ESPN completed airing their documentary series The Last Dance, a ten-part series focusing on the 1998 Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan. Growing up a Bulls fan in the Chicago-land area all my life and watching this dynasty as a kid, this documentary was right up my alley. I was excited to see the behind-the-curtain conversations and happenings of the 1998 Bulls and learn things I didn’t know before.
The Last Dance is an epic documentary and is loaded with content, both old footage and talking-heads interviews from Jordan, former teammates like Scotty Pippen and Denis Rodman and some NBA greats like Larry Bird and Reggie Miller. But it isn’t exactly what I expected or what was advertised. Though a good chunk of the documentary does look at the 1998 Bulls run at their second three-peat and the last season Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, and coach Phil Jackson would ever be together. What this really is is a documentary about Michael Jordan and his journey through the end of the 1998 season. Though interesting and somewhat informative, Jordan’s journey really overshadows the idea of the documentary focusing on the “Last Dance” season and instead feels more like a hypothesis as to why Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball to ever live.
The episodes were hit and miss in quality. Some of them were tight, gripping, focused episodes with tons of behind-the-scenes footage, like episodes V and X. However, there were some that were all over the place and felt like filler episodes, like IV and IX. And then there were some mixed bags, ones that offered up enough intrigue, like III, where the episode focused on Denis Rodman, yet didn’t get into as much of the madness as I had hoped and wanted. The overall focus of the series was broad and had a lot of filler stories.
The best parts of every episode was the behind-the-curtain footage and the game footage. Seeing the Bulls interact in the locker room and at practice and before the games was the footage I really wanted to see and gave more insight to the players and the team. Watching Jordan constantly roast and pick on teammate Scott Burrell and Burrell never breaking a sweat or seeing Rodman at practice after a week-long Vegas bender, or seeing Jordan breakdown crying on the floor after he won his fourth NBA Championship on Father’s Day following his father’s passing, these were just a few of the truly great moments throughout the documentary.
The talking head interviews were also strong. Hearing Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, coach Phil Jackson, former Bulls players like Steve Kerr, John Paxson and Horace Grant, NBA reporters, analysts, and former Jordan foes like Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, and the late Kobe Bryant, everyone had insight to the games and how they played out and what it was like to play with Jordan and against him. With Jordan being the main focus, his interviews were the most interesting and we learned about him as a player and as person. The biggest takeaway from hearing Jordan speak about his career was his competitiveness and what drove him. Jordan was crazy competitive and would do anything at to win, but what gave him that extra push was when someone challenged him or disrespected him. If someone said they could guard him on the court or make a comment about outscoring him one night, Jordan would come back and make that person regret they every wanted to play basketball. Jordan also gave us a ton of meme-worthy facial expressions when he heard other players talking about him through videos the documentarian showed him.
Again, I liked a lot of The Last Dance. But my biggest issue was finding the point and finding the focus. Was this documentary really about what coach Phil Jackson named “The Last Dance” season, the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls season that was filled with as much controversy as triumph. There was plenty of material for it and towards the end of the documentary, they brushed away some ideas they started earlier in the film. I wanted to see and hear more about the tension with Bulls GM Jerry Krause and his problematic relationship with the team and the ultimate decision that the 1998 season was in fact the last season of this Bulls dynasty. I wanted to learn more about Denis Rodman and the madman that he was. I wanted more of Phil Jackson’s coaching philosophy and how he handled coaching knowing it was his last season and what it was like coaching arguably the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. I wanted more about Scotty Pippen’s contract disputes and how he handled playing Robin to Jordan’s Batman. There was a lot of stuff they could have dove into more, they just didn’t in lieu of focusing on Michael Jordan.
But this was a documentary about Michael Jordan and his greatness. We learn about Jordan’s life from birth until his time with the Bulls was over. If we were focusing on Jordan, why not talk about his time with the Washington Wizards? Why not talk about him coming back from retirement again? There is still more to Jordan’s legacy that we didn’t discuss. Also, if we’re looking at Jordan’s career more than his final season with the Bulls, change the name. Call it something Jordan-focused. His Airness or Air to the Throne sounds good.
I loved watching all the footage and I loved learning more about 80’s and 90’s basketball and how Jordan became arguably the greatest basketball player ever, but one of the biggest names in the world. But The Last Dance needed more focus and needed to decide what story to tell. Did it want to tell the story of the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls or did it want to tell a story about Michael Jordan and his legacy? Both are interesting topics, I just wish it picked one or the other.
You can find my reviews of every episode of The Last Dance here.
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