By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
The Last Dance
ONE of the best dynasties in National Basketball Association history, the Michael Jordan-led 1990s Chicago Bulls completed their impressive run by winning their sixth title in eight years in 1998.
But it did not come easy for the Bulls as they wove their way through a myriad of issues – including the team’s tension with the front office, contract disputes, and the thought that it was their last run as a collective – that could have easily derailed their quest for a second three-peat in the decade.
At the center of it all was the team’s main draw card – Michael Jeffrey Jordan – and how he dealt with it all, which only further solidified his legend as the game’s greatest of all time.
This is the focus of The Last Dance – a 10-part documentary produced by ESPN Films and whose first two episodes, running for nearly an hour each, were made available over Netflix outside of the United States beginning on Monday.
The title was taken from the chosen theme of then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson as they made their final run with the group that included Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Toni Kukoc.
It was to signify that the season was to be enjoyed as it happens because that was it – the last time.
The documentary was directed by Emmy Award-winning director Jason Hehir whose body of work includes The Fab Five, The ’85 Bears, and Andre the Giant.
Hehir and his team worked for years, searching far and wide to come up with a “definitive story of an era-defining dynasty.”
SET THE STAGE
The first two episodes of The Last Dance set the stage for what Jordan and Company had to grapple with as they went for a repeat three-peat in the 1997-98 season of The Association.
With management already thinking of rebuilding, so much so it gave Jackson just a one-year contract despite helping the Bulls to a fifth title the season prior, the team felt it was being “betrayed,” firmly believing that it was still on top of its game and had a lot of basketball left in it.
Such was the tension with the front office in the lead-up to the new season, a period that Jordan and the other Bulls, as well as other people privy to what was happening, admitted to have been very difficult.
Adding to the quagmire was the situation of team number two Pippen, who felt underappreciated by the team and believed he was not being compensated accordingly. He started the quest for their sixth title injured and hinted at wanting to be traded.
Through it all, Jordan refused to be derailed on the way to what they had set out to do, turning to his go-getting and winning mindset honed by all the experience he garnered from his formative years in Wilmington, North Carolina, his collegiate days, to him joining the struggling Bulls in 1984 and their eventual ascent to the NBA summit.
In developing this, Hehir makes use of extensive basketball footage and introspective interviews of those who were part of the engaging journey of Jordan, both as man and hoops legend.
FOR JORDAN AND BULLS FANS
If you happened to be a fan of Jordan and the Bulls, The Last Dance is a must-see as it provides a solid portrayal of the legends, which should only affirm your affinity for them and what they accomplished.
And the thing about how it is told is that it strikes a balance, with the personalities involved presented with all their strengths and frailties.
In the case of Jordan, for example, while his tremendous skills on the court and dogged determination to win were something to behold and are highlighted in the documentary, things like his tendency to be hard on himself and his teammates – some even say he was bordering on being a bully – when things were not going their way are also presented.
However, instead of being oft-putting, one is left with a better understanding of where they were coming from, and, hence, appreciate them more for who they were.
The Last Dance is also a good window for those who never got to see what Jordan and his Bulls did during their run.
Nothing beats having seen them back in the day, but with the texture and treatment the documentary is given, it serves as a quality piece for millennial basketball fans to add to the stories that were passed down to them, or what they had seen in other features about NBA basketball during that era.
The Last Dance was originally scheduled to be released in June but ESPN decided to move up its release as a form of temporary relief from the many concerns surrounding the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
And on that front one could say it made the right decision, considering the enthusiasm and interest generated around the release of the documentary.
This week was supposed to be the start of the NBA playoffs had the league not suspended the season on March 11 because of COVID-19.
Watching the first two episodes was a welcome change after going for a month or so without engaging in hoops fare, or any sporting event for that matter.
And what is great is that the setup allows fans and viewers to have something to look forward to over the next four weeks.
Episodes 3 and 4 of The Last Dance air on April 27.
Photo caption: The 10-part documentary The Last Dance on Netflix spotlights Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls as they went for their sixth NBA title in eight years in 1998 and provides viewers a reprieve from everything that is happening with COVID-19 (Netflix).