Was ‘The Last Dance’ one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time?

Two Hi’s Eye staffers go head-to-head in this battle

A documentary as good as Jordan himself

Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago Bulls (Photo by Flickr)

by Jake Holtzman

With barely any live sports around, Americans are in desperate need of something to quench their thirst for sports. ESPN has done so with a ten-episode docuseries featuring the epic and surprisingly mysterious career of NBA legend Michael Jordan and the fantastic 90s Chicago Bulls team. The documentary is incredibly captivating, and not only does it feature appearances from the GOAT himself, but also perspectives from other players, coaches, family members, etc.., that allow the viewer to truly understand Jordan and the Bulls. Never before has there been a sports documentary with so much hype that not only lived up to expectations but exceeded them.

Despite being one of the biggest celebrities in the world and having a huge media following, until The Last Dance hardly anyone really knew who Jordan was. Jordan was special, and the documentary does a great job showing his incredible talent, but it also didn’t shy away from showing his flaws like his problems with gambling, making him more relatable to viewers.

The documentary shows what it was like behind the scenes of one of the greatest sports dynasties of all time. If that’s not special, I don’t know what is. The audience gets a first-hand view of the highs and lows of the 1998 Bulls team with never-before-seen footage, and the series goes so far in-depth that it feels like you’re a part of the journey. 

The documentary goes in-depth through its interviews with people close to Jordan as well as his greatest rivals. This includes Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Magic Johnson, Jordan’s mother, and even Barack Obama. While the interviews gave me a better understanding of Jordan and the Bulls franchise, they also added an element of comedy to the mostly-serious documentary. This occurred most notably with Dennis Rodman’s interviews, like in the third episode, where he showcased his craziness to the world discussing his vacation midway through the season, just because he wanted a break.

The name, The Last Dance comes from what Bulls Head Coach Phil Jackson called the 1997-1998 season. Like everyone else, Jackson knew that the 97-98 season would be the end of the historic 90s Bulls team. While the series revolves around the final season, Director Jason Hehir does a great job incorporating moments from years prior to make the series more compelling, like when he includes details about Jordan’s father and the emotional impact that had on Jordan.

As a teenager, I’m part of the generation that believes that Lebron James is the greatest basketball player of all time.  I thought he was, and no matter how many times my father said that Jordan was better, I stuck by my opinion. However, by the second episode, highlight footage of Jordan changed my mind. He was a mesmerizing player who proved to be an unstoppable force no matter the opponent. In a documentary about Jordan, it’s vital to have good highlights that show off his unreal athleticism and talent, which the documentary does very well. The footage made the documentary so much more entertaining and it made me feel like I was witnessing his best moments of Jordan’s career in real-time. 

  Before watching the documentary, I was unaware of the many controversies surrounding the Bulls and Jordan. In spite of winning championship after championship, there were constant issues with General Manager Jerry Krause, the media, and conflicting player personalities. When a documentary gives so many details and information about a topic, it can sometimes be overwhelming. This is simply not the case with The Last Dance. The documentary is well organized and easy to follow despite frequently changing time periods.

One of the things I loved most about the documentary was its emphasis on Jordan’s qualities that set him apart from all other athletes in history like his extreme competitiveness and insane work ethic. Jordan was so competitive that if another player did something in a game that bothered him, the next time he played that player, Jordan would be more motivated and would try to embarrass that player. A prime example of this is when Labradford Smith scored 37 points and beat the Bulls in Chicago. Jordan came back the next game against Smith and scored 36 points in the first half alone.

If you’re going to make a documentary about Michael Jordan and the legendary 90s Bulls then it has to, “Be like Mike”  and just like Mike, The Last Dance was absolutely amazing.

‘The Last Dance’ has two left feet 

by Jeremy Kornfeld

In a time when sports has come to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, Micheal Jordan and The Last Dance Director Jason Hehir could not have picked a better time to release this documentary. Every Sunday for five weeks, 5.6 million people tuned in for each episode. With this many people watching, the documentary has received extensive coverage and sparked conversations on social media. Despite widespread praise, The Last Dance was not as good of a documentary as people said it was. 

The goal of The Last Dance remained unclear throughout the documentary. Upon release, fans were told that it was going to be about the last championship run of the Chicago Bulls in 1998; however, while watching the documentary, it was evident that quite the opposite was happening. The documentary never actually went in-depth about the 1998 season. It gave more of an outline of the important events that happened during the season, and it lacked details that many viewers were anticipating. I understand that some context was needed about the dynasty of the Bulls, but was nine episodes really necessary before finally talking in-depth about the so-called “goal” of the documentary? This documentary mainly displayed Jordan’s highlight reel rather than focusing on the individual season of 1998.

Photo by @nbamemes_offical

Another part of this documentary that was frustrating was the inability to finish a thought. When watching it, it felt like I was listening to someone start a story and completely change the subject just before getting to the ending. This series was trying to do way too much at one time. For example, at the end of episode six and beginning of episode seven, it discusses the playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets in 1998. After the first game of the series, though, it jumps back to the 1993 season leaving viewers to wonder what happened in the rest of the 1998 series. I was very confused as to why it needed to take such an abrupt jump back in history in the middle of a playoff series. It would’ve been more logical had each episode been devoted to telling a full story rather than leaving multiple anecdotes open for a person to have to remember by next Sunday.

The documentary’s timeline was extremely hard to follow and made little sense. This played a big role in why each episode and story seemed unfinished. When it finally did finish a thought (which usually meant the Bulls winning a championship), there were many times when the documentary went back to talk about other events that happened earlier that year. This was very confusing because if they told us that in one episode the Bulls won the championship in 1993 and then in the middle of the following episode they start talking about the Eastern Conference Finals of the 1993 season, it blurs the focus. 

More specifically, skipping around during the finals and other playoff series agitated me. We’d see clips from game one of the NBA finals, but the next game we would hear about was game four when the series was tied 2-2. This made me wonder what happened in the other games and why they weren’t shown in this documentary.

When you have a documentary from the perspective of one person, and in this case probably the most competitive person of all time (Michael Jordan), that person is the only one who can be right. Throughout this documentary, Jordan threw teammates and friends under the bus in an attempt to glorify his athletic career. Whether it was exposing his whole team for doing cocaine or saying that his co-star Scottie Pippen was “soft” for getting surgery on a broken foot, Jordan had no regard for how a negative portrayal of his teammates in front of 5.6 million viewers would affect them. I also found it rather amusing that Jordan’s gambling problem was barely addressed, as he exposed everyone else’s flaws but skipped over his own addiction.

I understand that Jordan is who most people consider being the greatest player of all time, but to imply that he never had a bad shooting night is unrealistic and inaccurate.”

— Jeremy Kornfeld

Another flaw of The Last Dance was the lack of credit it gave to Jordan’s teammates. Contrary to popular belief, the Bulls were more than just Jordan. In fact, they possessed one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Jordan was the focal point of the documentary, but the role his teammates played in helping him win important games was disregarded. Pippen was given the narrative that he was simply a sidekick rather than the Hall of Fame small forward that he is. This is a false portrayal because in the 1993-1994 season, while Jordan was off playing Minor League baseball, Pippen led the Bulls to a 55-27 record which earned the Bulls the three seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

Kukoĉ was also extremely disrespected and undervalued in the documentary. He was portrayed as a foreign player who wasn’t integral to the team’s success, when he was one of the main reasons the Bulls won the 1998 championship, averaging the third-most points on the team in the finals. These are just two examples, but it was easy to see that most, if not all, of Jordan’s teammates, who helped him grow as a player and win championships, were severely underrepresented in this documentary.

To go along with this, Jordan never seemed to struggle throughout the documentary. It seemed that he was always having an amazing game no matter the outcome. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I would be able to count the number of missed shots the documentary showed on both of my hands. Every time Jordan shot the ball, it went in, every time he passed the ball, it was completed, and every time he played defense, he either got a block or a steal. I understand that Jordan is who most people consider being the greatest player of all time, but to imply that he never had a bad shooting night is unrealistic and inaccurate. This made the documentary more of a glorified highlight tape than anything else. 

I also found it interesting how Horace Grant and people close to him after the documentary was released actually have come out against Jordan. Grant said, “Ninety percent of it was bullsh*t in terms of the realness of it.” If Grant is telling the truth and most of this documentary was fabricated, then the credibility of Jordan and the producers should be questioned.

In no sense was The Last Dance awful, it’s just not as good as people are making it out to be. If this was Karl Malone’s documentary instead of Jordan’s, people would be criticizing it immensely, but because Jordan meant so much to the older generation, it is praised as the “greatest documentary ever.”

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