DIRECTED BY: Jason Hehir
STARRING: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, Jerry Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf, Toni Kukoč, David Stern, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley, David Aldridge, Michael Wilbon and Bill Wennington
From ESPN Films and Netflix comes this limited sports documentary series that focuses on the career and history of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, primarily looking at the 1997-1998 team, which was heavily-rumoured to be Jordan’s final season in the NBA. With a film crew given an all-access pass to follow the Bulls that season, we look into what was referred to by coach Phil Jackson as ‘The Last Dance’, as well as have interviews from NBA personalities to media journalists about memorable moments on (and off) the court, as well as talk about the man that became a global icon.
During the decade of the 90’s, it could be argued that Michael Jordan was one of (if not the) the most famous human being on the planet, whose talent seen him arrive onto the scene of a ‘tired’ franchise and he would go on to become the face of the NBA and a global phenomenon. Justin Hehir provides a seemingly limitless amount of archive footage in these ten episodes, as we chronicle the rise of Michael Jordan through college, see how he stayed away from the privileges that come with going pro as a rookie in keeping to his own space and then the documentary will also include footage of various teammates that will become a focus point in an episode or two, in particular Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
The structure of how Hehir breaks the episodes down through a timeline narrative that matches with the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls season, I found that to be effectively engaging. What also made the series compelling viewing is how it doesn’t shy away from raising questions on Michael Jordan the individual, looking into the aura he created around him as his goal was to come through the shadows of basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the early years of his career, and how his intensity and determination to demand his teammates to push just as hard as he does is highlighted here, especially in the second half of episodes, as well as his gambling hobby and how that came under the spotlight in the media, from the James Bouler trial, to Richard Equinas’s novel and, of course, the Atlantic City casino spotting on the early hours of the morning of game two of the Eastern Conference finals. The documentary highlights Michael as a human, a gifted individual that gained a certain level of status that not many could handle, as we see how everyone seemingly wants a piece of him, from the fans, to the media and even the celebrities.
But the documentary showcases how his mentality for the game and his drive to succeed set him apart from the rest. There’s many many instances where will either trash talk him or the media will write off the Bulls chances in a certain game and it comes to a point when you reach the final episodes of the series that you can’t help but laugh as, even if you come in as with a novice level of the history of Michael Jordan and the NBA in general, you already know what the outcome is going to be. A particular highlight is the Bulls rivalry with the Detroit Pistons aka the ‘Bad Boys’ era.
Hehir gives plenty of screen time and respect to the personalities involved or witnessed key moments in the life and times of Jordan and the Bulls, though it’s safe to say that some may have not had as much shine as others and some might even feel that they were painted wrong here. The most notable individual who appears to get the villain treatment from the off is Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, primarily for his personality and the strained relationship towards the end with coach Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan and how the dynasty concluded arguably before its time. Another individual who might feel slighted is Scottie Pippen, particularly in comments Jordan makes in regards to Pippen’s actions in that final season with the Bulls over contract disputes but that can be counteracted with Phil Jackson’s thoughts on that subject. Another player that comes across in a bad light would be Isiah Thomas, formerly of the Detroit Pistons during that heated rivalry. There’s so much information to digest of this ten episode series and I feel that I could easily have watched another few hours of the story of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan during that era. I can even digest ten hours of absolute madness focusing on Dennis Rodman’s playing career.
The Last Dance is a documentary series that reintroduces Michael Jordan back into the spotlight that will leave newcomers in awe of his achievements, while also witnessing how his competitive drive strained relationships along the way and also highlighting just how special the Chicago Bulls were during the 90’s.