By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
His “Airness.” Air Jordan. The Greatest. Ever. There’s no dispute, and ESPN is going to take advantage of that over the next five weeks with their documentary “The Last Dance.” But like Michael Jordan himself, the 10-part show is complex.
“The Last Dance” focuses on MJ’s final season with the Chicago Bulls when the team won its sixth title in eight years. However, since the documentary covers one of the most impactful players in sports history, it has to go further than just one season.
About half of episode one focuses on the preseason of 1997-1998, with the other half focusing on Jordan’s time before the NBA. The show bounces around the timeline, and for viewers that aren’t as well versed in what happened in the Association in the 80s and 90s, it could be a bit confusing.
The amount of high-level athletes, administrators and journalists that ESPN was able to recruit to be a part of this is incredible. To get insight from Phil Jackson and Roy Williams and Steve Kerr about what Jordan was like and what it was like to be around him is fascinating, and to hear from Jordan himself in this kind of tell-all is unprecedented.
The production behind the show is also extraordinary. The music cues are perfect, the clips chosen are perfect and the interviews are beyond perfect. I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed a serious documentary as much as I have this one.
In between the serious issues littered throughout the show, ESPN also inserts moments of levity. The “traveling cocaine circus” portion of the first episode with Jordan’s interview had me cracking up, and MJ and Scottie Pippen’s constant digs at GM Jerry Krause lightened the mood aplenty.
Getting back to the serious, episode two focused on Pippen’s contract disputes, as well as Jordan’s second season in the league. It seems the documentary’s strategy is to spend about half an episode slowly moving through the final Bulls season and half focusing on the backstory.
Amazingly, one of the 25 best players in the history of the game made just 8% of Jordan’s salary throughout his second deal. This led to major disputes between Pippen and management, and the second episode of the night finished on a cliffhanger after the small forward asked for a trade.
Back in time, we got to hear one of the greatest quotes in sports journalism. After game two of the first round in 1986, the Celtics’ Larry Bird said “it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
I am thankful to ESPN for moving this up a month and a half from the initial release date, and that’s what all of this comes back to — a chance for sports fans to sit around a television and get back the thing they love. We are desperate for anything other than game replays and speculation, and we finally have something worthwhile.