacular on paper as a conference finalist gets. Nobody on the roster averaged 20 points per game, yet they had the NBA‘s fourth-ranked offense. They had no All-Defense selections, yet they finished with the fifth-ranked defense in the league. They may have had two All-Stars, but when one of them sneaks in on 16.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and unspectacular individual defensive numbers, nobody would mistake them for a superteam. 

Still, those Pacers won 58 games and pushed Michael Jordan to the absolute brink, coming six points away from toppling the Chicago Bulls‘ dynasty and reaching the NBA Finals. The only other team to even earn a Game 7 against Jordan during a championship season — the 1991-92 New York Knicks — got rocked by 29 points once they got there. No team has ever come closer to depriving Jordan of a trophy, and the Pacers certainly didn’t do it through raw talent. 

Without brawn, they needed to win with brains. Fortunately, that is something that Larry Bird has in abundance. After years of playoff disappointments, Bird took over as head coach for the Pacers in the summer of 1997 and reinvented them into a harbinger of the basketball revolution that would soon come, adopting many of the modern principles that teams take for granted today. 

Prelude: One Larry enters, another Larry exits

Larry Brown is a Dean Smith-approved basketball purist. So old school that the three professional teams he played for no longer exist, Brown’s hard-driving personality tends to wear thin on players. There’s a reason his average professional head-coaching stint was only 3.1 years, and by his fourth in Indiana, one in which the Pacers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1989, his players had grown entirely sick of him. 

“Anything after Larry Brown was easy,” Pacers center Rik Smits told Mike Montieth for his excellent oral history of that team. “I liked Larry as a person but he was a bear to deal with on the basketball court. Nothing was ever good enough.”

That made Bird’s player-centric style a breath of fresh air. While he was demanding in terms of conditioning and punctuality, his four-word slogan made his feelings on coaching clear: “It’s a player’s game,” Bird often said. That was lost in Brown’s rigid approach to basketball. Despite employing Reggie Miller, the NBA’s best shooter at the time, Indiana never finished better than 24th in 3-point attempts per game during his tenure. 

Forget about analytics, the Pacers needed a dose of common sense. Bird’s light touch provided plenty of it. 

Indiana’s offense

Bird didn’t just empower his players. He allowed his assistants nearly unfettered control over their domains, a move that paid major dividends for the talent on his bench. His offensive coordinator was a young Rick Carlisle, and his fingerprints are all over the style run by the ’97-98 Pacers. A cursory viewing of the Eastern Conference finals displays one of his favored tactics: using the post as a conduit for 3-pointers by drawing double-teams. Watch how patient Dale Davis is in drawing Scottie Pippen away from Mark Jackson. 

Indiana’s shot-profile improved with each passing year under the Bird-Carlisle tandem, culminating in a 1999-00 season in which it led the NBA in made 3-pointers and finished fourth in attempts. The 1997-98 group wasn’t quite as analytically-inclined, finishing 12th in attempts in what was still a massive jump from 24th in Brown’s final year. Any ground the Pacers surrendered in terms of shot selection was more than made up for by embracing another Carlisle principle: splitting the load between multiple ball-handlers.

No Pacer averaged 20 points per game, but seven averaged at least eight. Jackson led the way with 8.7 assists per game, and Travis Best chipped in another 3.4, but the wild card for Indiana was a young Jalen Rose. A jumbo point guard, Rose’s presence discombobulated defenses that weren’t used to multiple attackers sharing the court at once. 

Indiana’s most modern offensive tactic actually came on the glass. Brown’s 1996-97 Pacers finished 11th in offensive rebounding rate, but Bird adopted a stance that Doc Rivers has since popularized: abandoning the offensive boards entirely. The 1997-98 Pacers finished 28th in offensive rebounding rate and reaped the rewards on defense. Rather than crash the boards, Bird’s Pacers dedicated their energy to transition defense and, as a result, managed to slow the game down to a crawl. They finished 26th in pace, a necessity considering their aging roster, and that translated to some of the most mind-blowing defensive metrics in NBA history. 

Indiana’s defense 

The 1997-98 Pacers hit the holy grail of modern defense. Only 25.4 percent of opponent shots came within three feet of the rim, the lowest mark in the NBA, and only 13.4 percent of their shots were 3-pointers, also the lowest in the NBA. No other team has done both in the same season, according to Basketball-Reference’s data. It is the best opposing shot profile a team could ask for: the Pacers forced opponents to minimize the two most valuable shots in basketball. 

So how did they do it? Punting on offensive rebounding helped. While not athletic enough to get into track meets with younger, faster teams, the Pacers could smother fast breaks through the numbers that strategy allowed. 

Indiana’s sheer size played an enormous role as well. Parking the 7-4 Smits at the basket was a fairly effective deterrent, and when teams used the pick-and-roll to draw him away from the hoop, the Pacers usually had a spare rim-protector in either Dale or Antonio Davis to rotate over to the basket. They supplemented those bigs by ignoring non-shooters on the perimeter in the name of extra rim-protection. Mark Jackson often left Ron Harper alone during the Eastern Conference finals to serve as an extra line of defense at the basket, happily giving away shots he didn’t expect to go in. 

There’s a shred of irony in Steve Kerr being the coach to pioneer this tactic in the modern game. He watched Indiana do it firsthand in this series. Defending players like Kerr himself was a priority for the Pacers. While they feasted on 3-pointers generated by post-doubles, they themselves avoided doubling at all costs, even against Michael Jordan, instead staying home on perimeter shooters in an effort to limit the damage of mismatches to only two points. 

Indiana’s length similarly contributed to that effort. Aside from their point guards, every Pacer in Bird’s playoff rotation measured at least 6-6. Most were bigger. Players like Miller, Rose and the aging Derrick McKey may not have been elite defenders at that point, but they were long enough to contest just about anything from behind the arc. While opposing 3-point percentage can be fairly random statistically speaking, it’s worth noting that opponents shot only 31.6 percent from behind the arc against the Pacers that season, the worst mark in the NBA. The Bulls were held to only 32.5 percent in the conference finals. Indiana’s length was problematic to opponents. 

Length was hardly emphasized in the way that is today, but Indiana’s modernity in 1998 was its greatest selling point. Were it not for a few key flaws and Jordan’s excellence, the Pacers may well have ridden their novel style all the way to a championship. 

So what went wrong? 

Well for starters, Phil Jackson is a pretty good coach in his own right. He started Toni Kukoc at power forward for most of this series to combat Indiana’s flawless defensive shot profile. His spacing proved critical. He made three huge 3-pointers in Game 7. 

But in truth, this series didn’t come down to what the Pacers did wrong, but what the Bulls did right. The other team just happened to have a cheat code. Michael Jordan breaks analytically-inclined defenses. Shots that would be grossly inefficient for normal players are just fine for him. 

Jordan averaged 31.7 points per game in the ECF on 46.7 percent shooting. Indiana’s strategy not to double Jordan worked. His teammates largely didn’t get clean looks from behind the arc. Jordan just punished the Pacers so thoroughly from the post that it didn’t matter. The Pacers picked the right poison and still died. 

The proof of that lies in how they defended Jordan’s pick-and-roll. The Pacers eschewed traditional drop pick-and-roll coverage, allowing the slow-footed Smits to either double Jordan off of the screen or meet him coming around it. This cut off Jordan’s preferred mid-range jumper, but it also forced Smits to scamper back into position afterward. Guess who won the foot race between Rik Smits and Michael Jordan?

The Bulls spammed the Jordan-Luc Longley pick-and-roll relentlessly down the stretch of Game 7, and while the dunk stands out, the most common outcome was a foul. With Smits lost on the perimeter, someone else had to rotate to meet Jordan at the basket, where he took advantage of them being out of position. Jordan made 10 of his 15 free-throw attempts in Game 7. 

Where Indiana truly lost this series, though, was on the boards. In the Bulls, the Pacers had finally run into a team capable of punishing them for the tactically brilliant but risky strategies on which their success was built. Chicago finished the series with 44 more offensive rebounds than the Pacers, and Harper took advantage of the space Indiana left him to come up with 15 of his own throughout the series.

And that was that. A year’s worth of innovation down the drain thanks to Jordan’s brilliance. Plenty of teams from the 1990s can sympathize, but there is something especially tragic about Indiana’s poor timing. They escaped Jordan’s shadow in 1999 only to fall victim to Larry Johnson’s infamous four-point play. When they finally broke through and reached the Eastern Conference finals, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were waiting for them. 

Bird called it quits after three seasons, suggesting that no head coach can hold a team’s attention much longer. He largely held true to his word once he took over as the team’s top decision-maker, firing extremely well-respected coaches like Carlisle and Frank Vogel at the five-year mark. Most of the momentum Bird built in his brief tenure was squandered by Isiah Thomas. The league caught up to Indiana, and the Pacers are still without an NBA championship. At least they can take solace in coming closer than anyone to ending the Bulls dynasty. Reggie Miller really did almost retire Michael Jordan. 

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Dance' documentary

‘Last Dance’ documentary: Will Perdue confirms Michael Jordan punched him, says he ‘wasn’t the only one’ – CBS Sports

Michael Jordan’s competitiveness is almost as legendary as his stellar basketball abilities, and it was on full display in episodes 5 and 6 of “The Last Dance,” which aired on Sunday night. Jordan addressed his gambling issues, admitting that his competitive nature led to betting vast sums of money of golf, cards and other random activities.

Part of the documentary also looked at the book, “The Jordan Rules,” which contained information that described Jordan as being demeaning and borderline abusive toward teammates. Jordan said he thought former teammate Horace Grant was responsible for providing the writer, Sam Smith, with information, but Grant vehemently denied it.

Among the revelations in the book was the rumor that Jordan once punched teammate Will Perdue during practice. Perdue joined CBS Sports HQ on Sunday night and confirmed the story, but said it wasn’t a big deal because fights were commonplace at Bulls practices (Video above). 

“He did, and I wasn’t the only one,” Perdue said. “That’s how competitive our practices were. That wasn’t the only fight, that was one of numerous. But because it involved Michael Jordan, and it leaked out, that it became a big deal. And the funny thing was, in that practice that it happened, we basically separated, regrouped and kept practicing — it wasn’t like that was the end of practice. Stuff like that was common, because that’s how competitive our practices were.

This isn’t much of a surprise, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr has said multiple times that Jordan punched him in the face during a Bulls practice, and Perdue’s comments suggest others suffered a similar fate when going at His Airness. The best part is that the team simply kept practicing afterward as if nothing happened.

Perdue was Jordan’s teammate from 1988-1995, winning three titles in the process, so the in-practice spats are probably water under the bridge at this point. It’s just yet another story that shows Jordan’s legendarily competitive nature and willingness to take it out on others.

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Carmen Dance'

The Last Dance: Carmen Electra hid from Michael Jordan when he crashed Dennis Rodman’s home after Vegas trip – CBS Sports

It’s hard to pick just one story about Dennis Rodman to encapsulate his eccentric personality that was a hallmark of the Chicago Bulls in the late 1990s, but there’s one that comes close to serving well in that role. It involves Rodman, his then-girlfriend Carmen Electra, the city of Las Vegas and, of course, Michael Jordan.

In the middle of the 1997-98 season, Rodman had asked Bulls coach Phil Jackson for a vacation in the middle of the season. The forward was given 48 hours to go to Vegas and let off some steam. This was something that Jordan had warned his coach against, saying that if Jackson let The Worm go to Sin City, he wouldn’t make it back to the team on time. As Electra recounts the period, it turns out that Jordan might have had a point.

“I do remember being in Vegas with [Dennis]. It was on,” Electra said. “The party was starting right away. One thing about Dennis, he had to escape. He liked to go out. He liked to go to clubs. We’d go to his favorite restaurant. Then we’d go to a nightclub. Then we’d go to after hours. It didn’t stop. It was definitely an occupational hazard to be Dennis’s girlfriend. He was wild.

“But to be honest, I didn’t realize what the team’s schedule was,” she continued. “I didn’t know he took a detour.”

Realizing that Rodman was back from Vegas and had not made his way back to the team, the Bulls tasked Jordan with getting arguably their best defensive player back with everyone else. Rodman lived across the street from the United Center, and unfortunately for Electra, M.J. came at a rather inopportune time.

“There’s a knock on the door. It’s Michael Jordan,” she said. “And I hid. I didn’t want him to see me like that. So I’m just like hiding behind the couch with covers on me.”

The rest is history: Rodman rejoined the team, the Bulls went on to win their second consecutive three-peat.

What an incredibly 90s story.

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Dance' Review

‘The Last Dance’ Review: Michael Jordan & Chicago Bulls Docuseries Is A Stunning Slam Dunk For ESPN & Netflix – Deadline

Eager, and perhaps way overly eager to reopen America in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump has recently said he is tired of watching 14-year-old basketball games on TV with all sports leagues shuttered.

Well, the more than two-decade-old basketball games that are the fuel for ESPN’s upcoming The Last Dance are exactly the kind of small-screen excitement many of us could use right now, sports fans or not.

Packed with unseen footage that has been under lock and key since Bill Clinton was president, the comprehensive 10-episode docuseries that tips off Sunday focuses on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ quest for a sixth NBA championship. That 1997-1998 quest is the primary beat of the Jason Hehir-helmed and Netlfix co-produced effort on excellence in motion. At the same time, the stunning and captivating Last Dance is also a deep mix of the evolution of Jordan into one of the greatest athletes of all time via determination, drive and leadership, as I say in my video review above.

Now, you may debate if MJ is greater than say the brilliance of a Serena Williams, Pele or Muhammed Ali — it is a fair discussion of a pantheon of power. However, regardless of who is the GOAT in your opinion, Last Dance is a damn convincing 500-minute argument that no one ever in any field, sports or otherwise, played and worked as hard as Jordan, now the principal owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

Now, it’s no great leap to compare The Last Dance with the Oscar-winning O.J.: Made In America docuseries that ESPN triumphantly ran in 2016. Both are in depth, both are as much about the play as the player, and both are high-quality long looks at African American sports figures. But, let’s be clear, that’s really where the comparisons should end. These are very different stories by their nature, with the former being one of triumph and the latter a tragedy on so many levels.

First set to debut June 2 on the Disney-owned sports cabler, The Last Dance was moved to this weekend late last month not long after the NBA and all other sports league went dark due to the COVID-19 crisis. For a sports-starved nation, the domestic run of The Last Dance is the real deal that display a caliber of player that we will likely never see again, even when all the arenas open up.

With a soundtrack including the likes of Prince and hip hop godhead Eric B & Rakim plus interviews with a scathingly honest Jordan; Bulls teammates like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr; philosopher coach Phil Jackson; a couple of U.S. Presidents and more, The Last Dance may in fact be one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made – which, even for the home of the stellar 30 for 30 series, should be the point when you consider the subject matter.

Stay at home, stay safe, click on my video review for The Last Dance, then get courtside on your couch this Sunday for a slam dunk. As for you in the rest of the world, The Last Dance can be seen on Netflix starting this weekend too.

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