By Jeremy Gonzalez, Co-Sports Editor
One of the most highly anticipated sports documentaries in recent memory, titled The Last Dance, has arrived to be broadcasted through ESPN and Netflix to sports fans and documentary lovers around the globe.
The 10-episode documentary focuses on one of the biggest dynasties in sports history, the Chicago Bulls, who had arguably the biggest sports icon across any sport, Michael Jordan, as they played out their 1997-98 championship season with rare, never-before-seen footage.
Throughout the doc, there are interviews with many public figures such as Jordan himself, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Barack Obama, Kobe Bryant, Adam Silver, and others who speak on their memories of that season or memories of the team.
The NBA granted all-access to a camera crew as they followed the Bulls around the clock, in huddles as Jackson (the team’s head coach at the time) called plays, in the locker room as Jordan and the players got ready for games, and even off the court when Rodman took off to Vegas for a vacation mid-season.
This type of access was unprecedented and the idea was crazy, especially to a Bulls team that was surrounded by controversy and pressure at the time.
But NBA Entertainment producer Andy Thompson, the man who pitched the idea for the all-access documentary, knew it had to be documented.
“I remember thinking, ‘Man, this guy is going to retire,’” Thompson said in an interview with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “‘And we’ve never fully documented a year in the life of potentially the greatest athlete in the history of the sport.’”
It’s difficult to retell a story that everyone already knows where it leads and ends, but small details and honest commentary have made old footage seem new once again (although the lack of basketball, or any sport, on televisions across the country for the past month, may have helped fuel the hunger).
The first two episodes, which premiered April 19 on ESPN, gave viewers a lot of details setting up the drama and tension that made the 1997-98 Bulls so memorable. The first episode highlighted the tension between general manager Jerry Krause and everyone on the team, including Jackson and Pippen.
Krause said that the 1997-98 season would be Jackson’s final year coaching the Bulls, leading Jordan to say he wouldn’t play for another coach as he contemplated retirement. Jackson and Jordan were able to unify the team, where Jackson titled the final season The Last Dance (hence the name of the docuseries).
In each of the first four episodes, a key individual of the team has their background and story told; Jordan in episode one, Pippen in episode two, Rodman in episode three and Jackson in episode four.
Jordan rose to stardom immediately when he came to the league, needing “only two weeks of being with the team” to be the Bulls’ best player. One of his defining moments early in his career came in his second season against the Boston Celtics, when he dropped 63 points on the road in a playoff loss. Celtics great Larry Bird famously said that it was actually God who disguised himself as Michael Jordan that night, which speaks volumes for an NBA legend like Bird to say that about a young Jordan.
Pippen came from real poverty and wanted security for his family, so he signed a seven-year, $18 million extension that actually left him woefully underpaid and the team was not willing to renegotiate his contract, creating tension between Krause and Pippen.
Rodman was the third superstar on the team who did most of the dirty work for the Bulls. Jordan and Pippen knew Rodman’s value and understood how much he helped the team on the court, so they worked with his impulsive nature.
Jackson was the coach the Bulls needed in order to propel them to the next level of elite teams. He introduced the triangle offense so that players other than Jordan can be a threat, forcing the defense to either spread out or pay the price for loading up on Jordan.
The documentary has been a breath of fresh air for sports fans, including Bulls fans who are able to relive the championship season.
“We didn’t have Twitter or social media when Jordan and the Bulls were dominant, so it’s nice for us to see them in a more human and relatable way,” said Manny Zamora, a Chicago resident who grew up watching the iconic dynasty. “Instead of superhuman highlights and headlines, we can see the backstory in their own words. It’s history in the making.”
The documentary continues every Sunday until all 10 episodes have been aired. With the incredible access and style of The Last Dance, sports fans are wondering what team or player will get their own documentary in this style. The late Kobe Bryant might get one sooner rather than later, and Magic Johnson could release one soon as well.