Babe Ruth. Muhammad Ali. These names are the first to come up when trying to compare Michael Jordan to another athlete in “The Last Dance.”
This docuseries is not here to convince you why MJ is the greatest ever. It’s here to prove it.
“The Last Dance” is everything you could hope for in a Jordan documentary. In the first two episodes you get interviews from everyone including Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, former coach Phil Jackson, “former Chicago resident” Barack Obama, “former Arkansas Governor” Bill Clinton, Steve Kerr, Charles Oakley, John Paxton, Jordan’s mother, brothers and many more. Director Jason Hehir said he interviewed 130 people for the docuseries, so we’ve only scratched the surface of what will be seen in the remaining eight episodes.
How did we get here? Specifically, how did the Bulls start the 1997-1998 season coming off their fifth championship in seven years with questions over whether or not they were going to start rebuilding? That is the question that Episode 1 asks. Everyone knows that the 1997-1998 season was truly “The Last Dance.” Phil Jackson wasn’t returning.
Jordan said he wouldn’t play for anyone but Jackson. Scottie Pippen was unhappy with his salary. I can’t think of another time in the history of sports where it was so clear that going into an upcoming season that this was the last time the band would be getting together.
Using the backdrop of that final season, Episode 1 shows us how Jordan became that good. In short, it’s the way that coaches across America want youth sports to work. It shows the hard work and grit that Jordan went through just to go to college at North Carolina. It shows us the first instance of Jordan being clutch with his NCAA Championship winning jumper in 1982.
Episode 2 describes how competitive he was, even when playing against his own brothers. He would always keep his teammates on edge, driving them to play at their best. It culminates in the story of his sophomore season, where he was injured for months with a broken foot. When he came back, he prevented the Bulls from tanking and willed his team into the playoffs despite having a losing record overall. Jordan would go on to put on a show with 49 and 62 point performances against Larry Bird’s top-seeded Celtics.
No documentary of Jordan would be complete without mention of Scottie Pippen. In Jordan’s own words he was “my greatest teammate.” Pippen was ranked second on the Bulls in almost every stat category behind Jordan.
But “The Last Dance” shows us the tragedy of Pippen. He was paid significantly less than Jordan (by his own doing, really) and wasn’t allowed to renegotiate with the Bulls.
It boils over in that final season, with Pippen delaying surgery on his broken foot until the season starts and then demanding a trade by December.
In recent memory, good docuseries have a good villain. In “McMillions” it was Uncle Jerry. In “Tiger King” it was Carole Baskin. In “The Last Dance,” it’s former Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause.
It is clear from the beginning that the players and coaches do not like him. He told Phil Jackson that he “doesn’t care if (Jackson) goes 82-0, this is your last season as head coach.”
He’s the one who wouldn’t renegotiate Pippen’s salary and said he was willing to trade him. He’s the one who angered the players by saying “organizations win championships.” The documentary shows just how relentless the players were of making fun of him.
Is this fair? Probably not. Krause died in 2017. He can’t defend himself now. He probably wanted a bit more credit than what he got. He was the one who got the band together. But the docuseries is showing that he’s the one who wanted to break them apart.
All I can say is, if you love basketball and love greatest of all time discussions, watch “The Last Dance.”