The Last Dance is a very watchable docu on Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls

Topics NBA | Michael Jordan | Basketball

Jordan has long vanished from the public eye, but continues to be an enigma: someone so ubiquitous in his prime, yet so out of reach
As appearances went, very little could match Michael Jordan. He was always impeccably dressed, aware that whenever he left his home or hotel suite, hundreds out on the street were about to get a five-second glimpse of him just once in their lives. He played like that, too. Each game was approached with the same thumping intensity because he knew that every night someone new in the crowd was watching him play for the first — and probably only — time, and he wanted to make sure that the Jordan they had seen on TV wasn’t a myth. He wanted to show them that he was exactly what they had imagined: a man on a different athletic plane, an extraterrestrial among humans.

The Last Dance, much like the superstar at the centre of it, looked promising from the get-go. It never sounded like it was trying to make a larger point about the world through the power of sport, as has become the norm with documentaries of this style. It was just meant to showcase basketball greatness — and how all of it was dismantled after a glorious decade, not so much for sporting reasons, but because modern sport is sometimes controlled by business, egos and whims.

In June 1997, the Chicago Bulls won their fifth NBA title in seven years. Within hours of that win, however, questions started swirling around: were some of the players over the hill, was an overhaul imminent? Eventually, the owners decided to stick with the players, but announced that the following season would be Phil Jackson’s last as coach, one final project that Jackson memorably christened “The Last Dance”. This is the 10-part story of that season, made possible by camera crews following the entire Bulls roster through the course of the year.

 

The film features a lot of Jordan: there’s precious footage of him dunking over opponents in high school and then in college, before being snapped up by the Bulls in the 1984 draft. For those interested in understanding the Jordan phenomenon, there is much to enjoy, some of which is narrated by the man himself, seated in his sprawling mansion with a cigar, a glass of whisky by his side. Jordan has long vanished from the public eye, but continues to be an enduring enigma: someone so ubiquitous in his prime, yet so out of reach. That’s perhaps why it’s so nice to listen to him put things in perspective and reminisce about stuff that is almost alien to a newer generation of fans.

But this is not only about Jordan. Scottie Pippen, arguably among the “greatest number two” players ever, appears as an unlikely anti-hero, throwing fits about being grossly underpaid and delaying surgeries in order to extract more from the Bulls management. Pippen’s backstory, in fact, is easily more fascinating than Jordan’s, reflective of a tremendous struggle that merits more attention than it actually gets. And despite Jordan being the centrepiece, Pippen, as the film shows, was an instrumental presence, allowing Jordan the freedom to be, well, Jordan.

Much of the film is steered by director Jason Hehir’s stupendous access. In addition to the players, Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls owner, is in constant attendance; so is Jerry Krause, the team’s general manager and the villain of the piece. Oh, and there are some lovely words from “Former Chicago Resident” Barack Obama and “Former Arkansas Governor” Bill Clinton.

Hehir makes smart use of a sliding timeline on screen, traversing different eras with ease. Some of the footage is remarkable, and funny — a visit to Pippen’s old house and a chat with his mum come with high emotional value, while Jordan snubbing teammate Scott Burrell for a hug is the most Jordan thing you’re likely to see. And while some of the video is a rehash of some stuff that ESPN has already produced, it is nonetheless spectacular to hear the stories behind what made this ensemble of Bulls stars so special. At the end of which, you can’t help but wonder if dynasties like the Chicago Bulls will ever rule the NBA again. Probably not. And The Last Dance tells you why.
The first two parts of The Last Dance are streaming on Netflix, with two new episodes slated for release every subsequent week


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