The Last Dance has come and gone, and, in the aftermath of the initial broadcasts of its 10 episodes, engendered criticisms on the veracity of parts of its overarching narrative. Considering the last-say position of principal protagonist Michael Jordan both on and off camera, certain quarters have seen fit to look beyond the series’ entertainment value and cast a critical eye towards its worth as a factual chronicle of events. Even some of those who were part of the Bulls’ historic run for a second three-peat through the 1997–98 season found cause to buck its evident bias.
There is, to be sure, no perfect documentary. The very definition of the word — “consisting of official pieces of written, printed, or other matter” — presupposes the application of perspective and, inevitably, partiality on the proceedings. That said, some are better than others, and, in terms of hewing closer to conventional wisdom, Blackballed, for instance, does a superior job. Available on Quibi, the 12-part series deals with how the National Basketball Association in general, and the Clippers in particular, dealt with the exposition of the racist leanings of franchise owner Donald Sterling while in the middle of the 2014 Playoffs.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare The Last Dance with Blackballed given the differences in approach. The former was released on ESPN+ and Netflix, media services providers capable of giving producers leeway in terms of broadcast length. The latter, meanwhile, is being offered through Quibi, a platform specifically designed to churn out short-form videos for on-the-go consumption. And, indeed, they’re best appreciated in different ways, with the information they carry and send fit for their respective objectives.
Each of Blackballed’s episodes may last all of seven minutes, but there can be no underestimating the power behind the overall message. The Clippers’ remarkable resiliency and Sterling’s eventual ouster from the league turned crisis into opportunity. They could have closed ranks: instead, they led by example. Amid the tumult, they even managed to harness their emotions positively and advance to the second round of the postseason. Unlike in The Last Dance, the Larry O’Brien Trophy did not adorn the denouement. All the same, the outcome is at least as worthy of praise — especially in the context of recent events.
At this point, Blackballed looks to age better. As it shows, the Clippers were at their most vulnerable. And, as it shows, the Clippers were also at their most venerable. They didn’t just shut up and dribble. They weren’t merely players. They were men. Which, in the final analysis, is all that truly matters.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.